These are some of the most enduring faces of horror, characters that have had an onslaught of sequels, remakes and imitators. The characters are so pervasive in our cultural awareness that they’re not just movie icons but Halloween favourites too.
If we’re talking Halloween then we can’t start with anyone but Michael Myers. This soulless sociopath rears his ugly head just for the holidays, leaving a path of bodies in his wake. Ironically his outfit is a Halloween costume consisting of a boiler suit and a white William Shatner mask (who’d have thought that face could be so terrifying).
Seriously, this is the face of horror as far as the Halloween series is concerned.
Jason is another big franchise slasher, weirdly we don’t really see him in the first film and his more iconic features aren’t picked up until the third. Whenever some one pictures Jason or thinks of Friday the 13th it’s the machete-wielding maniac in a hockey mask that they all think of first. In fact the hockey mask and machete are probably the most consistent thing about his outfit, as the rest of his clothes vary from film to film. From dirty brown jackets and trousers to an eerily Michael Myers-esque boiler suit his accompanying clothing has varied enough for some credible costume imitations… although the Cyber-Jason from Jason-X was a bit too ridiculous (fingers crossed for a tuxedo Jason in the future).
Originally Jason was an unmasked, deformed child, then a man with a sack over his head until he finally picked up the mask. The original mask was moulded from a Detroit Red Wings goalie mask. While the actual costume worn by actors always included a full head mask (for the exposed parts of the deformed head underneath the mask) the design eventually evolved to make it appear as if the mask had fused to his skin. Later evidence of previous scarring and damage from the other films started to appear on the outfit.
Freddy Krueger is the stuff of nightmares, literally. In life he was a serial killer who targeted children, after being horrifically burnt to death by the vengeful parents of his victims he came back. With his hideously disfigured face, red & green stripy jumper, fedora hat (classy) and spiteful looking clawed leather glove he began to invade dreams and off the children of his killers. While it took a complete reboot to make him scary again after some pretty awful sequels you can’t really say he’s not a unique and unsettling looking character and he’s definitely very recognisable. The most disturbing thing is that even with all the raw looking burns across his face, Robert Englund is actually pretty recognisable underneath, which makes the prosthetic scarring seem a little more believable.
Originally intended as a satire on the slasher genre, they used and abused every trope and cliché in the book over the course of the series, the films eventually becoming victim to the very formulaic ‘murder-by-the-book’ horror that they were poking fun at in the first place. What does stand out though is the ghost-face killer of the Scream franchise, much like Michael Myers the killers who take up this identity have chosen a readily available costume as their own personal face of evil. As in the films it really is based on an existing Halloween outfit, although significantly altered to exaggerate the features on the face for copyright reasons. The cloak that accompanies the iconic mask had to be custom made at first as the real world mask on which killers from Scream wore were a standalone item at first. Although the black-cloaked figure has become a movie icon the costume was very nearly all white.
Even though it takes over an hour for him to show up in the first film there’s no doubting that Pinhead is the meanest and most memorable monster in the Hellraiser series (taking into account some of the mutilated monstrosities and the skinless, blood guzzling uncle Frank that’s a big achievement). The pale, cold skin and neat geometric arrangement of the nails driven into his head give the impression of a more ordered villain compared to the slasher-film antagonists that were big at the time. There was a very deliberate and hateful intellect at work behind this monster and that’s probably what helped make him so successful as a horror icon.
The costume is remarkably intricate in spite of being the plainer of some of the Cenobites, the makeup for the films took around six hours to apply and is accompanied by a fetishistic black latex outfit, rather than being needlessly kinky (which would still be pretty disturbing in context) it comes across as imposing. Pinhead was never intended to be the character’s official name, and was originally credited as ‘Priest’ and the ‘Lead Cenobite’.
Crazy doesn’t have to mean stupid; the cold patient intellect behind Hannibal is probably the thing that makes the character utterly terrifying. It’s the sort of intellect that requires you watch everything you say or do around him lest he use it against you. Then there’s the cannibalism… that’s not exactly pleasant either. He’s a very cerebral kind of killer relying solely on his wits in place of other horror characters who have improbable powers and crazy gimmicks to aid their sprees. The most memorable image of the world’s most infamous face-muncher is that of the bound, masked and straight jacketed. It shows the extremes that are felt necessary to contain him, making a start contrast to the small, relatively ordinary looking man underneath.
Leatherface is one of those villains you love to hate, the granddaddy of the costumed slashers, he’s a butcher of human meat. Though he may be a mentally scarred simpleton, his huge size, massive chainsaw and single-mindedness make him a dangerous and terrifying abomination. Defining features of Leatherface’s outfit are a butcher’s apron, gloves and of course a mask made of human flesh.
Vampires have been depicted in a broad variety of ways but the one that sticks most prominently in our cultural memory are the Bella Lugosi/Christopher Lee portrayals. Featuring an intelligent, aloof predator that hides among his victims with the trappings of wealth and decadence. Visually he’s presented as a smartly dressed, wealthy gentleman, dressed most often in formal eveningwear. Personally I feel it’s the touch of class and style attributed to Dracula in these portrayals as much as the acting and scope of the films that made the villain such a success.
Pennywise The Clown (IT)
It is probably the most drastic disguise ever taken on by a horror movie antagonist, the creepy, predatory clown. For the most part it’s just a regular, incredibly attentive clown costume, and on Tim Curry that’s more than enough to be scary as hell. The thing is that Pennywise isn’t any ordinary clown, he’s all your nightmares rolled up into one terrifying package, as soon as a victim gets close the mask starts to drop, he becomes all fangs and claws, his facial features contort into something truly inhuman. So obviously beyond the usual clown makeup there is also a lot of work with prosthetics.
Of course IT isn’t really a clown at all but rather a giant, child-eating nightmare spider-thingy that for some reason has floodlights built into its abdomen… ok the scary clown was better.
The Alien is probably one of the most iconic movie monsters ever. Its nightmarish visage was the brainchild of notorious artist H.R.Giger, known for his disturbing and surreal works. The relentless killing machine in the original film is surprisingly not animatronic or any other kind of puppet. Bolaji Badejo, a 7ft 2in tall graphic designer, wore the costume. He was picked up in a pub and chosen specifically because he was so tall and thin, once in costume this made his limbs seem unrealistically disproportionate, as if no human could be inside that costume.
Whatever the inaccuracies of the depiction, the slow lumbering, flat-headed creature sporting bolts on its neck has become the archetypal image for Victor Frankenstein’s abominable creation. The original description of the monster in Mary Shelley’s book was that of an intelligent, strong, flexible creature. What we got was Boris Karloff stomping around stiffly being mute and simple. Whatever, it worked and now it’s pretty much the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the name Frankenstein. The costume consisted of heavy makeup with a prosthetic top for the head and a set of bolts added to the neck. For added height and weight Karloff wore boots that weighed 13lbs each and offered to have his teeth removed to give himself the necessary sunken cheeks.
While all of these costumes were custom sculpted by industry professionals, there are plenty of fantastic examples of many of these horrifying film outfits available at costume e-stores like fancydresscostumes.co.uk and are readily found in the Halloween section. Here are some handy guides on how to apply Frankenstein & Freddy
The 11 Most Iconic Horror Movie Costumes