The creepiest masks in cinema

A rundown of the scariest masks on film; but what's scarier: the mask or what lies beneath?

Donnie Darko Frank mask
Still from "Donnie Darko" via jake-weird.blogspot.fr

The kooky, far-out tale of musical genius Frank Sidebottom – the laconic prodigy who hides under a papier-mâché head – is in cinemas today. We're celebrating the musical caper with Frank Day, an in-depth look at how the comic persona and frontman of The Freshies made it to the big screen.

The giant paper mache head Michael Fassbender dons for most of Lenny Abrahamson's Frank is an emotionless mask that's disquieting at first (or that we just want to throw things at for pretentious stage posturing), but which we grow tender toward as we warm to bizarre band frontman Frank's vulnerabilities. Not so for most masks in cinema, which veil identities for the most sinister (or pervy) of intents, and just get creepier as more bodies fall. Get ready to recoil all over again, at this faceless carnival.

BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (1964)

In this stylish Italian giallo from Mario Bava a stalker in a featureless white mask with a glinting weapon in his glove murders a bevy of catwalk models in his bid to get hands on a scandalous diary. It influenced a host of later body-count slashers with obscured-face killers, from Halloween to Friday the 13th.

THE WICKER MAN (1973)

The animal masks worn in May Day celebration parades by Celtic pagans on an isolated island make the suspicions of a sergeant, who is investigating a young girl's disappearance, that they're carrying out human sacrifices all the eerier in this surreal and bizarre classic Brit horror from Robin Hardy (later remade starring Nic Cage).

DONNIE DARKO (2001)

Rabbits are also anything but cute in this brooding, hallucinatory cult indie directed by Richard Kelly about a psychologically troubled teen visited by Frank, a being in a menacing bunny costume with a distorted, grinning mask who warns him the world will end in a month and urges him to carry out destructive acts.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

Alex (Malcolm McDowell) wears a grotesque mask with a phallic, Pinocchio-style red nose amid an ultra-violent crime spree with his gang of delinquent droogs, fuelled by drug-laced milk. Stanley Kubrick's coldly stylised, viciously humorous social satire on morality and control is set in a dystopian future Britain.  

BLUE VELVET (1986)

Transparent medical masks don't look so sinister – unless you're Dennis Hopper in all-out unhinged mode. In David Lynch's surreal noir he inhales gas from a mask as sociopathic gangster Frank Booth, while dry-humping the nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini) that's the object of his sado-masochistic urges. Add a peeping tom voyeur (Kyle McLachlan) in the closet for another layer of creeped-outness.

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)

This visually stunning, disquieting fantasyscape of Czech Surrrealism from director Jaromil Jires is tinged with the worlds of Gothic fairytale and magic ritual, and sees a teenage girl have to contend with a vampire priest in a carnival weasel mask and other symbolic visions of reaching sexual age.

STAGE FRIGHT (1987)

Owls might be wise and grandfatherly-looking, but they're also creatures of prey – and their imposing visages can add a certain nightworld doom to a serial killer on the prowl. The huge feathered mask of the figure terrorising the theatre is the best thing about this giallo-inflected slasher from Michaele Soavi, who'd previously assisted Dario Argento.

EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960)

A surgeon's daughter who has been disfigured in an accident wears a stiff mask that hauntingly resembles her former face in this poetic French horror. Meanwhile, her father kidnaps pretty women and tries to graft their features onto hers – inspiring Billy Idol's song of the same name, and John Woo's Face/Off.

ONIBABA (1964)

A lost samurai in a demon mask is guided out of a swamp in this ghostly Japanese fable from director Kaneto Sindo, which echoes the trauma of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. After killing the warrior, a scheming woman dons his mask and gets it wet in the rain – then finds she can't get it the hell off.

THE RITE (1969)

Three actors perform a pornographic performance in masks more menacing than the ones in Kubrick's ritualistic eroticism fest Eyes Wide Shut for a judge who may impose a fine for obscenity in this raw psychological drama by Ingmar Bergman. Sombre kink from the Swedish maestro.

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