Masks are scary. And not just masks of scary aliens or wolves or demons. I know for a fact that there are people who find the above mask creepy, even though there is nothing inherently creepy about it. There’s no blood or fangs. There’s nothing sinister about it. It represents no gender, race or deformity. It is a blank form.
And yet, this mask elicits uneasiness. If you don’t think this is scary, think about Michael Myer’s mask. It is a white, featureless face. Or think about Jason’s mask. It’s just a hockey mask. Before Friday the 13th Part III, people used to wear it as protective equipment. Now you can’t see that particular mask without immediately thinking of a machete wielding psychopath.
So many of our current monsters wear masks, from gas masks to hockey masks to ghostface masks. The blank, expressionless face is inherently frightening to us. I’m not going wax philosophical and psychological about why I think this is. It’s a gut feeling and gut feelings don’t need much analysis. It’s the return of that base fear, the one that drives all fears; our fear of the unknown.
We derive so much information from the face: age, gender, race, culture (piercings? tattoos? make-up?), emotions, illness. The face is our go-to point for knowing a person. The faceless mask, the one that’s not just a monster’s visage, is inherently creepy because it is still human, undeniably, incontrovertibly, but still so alien. There is no information to be gleaned. There is nothing to tell you about the person behind the face. Unlike a werewolf face, which just howls evil, the faceless mask could be…anything. It is up to the wearer to interpret how to portray this face.
If I did want to go deeper, and started laying some psychology on the table, I’d say that the faceless mask shows us what we already know: When we get down to it, a person’s face doesn’t tell us anything about who they, no matter how many times we comment on someone who has a kind face or has devilish features or a sinister countenance or a gentle look. A person does not wear their souls on their face, no matter how much we wish they did.
That mask, the blank one with no clues of the humanity beyond it, reminds us, all too much, of the fact that the stranger next door could be anyone behind that smile and that wave.
That they’re all masks.