Creating a horror movie that actually works well is one of the most difficult tasks in all of filmmaking. Coming up with ideas that are genuinely frightening enough to stick in the minds of audiences forever is a tough job, and inventing a horror villain that has a serious impact is even tougher.
The fact that some horror films and franchises have managed to create a villain or image that is scary enough to actually become iconic is an insanely impressive feat. Horror movie villains can be some of the most unforgettable film characters of all time, and their success hinges on a lot of different things. Of course, things like acting performance and character concept are huge, but one thing seems to be the most important element: the costumes and makeup design. The costuming in horror movies can absolutely make or break the movie and the character. Here are the 10 best horror movie costumes of all time.
10 Norman Bates – Psycho
The horror movie classic Psycho may be coming up on its 50th anniversary very soon, but it has been such an enduring film for a reason. Although the horror genre has evolved since the days of Alfred Hitchcock, he is still undoubtedly one of the masters of a great movie twist.
So while Norman Bates’ abrupt costume change towards the end of the movie isn’t that shocking out of context now, within the actual story of Psycho it’s one of the best twists in cinema history. After an entire movie of waiting to see Mrs. Bates, we see Norman dressed as Mrs. Bates, which was the shock of a lifetime.
9 Valak – The Nun
There seems to be something that is inherently frightening about a nun’s habit. It’s an extremely stark and almost ghostly image already, as the black and white cloak that only reveals a nun’s face is obviously intentionally very concealing and restrictive. Unless you’re face to face with a nun, you really never know what you’re going to see, but clearly no one would ever expect to see something like Valak.
This grim, ghastly face is one of the scariest in all of horror, and the complete corruption of an image that is supposed to be one of the kindest and most godly in the world is a brilliant horror movie twist.
8 Ghostface – Scream
One of the most difficult things to navigate in a movie about a masked villain is choosing the actual mask that the villain is going to wear. Obviously there are a lot of masked characters in horror that are absolutely iconic, however it something that can typically go really well or really badly.
It’s no big surprise that horror master Wes Craven chose a really great mask for his referential horror movie Scream, but the visage of Ghostface still deserves its props. This super expressive face is reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s iconic painting “The Scream,” and this white face manages to pay homage to classic horror villains while putting a brand new spin on the masked murderer too.
7 Jason Voorhees – Friday The 13th
Jason Voorhees is actually one of the most interesting horror movie villains of all time, because despite the fact that he is the iconic representation of the Friday the 13th slasher franchise, he didn’t make an appearance in the series in his most recognizable form until the third installment.
But that just goes to show what an effective costume choice it was, because Jason in all of his hockey mask and machete glory has become utterly synonymous with the franchise itself. Hockey didn’t necessarily deserve to become the scariest sport on earth just because of Jason’s personal preferences, but it’s cool that hockey goalies now always have a Halloween costume on hand.
6 Michael Myers – Halloween
In case anyone was still unaware of this interesting, insane little tidbit about Michael Myers and his iconic mask, that ghastly white face is actually a William Shatner mask that has been painted over. It’s one of those things that you can never un-see once you’ve seen it, and the ultra low budget Halloween deserves a lot of accolades for making one of the scariest horror costumes in history from next to nothing.
It’s really astounding to realize that retrofitted Captain Kirk mask, a pair of navy coveralls, and a basic kitchen knife are all that it took to create one of the most memorable horror characters of all time.
5 Freddy Kruger – A Nightmare On Elm Street
While masked creatures deserve their own moment in the sun as some of the scariest and most inventive horror costumes of all time, it’s hard to deny that the horror movie villains that are created around an actor’s face are both more difficult to achieve and more effective transformations.
Building a prosthetic character around a real person obviously takes a lot of time and effort, but the effort is more than worth it because the actors playing the role can now actually give a performance. And Freddy Krueger is a prime example of why that can work so well, because his burnt face, hat, striped sweater, and iconic bladed glove are as terrifying as they are unforgettable.
4 Pinhead – Hellraiser
The makeup artist or artists who designed and executed the ideas behind the Cenobites in Hellraiser deserves all of the adoration in the world, because these creatively gruesome creatures are truly one of a kind, and every one of them deserves a spot on this list. However, there is one that clearly is more beloved and remembered than the rest, and that is the sadomasochistic artist formerly known as Pinhead.
It’s actually a pretty simple concept and execution, especially in relation to some of the other Cenobites, but the simplicity and symmetry of this creature with nails embedded all over his head is brilliant.
3 The Demon – Insidious
There is something that certainly needs to be said for actually using an amazing costume or makeup design effectively because even the scariest images can lose some impact if they’re used in the wrong way. But one horror creature whose appearance is used in the exact right way is the fire faced demon from Insidious.
There isn’t a person in the world who didn’t jump back in horror and revulsion at the first appearance of this otherworldly entity, and it’s actually astounding how scary a simple red and black paint job along with some unsettling and inhuman contact lenses can be.
2 Pennywise The Clown – IT
For the vast majority of horror movie villains, it would seem that simplicity is key. It’s hard to know whether that’s by intentional design, or if it’s because realistically speaking the budget for most horror films is restrictive enough that the filmmakers need to get really creative to make a villain that they can actually afford to make.
But Pennywise in the big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s IT deserves accolades for the opposite reason. The artistry and detail work in Pennywise’s costuming and makeup design is absolutely incredible, and it, in turn, elevates the character and the film to a level that most horror films just can’t achieve.
1 Leatherface – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Even though it’s been decades since Tobe Hooper’s iconic horror film The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has been released, it’s place in the highest echelons of seriously scary movies has not yet been questioned. Of course the subject matter is pretty tough to beat in terms of genuinely horrifying ideas, and it’s most memorable villain, affectionately known as “Leatherface”, is still one of the scariest horror villains of all time.
And there is one simple reason why Leatherface deserves the top spot on this list. Because while a chainsaw wielding killer is terrifying in it’s own right, there is nothing scarier and more viscerally affecting than a horror villain who’s mask is literally the skin of a murdered human being.
NEXT: 10 Best Black And White Horror Movies Ever