10 Terrifying Disguises From Non-Horror Films

By  · Published on October 25th, 2012

by David Christopher Bell

Ever wonder why people usually don’t wear elaborate costumes in real life when they are out killing teenagers or robbing banks? Chances are it’s because the whole damn point of wearing a disguise is to draw attention away from your face.

Of course that would be no fun in movies. No one wants to see a crime committed by someone wearing an off color ski mask – so costume designers tend to get a little… creative, and sometimes the result can be downright horrifying.

10. The Presidents in Point Break

It’s nice to see democrats and republicans working toward a common goal like this. These days it would take them weeks just to decide to tie up the security guards, and by then all the hostages would have become jaded and without faith in the process.

The creepiest part here is the cold, frozen smiles on their lifeless faces juxtaposed by sunken in and animated eyes. LBJ is the only one that actually looks like he’s robbing a bank with his more stoic artificial expression. All in all I think it’s Carter’s monster grill that wins the scary prize here. Carter doesn’t even need a gun to make people do what he says.

Someone should make a sequel where a bunch of dudes rob a bank dressed as ex-presidents and the reveal is that they actually are the real ex-presidents under the masks and just really needed the money. Perhaps they can have fun with it and wear each other’s masks as opposed to their own. Kathryn Bigelow could come back to direct. OK maybe they shouldn’t make that.

9. Johnny Clay’s Clown Mask in The Killing

Of course any and all clown masks are scary to look at, but there are some that stand out more than others (see number 6). In this case it’s really the fact that the mask’s jaw seems to move a little too realistically as Johnny speaks. It’s not perfect or anything, but it’s enough to induce nightmares. The shotgun probably helps too, as well as his weird striped undershirt. Honestly that undershirt might be the worst part.

This film is a great reminder that Stanley Kubrick was both really great and really old. Made in 1956, it was considered his first full-length and professionally made feature film. It certainly has to be one of the best “crime doesn’t pay” films out there, and was apparently one of the inspirations for Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

I gotta say – if I had a genie, wish number one would be for Art Gilmore to be constantly narrating everything I ever do in the style of this film. “At exactly 2:35 on that Wednesday afternoon in the second to last week of October, David Bell was deciding that it was best not to put on his pants until he absolutely needed to. He had timed his lunch-making on half a dozen different occasions and he knew at just what point his toaster waffles would be done at precisely what time.”

8. The Robotic Lady Head in Total Recall

So much of my childhood was spent fearing that plump older women were going to tear their own heads off and reveal Arnold Schwarzenegger – by age ten I’d get panic attacks at the very mention of going to JCPenney or getting some frozen yogurt.

Of course that’s kind of what happens when you get Rob Bottin to do your effects – he is, after all, the guy who is directly responsible for the nightmare-inducing creatures in The Thing. There’s also the lizards in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the horrific death in Se7en, the creature effects in The Howling, and – oh yeah, RoboCop for some reason. The point is that you have a lot of reasons to both thank and attack Rob Bottin.

In the recent Recall remake that no one asked for they actually do a great little nod to this original scene, and to this particular disguise. It had to be done of course, just like all the other little moments in the new film that call back to the original. That said, while the remake was enjoyable, all the little tributes just made me want to go watch the original film instead.

7. Old Scary Nuns in The Town

Because it’s not enough that you should get the money and safely outrun the police, you should also traumatize as many children as you possibly can in the process. Nuns are like, way way worse than those skull masks from the first robbery too. And why do they all look like Leslie Nielsen? There’s just so many reasons why these masks should never be on the market.

You can really tell from watching these scenes that Affleck wanted them to be iconic – both unique to the film but also clearly playing off what worked so great in previous heist films. It’s clever enough, as realistic as it needs to be, definitely cool to watch, and most important – it’s extremely well made. There’s a story here that is worth giving a shit about.

My only critique is that, as someone from Massachusetts, there’s only so much establishing shots of Boston I can take. This film seemed to think that the audience would forget where it took place, and felt the need to remind us every ten minutes with either some big sweeping shot or a conveniently placed Red Sox logo. Then again, that’s kind of how it is in Boston so you can’t fault him for realism.

Hey, speaking of traumatizing kids…

6. Bank Robber Clowns in The Dark Knight

This is probably one of the best character introductions of any film. Maybe it was just the hype surrounding the film – but that first shot of The Joker standing on the street holding his mask seems like it could go right on the wall next to Rocky standing on steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Indiana Jones running from a giant boulder.

The masks, which were designed by costume designer Lindy Hemming, were designed with the back story that at some point The Joker fell into an old shipment of plain white masks and had simply painted them to look like clowns. All of them had to be original designs because it turns out that clown faces are actually copyrighted for some reason.

