According to JobMonkey.com, the average salary for a summer camp counselor is approximately $230 per week. That doesn’t seem like a whole lot of dough considering all of the hard work, rotten kids, and bad food counselors have to put up with. And then, of course, there’s the occasional visit from this guy…
It’s not even necessary to provide his name, is it? All you need to see is that hockey mask and you immediately know it’s Jason Voorhees. The same could be said for guys like Michael Myers or Ghostface. But not every mask from the movies is as immediately recognizable. Dig a little deeper into the horror genre and you’ll find plenty of other fearsome facades whose wearers may not be household names, but whose covered countenances will give you just as many nightmares as their more famous brethren.
PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1925)
Thanks to the popularity of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical and it’s instantly recognizable poster art, most people forget about the disguise worn by the granddaddy of all mask wearing movie maniacs, Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera. Yes, what was underneath was much worse, but the mask is still a weird bit of imagery and an obvious ancestor to the ones worn in movies like The Strangers and The Purge.
ALICE SWEET ALICE
Another branch in The Purge’s family tree would have to be the bizarre little girl mask worn by the killer from Alice Sweet Alice, the feature film debut of Brooke Shields and the only movie I can think of (thankfully) to feature the murder of a priest during communion. Obviously not the most clergy friendly movie around.
If you thought Saw invented the disturbing pig head mask, think again. Everybody’s favorite cannibalistic siblings, Farmer Vincent and his sister Ida, were hamming it up in Motel Hell decades before JIgsaw carved his way into cinemas.
I’m pretty sure there’s an entire generation of HBO viewers out there who were given the heebie jeebies by The Hag after catching Curtains on one of its many late night airings. Simple, but effective.
While all the supposed monsters in Nightbreed were hanging out underneath the cemetery minding their own business, the true terror was creeping around the suburbs in this freakish little get-up. I have to say, the memory of this mask completely ruined the animated feature “9” for me, because I kept expecting at any moment for one of the little ragdoll people, whose faces looked far too similar to this, to whip out a blade and gut someone.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW
This little number comes from what is probably one of the most fondly remembered made-for-television horror movies ever aired, Dark Night of the Scarecorw. The man behind the scarecrow mask was more avenging angel than psycho killer, but that didn’t make his appearance any less eerie.
A Groucho masked serial killer? You bet your life! Maybe not the scariest disguise on the list, but memorable? You bet your life. Just ask Jamie Lee Curtis, who had to try and hide from this guy while stuck on a moving Terror Train. The secret word for such situations? HELP!
Okay, so Frank The Bunny wasn’t actually a psychotic killer himself, but he did his best to convince troubled teen Donnie Darko to become one, so that has to count for something. Besides, that mask is just nightmare fuel.
It would be easy could keep going, but that should be plenty of masks to keep you from sleeping well for awhile. Now the question may arise as to why these folks would bother to don masks in the first place. After all, it’s not like they’re going to leave any witnesses alive to identify them. So, why wear them? Part of it, of course, is the creep factor. Killers wear masks in horror movies to scare people. But trying to view these characters through the lens of the real world, perhaps there’s another possible reason for adopting a disguise while dispatching your fellow man.
According to Elena Bezzubova, M.D., Ph.D. in an article for Psychology Today, masks “appear to be parts of the broad depersonalization spectrum – a continuum of changed identities. Depersonalization presents elements of ‘a dialogue with what feels like my mask.’ The self looks at the self, as if an outside other. ‘I feel as if all I do is not my real actions but just a masquerade.’ ‘I know that my face looks as it looks all the time. But it feels to me like a mask.’ Masquerade comes as a safe opportunity to play with different sides of one’s own identity.”
If we take what Dr. Bezzubova postulates as the truth, then that may point to a reason why so many masked killers in the movies might choose to wear a disguise even when they don’t have to. It depersonalizes the experience. It allows them to say to themselves, “That other creature committed those horrible acts, not me. That monster was just someone I put on for an evening.” And maybe that’s what makes masked killers a bit more frightening in movies, because the victims (and we viewers as well) can sense the disconnect from humanity the killers experience once they don their disguise. Masks offer less opportunity for empathy or mercy, and when those things are missing, it never ends well for anyone. Just ask any summer camp counselor who ever bumped into Jason.
(This post was adapted from an article that originally appeared at The B-Movie Catechism.)