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10 Best and Most Unforgettable Masked Killers in Horror

Sometimes the mask is every bit as terrifying as the madness beneath.
Best Masked Killers
By  · Published on October 17th, 2022

5. Harry Warden from My Bloody Valentine (1981/2009)

My Bloody Valentine

There are a couple of elements that make Harry Warden and his coal miner mask stand out from the crowd. First off, Harry’s vengeance-fueled rampage is one that could have been avoided with some simple human decency. See, he was driven mad after a mine explosion traps him underground with only his friends to eat, and his madness intensifies after being rescued and discovering the explosion only happened because a supervisor left his post to attend the town’s Valentine’s Day dance. Harry tells them never to hold the dance again, or else — but ten years later, the fools decide to ignore his warning after all. The pastor from Footloose could learn a thing or two from Harry as the miner picks up his pickaxe and begins doling out punishment for those foolish enough to cut loose on the dance floor.

In addition to being a man of his word, Harry is also a man unafraid of a challenge. Just look at that mask! Most killers keep it simple, something they can keep in their back pocket and then toss on quickly without worrying about it getting in their way. But just look at this thing! His visibility is for shit, and it’s clunky as all hell, but he keeps on trucking and racking up the kills anyway. A true hero to the mask-wearing community. (Rob Hunter)

4. The Phantom from Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Phantom Of The Paradise

Poor, poor Winslow Leach (William Finley). He’s a genius, but his vibe doesn’t gel with what mega-producer Swan (Paul Williams) wants for his Paradise concert hall. So, in come the goons and the horrific tragedy that leaves Leach lookin’ like yesterday’s meatloaf. Brian De Palma offers his Giallo musical spin on the classic Victor Hugo horror saga, and it’s a disco-fied frightmare that leaves your toes tapping and your stomach gurgling. Finley’s sorrowful monster is upsetting enough to trigger revulsion but never too ghastly to recoil your sympathy. And, if we’re strictly speaking on aesthetic, Leach’s silver-beaked dome burns righteously into memory, sold by the exposed jaw below, the black lipstick, and the grinding, metallic teeth. He’s a ghoul born for memorabilia and cosplay. If you see one of these guys walking around Comic-Con, you’re guaranteed a high-five upon recognition. Just beware the plunger they’re undoubtedly carrying in the other hand. (Brad Gullickson)

3. Decker from Nightbreed (1990)


It remains a crime that the great Clive Barker only directed three feature films. I love both Hellraiser (1987) and Lord of Illusions (1995), but my heart belongs to his monster-filled and much-maligned opus, Nightbreed. Based on his own short novel, Cabal, the film is about a tribe of (somewhat) humanoid creatures living and hiding away from humankind. Why? Because humans are the real monsters. Barker makes his point both with a gun-toting, redneck mob and a vicious serial killer named Decker (David freaking Cronenberg). The bulk of the film is a fun, sometimes cheesy, darkly magical action/adventure, but the scenes with the masked-up Decker — particularly the one where he enters a home and slaughters a family — are endlessly creepy. Its leathery material, button eyes, and zippered mouth are pure nightmare fuel made even more terrifying by the calmly psychotic sound of Cronenberg’s voice emanating from within. (Rob Hunter)

2. Owl-face from Stage Fright (1987)

Stage Fright

As with Harry Warden and his coal miner mask above, I simply must insist that we rise up to celebrate that mad ornithophile, Irving Wallace. A former actor, young Irving had the misfortune of going slightly bonkers leading to his incarceration at a mental hospital. Lucky for him, though, his big break is right around the corner as he escapes custody, offs a few more people, and then gets locked in an old theater alongside some unsuspecting actors about the experience the best stage performance of their very short lives. Best? Sorry, I meant last. Because Irving has donned an impressive and imposing owl mask, and he’s about to cut his way through the competition. Just like Harry, Irving can’t see dick in this mask, but like the great owl the mask is based on, his vision still lands him near 360-degree certainty when searching for prey. He loses the mask at the end, but like the trooper he is, not even a bullet to the forehead can stop him from offering up one last headshot pose of his own. (Rob Hunter)

1. Leatherface from Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974-2022)

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

Look, there are some great entries on this list of the best masked killers. There are iconic masks that turned characters into legends and terrifying masks that instantly send chills down your spine. But how many horror characters are actually named after their mask? Checkmate, everyone else. In this case, Leatherface is Leatherface because of his mask. It’s what makes him instantly horrifying from the moment he jumpscares his way into the movie to the frenetic final seconds. It’s also a beautifully simple idea: a mask made of a human face. When it comes to masked killers, it doesn’t get grosser or scarier than that. (Anna Swanson)

It’s time to give your face a rest, so take off the mask, pour yourself a cup of skin-loosening tea, and come read more 31 Days of Horror Lists!

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.