The Shatner Mask Evolution of the iconic mask of Michael Myers

I have a memory of the run-up to the release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween back in 2007. At that time he only had two feature films under his belt, and the improvement from the first to the second was dramatic enough that optimism was running high for his take on Halloween. Zombie had been updating fans on the production via his MySpace page (what a time!), and declared that the art director had just unveiled The Mask. “It looks EXACTLY like the original!” was Zombie’s enthusiastic take. And, as we saw in the finished film, he wasn’t exactly lying, even if small details ended up giving it its own signature.

That quote reveals a lot about the most iconic mask in all of horror film. The first version, the original, the store-bought Don Post Captain Kirk mask spray painted white, is still the best possible version. Every single subsequent Halloween sequel has attempted to either improve upon or re-create that original mask, but fans continue to hold up the original as the pinnacle.

It’s not just the mere fact that it IS the original that makes the 1978 Michael Myers mask the fan favorite. I can say with as much objectivity as possible that there’s just something special about it. It’s in the precise sweet spot of blank and generic, and expressive and menacing. Add any more detail and flair, and it looks like you’re trying too hard. Remove detail and it looks cheap and unconvincing. We’ve seen both mistakes happen throughout the Halloween series. 

No doubt you know that the original mask was a Star Trek Captain Kirk mask, as that little piece of trivia has since entered the mainstream consciousness, but in case you weren’t aware of the precise origin of the mask, it went as such: The production designer on Halloween, working on a micro-budget, was really only given a description of Michael Myers’ visage as being a blank “shape” of a human. So he purchased a Captain Kirk mask “for about a dollar” and went to work. He enlarged the eye holes a bit, and removed the eyebrow hair. He stripped away the sideburns and for good measure, a fair portion of the hair at the temples, and then darkened what remained from its original blonde. Then, a few coats of basic white spray paint and BAM, you’ve got a horror icon.

For Halloween 2, the sequel John Carpenter never wanted to make, they made the wise (albeit easy) choice and simply re-used the exact same mask from the first film. Except in just a couple years, the mask had already begun to decay and show signs of wear. So even though Halloween 2 takes place on the same Night HE Came Home, it looks subtly distinct from the first. This fact would reveal the truth of what I find to be the most interesting facet of the Michael Myers mask: that alteration of even the tiniest details gives the mask an entirely new character.

Halloween 3, ironically, is all about Halloween masks, but as Michael Myers sat this one out his mask does not appear at all in the movie, save for a quick glimpse on a television screen in a meta-nod to the series. When fans demanded Myers’ return in Halloween 4, the production set about re-creating the now-officially-iconic mask, and… well, this is where things started to go downhill.

There’s a cheapness quality to this mask that would come to dog the series throughout the duration of its late 80’s and 90’s run. You know how every Myers mask you can buy at a costume store just looks wrong? This mask has that effect. Specifically, in this one the facial expression has kind of a “who, me?” vibe. The eyebrows are a little too high, mouth a little too tight.

In Halloween 5 it was even worse, somehow. The hair is pulled too far back and the whole thing has a saggy, droopy quality in addition to the aforementioned cheapness.

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, in spite of being the universally agreed-upon low point of the series, does have a vastly improved mask. This is the only Halloween movie I’ve never been able to sit through, but looking at images of the mask, I can say that they finally succeeded in producing a mask that resembles the aesthetics of the original. This is, for all the movie’s faults, the real Michael Myers.

Things get interesting in 1998. In what must be at least three layers of META, the film franchise that sparked the entire slasher movie renaissance wound up shamelessly exploiting the popularity of films that were shamelessly exploiting the popularity of a parody of Halloween-style slashers. Got all that? Halloween H20 was another Scream cash-in, is what I’m saying. It is, for lack of a better term, extremely late-90’s.

Based on my research, the film was shot using an absolutely awful, completely redesigned Myers mask and when a rough cut was screened for studio execs, one stood up and declared, “THAT’S not fucking Michael Myers!” And he was right. Just look at this abomination:

So lo and behold, all the closeup and semi-closeup shots of Myers in the film were redone with a mask that more closely resembles the original. I still hate it though. I hate how large the eye holes are and that you can usually see the actor’s bugged out eyes through them. And the dumb spiky 90’s hair is just embarrassing. Nearly as embarrassing as the film’s soundtrack.

Halloween Resurrection, the other low point of the series, features yet another shitty redesigned mask.

I really don’t even know what they were going for with this one. What’s with the size of that upper lip? Why does it have such a simian quality? And they kept the same gaping eye holes and over-pronounced eyebrows that ruined previous masks. I’ll confess, I never sat through this one either…

Returning to the Rob Zombie remake, this was a chance to not only reset the embarrassing, convoluted mythology of Halloween, but finally do right by the mask itself, and I’d say he mostly succeeded. Mostly.

Structurally, it truly is impressively faithful to the original. In the film’s opening when we first see the mask, it’s almost a dead ringer for the mask we all know and love. But when the story shoots ahead 15 years, and the mask suffers cracks and decay, it begins to take on those devilish little details and ends up becoming very “Rob Zombie” in the process.

It’s mainly the hair that does it. The wild, dreadlocked styling gives Michael Myers a totally different silhouette, and when combined with the cracks and holes, he winds up looking sort of… awesome? And I don’t necessarily mean that as a compliment. Michael Myers is supposed to be a blank slate, but this guy looks like he could be in Slipknot. He looks too “cool”. I don’t hate this mask, but I don’t see it ageing very well. Culturally speaking.

For Zombie’s sequel, he made the rather radical decision to have the mask decay and fall apart even more, so by the time the movie reaches its second act large chunks of the rubber are missing, bushy mountain main beard poking through the holes. Towards the end of the film most of Michael Myers’ face is plainly visible.

And that brings us to Halloween (2018). Based on released images and trailers, painstaking efforts were taken to remain as faithful as possible to both the character and silhouette of the original Myers mask, this being a direct sequel to only the original movie. Of course, they did employ liberal faux ageing and weathering techniques. My first impression was that it seemed a little silly to intentionally make the mask wrinkle and crease as an elderly human face would, given that there’s an elderly Michael beneath it. In the trailers it fares better though. Obviously the movie isn’t out yet so I’ll have to reserve judgement on the mask until then.

Compare the Halloween mask to those of its contemporaries and imitators. Jason has his hockey mask, and it too has been tweaked and redesigned in every Friday the 13th film. But there’s no ONE Jason mask. You can prefer the vanilla one from Part 3, the worn-and-torn ones from late series sequels, or even the ridiculous cybernetic one from Jason X, but they’re all Jason. Same for Leatherface. Every production designer puts their own spin on it and there aren’t typically any complaints. Because these masks, after all, are just masks. They aren’t the character. Michael Myers IS the mask. Or more accurately, he’s The Shape.

Now if we could only fix the store-bought versions, then we’d have something…

By the way, much of this background information on the Michael Myers mask throughout the Halloween series came from the Shudder series The Core. They have a Halloween-focused episode that is a must-watch, with a segment detailing how each mask was conceived in each film. If you’re a Shudder subscriber, go check it out now.

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