As for the specific mask of the Joker himself – there are rumors out there that it was based directly off of a mask the character once wore in the old 1966 Batman TV show. Looking at the side-by-side comparison, it certainly seems to be the case.

Read on!

5. The Masquerade Masks in Eyes Wide Shut

Thinking about it now – it could just be all the weird naked stuff going down in this big mansion that brings out the creepiness of the situation more than anything. One thing is for sure – the masks certainly don’t help. But hey – this is what happens when rich people get bored, right? It’s either become a super villain or start ritualistically boning each other, or you can go for both and start worshiping the devil or some kind of therianthropic sea monster or something.

Personally – if I were rich I wouldn’t stop wearing stupid masks and worshiping things. I’d buy a boat and spend my days having neotantric sex parties and hunting mermaids. Who is going to stop me?

4. The Moleskin Masks in Kansas City Confidential

This is proof that no matter how nice you try to make it look, you just can’t wear someone else’s skin on your face without looking like a lunatic. The kicker here is the nose. With everything else so eerily shapeless like it is, why give the masks a nose like that? It’s all just plain unsettling – like some kind of twisted bullshit you’d see a Freudian nightmare.

Yet another film that supposedly inspired Reservoir Dogs, the idea here is that the four men involved in the robbery must always wear the masks to protect their identity not just from police but from each other as well. It’s a detail that is later taken advantage of by our vengeful hero of the film.

For those of you interested, the film is public domain so you can actually view the whole thing at various places online, YouTube included.

3. The Scramble Suits in A Scanner Darkly

These are the perfect disguises because anyone who looks at them is too busy violently seizing to successfully identify who might be under them. Seriously – couldn’t they just wear a grey suit or something? Do they have to freak everyone out with their insanity like this? In a world where the number one problem is a drug it just seems very counter-intuitive for your day-to-day uniform to be personifying a terrifying mescaline freak out trip. How is it even possible to achieve an accurate interrogation while wearing one of these things? Every five minutes the transcript would read, “Seriously, dude… you’re really freaking me out.”

This film was crazy. Drugs are one of the hardest things to represent in films and this one certainly managed. The secret is to make the visuals secondary to the performances themselves, something you can tell they knew to do. All the long ramblings and Alice In Wonderland logic in the dialogue of each scene – it’s pretty obvious that the actors in this film were more than familiar with drugs. Of course considering the cast, it’s not exactly like we didn’t know that already.

2. Jack’s Information Retrieval Mask in Brazil

This one kind of sets itself from the rest because not only is it used to disguise the wearer for the purposes of torture-related anonymity, but its primary function is to just freak us all the hell out. So in that respect, mission accomplished. To me this mask seems like the result of Terry Gilliam sitting in a chair and thinking to himself, “What’s the worst thing I can possibly imagine?” This is saying a lot considering Tideland.

It’s fun to note that Gilliam went so far as to secretly show this film to critics and win a “Best Picture” award by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association to finally make Universal agree to keep the movie’s very amazing and very depressing original ending. The man was dedicated to completely and utterly crushing his audience.

Oh, and before you ask – yes – someone out there makes replicas of this thing. So if you’re willing to shell out some cash you got yourself the perfect Halloween costume, or, if you please, a really nice sitting-around-the-house baby mask.

1. Mrs. Doubtfire

Chills… Chills to the bone.

Here’s the difference between this and all the others on this list: Mrs. Doubtfire was more than just a mask, she was a whole other persona. She wasn’t being used for a one time security sneak or rich guy sex party; Mrs. Doubtfire was there to stay. She was there everyday, shelling out folksy wisdom and care. Watching with quiet distaste as a rival man was becoming a part of the family.

And while her true self was nothing more than a misguided father who only wanted to see his kids, the implications of her are amazingly scary. Imagine if she wasn’t so good intentioned after all. What if Mrs. Doubtfire turned out to just be some stranger who just wanted to get close to them. To be part of the family. Or what if the ruse kept going and the father got crazier the closer this rival man got to his wife and kids. No one would suspect that an old lady could kill, would they?

Imagine that moment where the kid walks in on her peeing, and the sheer terror he must have felt at that moment knowing that this soft spoken old lady was something far more sinister than anything his little brain could have ever thought up. Even after he learns who she is – how much you want to bet that the image, the concept, will haunt him forever. He’ll never meet another person without wondering. His relationships, his life, it’s all over.

Thanks Mrs. Doubtfire.

Check Out More Lists

This designation is reserved for our special friends and neighbors who pop in to contribute to the wondrous world of FSR.