October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article ranking the ten best scary baghead killers is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Nothing scarier than nothingness. A werewolf, a leather face, a hockey mask, uh, yeah, I would not want to see a single one appear from my bedroom closet. However, there is a scare that lives a little deeper, though. The blank face, the nothing person.
The baghead killer. They’re a monster of simple tastes and simple means. They require little, maybe a pillowcase or a burlap sack, and a pair of scissors to cut out the eyeholes. Some get a little more creative and sew in some buttons or a zipper; add a little black paint for definition, but their arts and crafts end there. They know the empty expression projects more fear into their victims than a crazy snarl or whatever.
Horror cinema features several fantastic sicko sack-heads. Narrowing them down to our ten favorites required serious consideration and, personally, a few trips to my therapist to work things out. Our Boo Crew (Rob Hunter, Chris Coffel, Meg Shields, Jacob Trussell, and myself) managed, and while we picked a few reboot offenders, we believe you’ll understand why once you’ve worked your way down to our number one creepoid.
10. Friday the 13th (2009)
We love baghead killers so much that we’ll celebrate even a pale copy of one. Not that we have a bad word to say about the 2009 Friday the 13th remake. As far as these horror reboot cash grabs go, it’s probably the best. Director Marcus Nispel goes full-tilt with this one and crams at least three Friday the 13th movies into his runtime. The baghead action figure from Friday the 13th Part 2 features during the brief window between the Nana Visitor opening credits and the main stalk-and-slash portion. However, during this sequence, Jason goes on a kill-crazy rampage through some campers, culminating in an epic title card. This Jason makes a statement, one that defies cross-armed doubting slasher fanatics. (Brad Gullickson)
9. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (2014)
Not really a reboot, not really a sequel. The 1976 film exists within the reality of the 2014 film, an old movie supposedly based on a true tragedy that occurred in 1946. The Phantom here pulls a Scream, and we get a double dose of baghead goodness. This Town that Dreaded Sundown has a little more sheen on it than the original, but it’s not too shiny, either. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon makes a gnarly little cheapie and bets heavily on the baghead factor. Ultimately, the Phantom reveals his reasons for slaying, and they’re painfully petty and pedestrian, but there is no denying the primordial shock that a baghead’s appearance can ignite. (Brad Gullickson)
8. Triangle (2009)
I am an incredibly simple woman: if you put a sack on a bad guy, I’m in. That said, what makes Triangle’s burlap baddie especially noteworthy is the context. So maybe I’m a hypocrite. But at least I didn’t get trapped in a Sisyphean purgatory time loop where I kill a bunch of innocent people over and over again, right? Somewhere around the second act of Christopher Smith’s nautical nightmare, the other shoe drops. That bag-headed maniac who’s been stalking and slashing our heroes turns out to actually be our protagonist, Jess (Melissa George) from another timeline. Consequently, we get to experience the bag boogeyman from multiple perspectives: hunter and hunted. Also, and this is just for bonus points, the sack mask in Triangle looks really great. Not all burlap baggies are created equal! And this one slouches and sags just enough to keep things uncanny and ambiguous. (Meg Shields)
7. The Orphanage (2007)
Poor Tomás and Jason Voorhees have a lot in common. They both fell victim to bullying because of their facial deformities. They died tragically as a result, and their mothers made swift vengeance on the culprits. Also, they both enjoy a baghead disguise and effectively use it to scare the shit outta callous, wretched, and dismissive humans. Don’t you want to live in the fringe universe where The Orphanage spawned as many sequels as Friday the 13th? In that realm, Tomás eventually adopts a masquerade persona and whacks his way through teenagers using a scythe. The Orphanage 3D is good, but The Orphanage: The Final Chapter with Baby Tom Holland is even better. Let’s not talk about The Orphanage: A New Beginning. No Tomás, no thanks. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Scarecrows (1988)
