15 Greatest Masked Movie Characters

I’ve always had a strange fascination for masks, something that originated during my childhood. The normal human face is not what you would call vivid, and even after amassing all the different races, there aren’t a lot of colors, just a few that differ in tone. And most people have the same round eyes, triangular nose, elliptical mouths and tunneling ears, which reminds me of the last scene from my favorite Korean movie, Memories of Murder. The girl when asked to describe how the serial killer looked like, replies that he looked “just…. ordinary”, and which proves unless you have some contextual information regarding a person there’s nothing significant that can be extracted from a face. This is where masks fit in and how they can be optimized for effective symbolism apart from the unusuality brought to the appearance or concealment.

Visual arts have used the concept of masking since its inception to enhance the dramatic appeal as well as to transform a physical body into a metaphysical image, like the geisha culture that emerged during 600’s in Japan. Movies being a product of stage theatrics, continued to adopt this “visage de la mystique” for the same intention, to captivate the viewer’s attention and make their minds skirt around the character’s motives. After going through a hundred different masked characters and unfortunately dropping out some of my favorites, I’ve compiled a list of 15 that I believe are the greatest. I’ll be differentiating between masks and masked characters, and hence would be excluding remarkable choices like The Rite, Point Break, Silence of the Lambs and Eyes Wide Shut. I have also excluded superheroes from this list. Here are the 15 greatest movie characters with masks.

 

15. Frank (Frank)

In my favorite performance from Michael Fassbender, he is The Third Revelation. No, seriously, he is. His character, Frank is considered to be an enigma by a group of musicians whose spirituality is a byproduct of fossilized nonconformism and the fading gothic culture, basically people in search for nothing but pleasure through music. He sports a fake head and weird quirkiness, inspired by the legendary musician Frank Sidebottom. The character has a shocking backstory which lies buried underneath his Freddie Mercury-esque experimental vocals and dressing, a peculiar appreciation of seemingly irrelevant objects and especially an aura that radiates warmth. It’s just bloody difficult to dislike a character who sings about “screeching frequencies”, “pulsating infinities” and “galactic siren sounds”.

 

14. Mother (Onibaba)

I maybe twisting the rules a bit here, but I simply couldn’t leave this one out. Though the mother in ‘Onibaba’ has the mask on for a few scenes, the execution and impact is so effective contextually, it completely changes the outcome of the film. Kaneto Shindo’s work was superstitious in a customary manner, like many Japanese filmmakers from that period. Though Onibaba with its thrilling sound design as well as images of fields and naked bodies flirts with hedonism and liberation, it ends up as a haunting piece on karma, but one where the characters pay for their bad deeds. Onibaba is a female demon from Japanese folklore and the build-up to the mother’s denunciation is fascinating.

 

13. Mrs Tredoni (Alice, Sweet Alice)

Both the movie ‘Alice, Sweet Alice’ and its killer are probably one of the most underrated figures in slasher history, being the pioneer in the development of the genre along with ‘Black Christmas’. Leave aside its disturbing themes of religious fanaticism and child murder, the thing that stands out the most is the killer’s infantile mask and that sweet yellow raincoat that kids wear on their way to sweet yellow school buses. Slashers are most effective when they are offensive, there’s no point in making a horror film if it doesn’t ruffle some feathers and this killer was surprisingly more explicit than those abhorrent oldies from ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.

 

12. Christiane (Eyes Without A Face)

Georges Franju, though being an essential part of the French New Wave, was the most isolated in his filmography compared to others. His style was heavily influenced by the early expressionist cinema and poetic surrealism, which are on display in his horror masterpiece, ‘Eyes Without A Face’. In many ways its similar to the 19th century tragic novels that dealt with body horror, and was bashed by critics for being derivative (French critics in those considered themselves more artistic than filmmakers). You don’t have to dig very deep and its mesmerizing to see how Franju evokes a strong sense of depersonalization through an ordinary face mask that never lets Christiane express a single ounce of emotion.

 

11. Predator (Predator)

More than halfway down the movie, most people must’ve thought as to why the alien in ‘Predator’ wears a mask, despite having the ability turn invisible to the human eye. Is it part of his 80’s sci-fi modeled uniform? That question is soon answered, when we find out, it’s because he’s just one ugly motherf****r! Predator, actually a being from the Yautja species, as explored in the various sequels and crossovers have for centuries hunted other species for honor and sport, including humans and Xenomorphs. The mask is to the Yautja what a helmet is to a knight, a prerequisite for combat situations.

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