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Fright Club: Masks in Horror

It is creepy when you can’t see someone’s face, unless it’s hidden behind one of those big horse masks, which forever tickle George. But whether the voice on the other side of that mask is asking if Tamra’s home or is telling you where to find your missing daughter, whether that mask is made of burlap, human flesh or the NHL standard fiberglass/Kevlar mix, murder is highly likely.

Here are our favorite masks in horror.

6. The Wicker Man (1973)

There are so many reasons to love this movie, but the fact that it started that incredibly effective trend in horror movies: the anonymity of the group mask.

It was done again and to magnificent effect in The Purge films, Strangers, and You’re Next. But what Robin Hardy does with it gooses the macabre, medieval nuttiness of his story. A bunny has rarely looked so menacing.

5. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

What made Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic the unnerving, even scarring, savage film that it was? The meat hook? The slam of that heavy metal door? The sound of the chainsaw?

There are so very many moments of terror, so many reasons to scream, you can almost overlook the fact that the main character, though he delivers no lines at all, is wearing somebody else’s face. In fact, depending on the scene (or his mood? his outfit?) he could be wearing any one of three different faces.

How messed up and genius is that?

4. Eyes without a Face (1960)

Director Georges Franju casts a spell with the haunting Christiane (Edith Scob). Graceful and lifeless, the mask hides Christiane’s flaws and her humanity. She is otherworldly.

Unlike the grotesque image often drawn by a mask in a horror film, Christiane’s smooth, colorless visage is as lovely and melancholy as it is terrifying.

3. Halloween (1979)

Thematically, it makes sense. Young Michael Myers is wearing a mask, looking through those little false eye holes, when he commits his first, soul-deadening murder. So when he comes home to pick up where he left off, naturally he’d need another costume.

But what John Carpenter created with his altered William Shatner mask was the prototypical boogeyman for all slashers to follow and for all retro horror after that. The soulless, colorless, unmoving face perfectly matched the lifeless killing machine, transforming Michael Myers into The Shape and changing the shape of horror as it did.

2. Friday the 13th, Part 3

First of all, the sack head Jason from Part 2 is so much creepier than the hockey mask Jason of Parts 3 – X and beyond. That burlap sack has been a terrifying look in horror movies (from The Town that Dreaded Sundown to Nightbreed to The Orphanage to Trick or Treat).

But it’s the hockey mask you remember. That’s the image that became iconic. Hell, it even made goalies seem cool. (Yes, they stole the idea from the old Martin Landau/Jack Palance/Donald Pleasance film Alone in the Dark, released earlier the same year), but still, who wore it better?

Jason did.

1. The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

The original Phantom’s mask may not be the coolest. In fact, his mask has evolved over the decades and iterations into something way, way cooler looking. But back in 1925, it was the mask and its removal that made this film a heart attack in the making.

Director Rupert Julian and star Lon Chaney used that mask and its removal to deliver one of cinemas first great scares.

Fright Club: Bad Date Horror

I can see where you might believe that these are films in which bad dates occur. While that might be a fine, future podcast and list, the fact is that today we explore the worst horror movies to watch while you are on a date.

While horror movies can sometimes make for excellent date night choices, these, we predict, will turn the date sour. They are also highly likely to douse any romantic sparks. (And if they don’t, your date is a sociopath. Be warned.)

5. Audition (1999)

The prolific director Takashi Miike made more than 70 movies in his first 20 or so years in film. Among the best is Audition, a phenomenally creepy May/December romance gone very, very wrong.

Audition tells the story of a widower convinced by his TV producer friend to hold mock television auditions as a way of finding a suitable new mate. He is repaid for his deception.

Nearly unwatchable and yet too compelling to turn away from, Audition is a remarkable piece of genre filmmaking. The slow moving picture builds anticipation, then dread, then full-on horror.

By the time Audition hits its ghastly conclusion, Miike and his exquisitely terrifying antagonist (Eihi

4. Irreversible (2002)

French filmmaker/provocateur Gaspar Noe does not play well with his audience. Every film, no matter how brilliantly put together or gloriously filmed, is a feat in masochism to watch. Later efforts, like Enter the Void and Climax, spread the misery out for its full running time, but for Irreversible, he gave it to us in two horrifying scenes.

Filmed in reverse chronological order and featuring those two famously brutal sequences, Noe succeeds in both punishing his viewers and reminding them of life’s simple beauty. While the head bashing is tough viewing, the film centers on a rape scene that is all but impossible to watch.

Noe’s general MO is to punish you through sheer duration. The scenes last so long you feel like you cannot endure another minute, and this scene certainly does that. Not shot even momentarily for titillation, and boasting a devastatingly excellent performance from Monica Bellucci, it justifies its own horrific presence. There are other films with necessary and difficult rape scenes – Straw Dogs, I Spit on Your Grave, The Last House on the Left, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – but none is harder to stomach than this.

There’s no denying the intelligence of the script, the aptitude of the director, or the absolute brilliance of Monica Bellucci in an incredibly demanding role.

3. Teeth (2007)

Of all the films built on the hysteria of impending womanhood, few are as specific as Teeth, a film in which a pubescent discovers a sharp set where teeth ought not be. This is a dark comedy and social satire that is uncomfortable to watch no matter your gender, although I imagine it may be a bit rougher on men.

Treading on the dread of coming-of-age and turning male-oriented horror clichés on ear, Teeth uses the metaphor implicit in vagina dentata—a myth originated to bespeak the fear of castration—to craft a parable about the dangers as well as the power of sexual awakening.

Written and directed by artist (and Ohioan!) Roy Lichtenstein’s son Mitchell, Teeth boasts an irreverent if symbol-heavy script with a strong and believable lead performance (Jess Weixler).

Weixler’s evolution from naïveté to shock to guilt to empowerment never ceases to captivate.


2. Antichrist (2009)

Lars von Trier’s foray into horror follows a couple down a deep and dark rabbit hole of grief. Von Trier’s films have often fixated on punishing viewers and female protagonists alike, but in this film the nameless woman (played fearlessly by Charlotte Gainsbourg) wields most of the punishment – whether upon her mate (Willem Dafoe) or herself.

Consumed by grief, a mother allows her husband—also grieving—to become her psychotherapist as they retreat to their isolated cabin deep in the woods where they will try to overcome the horror of losing their only child.

They won’t succeed.

Like dental scenes, gynecological horror draws a particular reaction. Whether it’s the abuse scene at the beginning of Proxy, nearly any scene in the brilliant French film Inside, or the final feast in Trouble Every Day, scenes of this ilk can be tough to watch. But to watch as Gainsbourg – who’s already inflicted some serious pain on Dafoe’s character – takes the scissors to herself is next to impossible.


1. A Serbian Film (2010)

This is not a movie we would recommend to basically anyone. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – it’s well directed, acted, and written. It’s just that the co-writer/director Srdjan Spasojevic is trying to articulate the soul-deadening effects of surviving the depravity of war.

The title is no coincidence – the film is meant to reflect the reality of a nation so recently involved in among the most horrific, unimaginable acts of war. It’s as if Spasojevic is saying, after all that, what could still shock us?

Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) was a porn star before the war. He’s lured back for one lucrative “acting” effort, but there’s a reason it pays so well.

The entire film is an assault, but there is one scene in this one that catapults it to the top of this list, and you probably already know what that is. Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) finally realizes the depths of his new director’s evil when he sees his latest effort: newborn porn. There is no unseeing this.