Scarecrows feels like someone was making an action movie and their set got crossed up with a horror film, and they decided to just go with it. The dialogue throughout most of the movie is a bit weird. It feels like you’re listening to a group of friends playing Call of Duty — the movie would actually make for a great game, by the way. All that to say, it’s a movie that rules, and it rules largely because of the titular scarecrows. Their canvas sack faces are lifeless but menacing. The way they toy and mock their victims before killing them is ruthless. Their needlework and taxidermy skills are impeccable. My only complaint is calling them scarecrows because they scare more than crows. I suggest calling them scaremorethancrows. (Chris Coffel)
5. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
It may feel like there is a relative lack of creativity in just throwing a bag over your killer’s head and calling it a day, but I find it actually allows our imagination to conjure something even more horrific than the filmmakers may have originally intended. While a literal mask gives the impression of hiding an identity, the bag seems to be about hiding, specifically, a face. This allows our creative brains to work overtime, generating a million different ideas of what horrifying visage lurks behind that bag. However, what makes the bag in Dark Night of the Scarecrow work so well — beyond, of course, just how creepy it looks with its gaping maw — is knowing that there is no monster behind that mask. It’s just the victim of cruelty, turned into a vengeful ghost, not unlike an Onryō in Japanese horror storytelling. It gives the film, and its scary bag head, a dimension unique to other instances of this gimmick being used. (Jacob Trussell)
4. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)
Look, democracy is weird. We all voted, and The Town That Dreaded Sundown wound up in fourth place. But let’s be real. When you think scary baghead killers, it’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown that you think about first, right? Like, okay, maybe a few of your brains immediately jump to Jason in Friday the 13th Part 2. I can’t be mad about that, but Jason Voorhees’ final form is the hockey mask killer, not the baghead killer. The quintessential baggie baddie is the Phantom as he murders his way through The Town That Dreaded Sundown. He cuts a terrifying figure, and his profile on the VHS box art invaded my kiddie mind and never left. The movie is solid, but the Phantom is an undeniable horror movie icon. (Brad Gullickson)
3. The Strangers (2008)
Okay, so since I was assigned The Strangers blurb right after The Town That Dreaded Sundown blurb, I will keep on ranting. The baghead killers in this 2008 flick are scary as hell, but they run only because The Phantom from The Town That Dreaded Sundown walked before them. Placing bets here that director Bryan Bertino somehow encountered the 1976 flick at some point in his youth. Maybe he’d seen the film, maybe not. He’d certainly seen the same VHS box art that I did. As a result, he took those creepy baghead Phantom shadows and doubled-downed, nay, triple-downed. The Strangers‘ greatest scares are just moments when you see a baghead pop-up. The faceless killer is a reflection of the oblivion that stalks us all. (Brad Gullickson)
2. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Ask anyone to picture Jason Voorhees, and while some creeps will imagine the deformed boy in the lake, most will immediately go to the hockey mask. It’s fair, and the hockey mask has definitely taken over the pop culture image of the slasher icon, but for my money, Jason’s never been scarier than he is in Part 2 while wearing a simple, creepy, and highly effective bag with eye holes. As with nearly every entry on this list, a bag head shows a terrifyingly raw approach to covering one’s face. Other masks are trying too hard while a cloth sack simply says “I may be a cheap motherfucker who can’t afford to shop at Spirit Halloween, but I will absolutely gut you with neither a moment’s hesitation nor a witty quip.” No Captain Kirk mask or piece of protective sports gear can compete with that. (Rob Hunter)
1. Nightbreed (1990)
Clive Barker comes from the same monster school as Guillermo del Toro. The beasts are not the problem. They’re beautiful. It’s those grotesque humans we all have to watch out for. Case in point, the baghead maniac Dr. Decker, played wickedly by Canada’s body horror prince, David Cronenberg. His button-eyed baghead disguise achieves its desired effect. When it appears before some poor victim, there is a righteous jolt. However, it also amplifies how pathetic Decker is when standing amongst the truly attractive monsters in Nightbreed. Decker desperately wants to be worthy, but he’ll never come close to such perfection, and he knows it. This knowledge sends him into murderous fits, but as the film races toward its climax, the fear drains out of them. He is THE baghead killer, but it’s only because his tantrums are the most recognizable, and their deadly potential is something we’ve all come to dread in recent years. (Brad Gullickson)
Burn all your pillows and sacks, then read more tales of terror from our 31 Days of Horror Lists!