Designing Fear: Ghost Face

Today it’s easy to ignore a call, especially with cell phones letting us know an unknown number is a spam call or one that simply isn’t in our contacts. However, what if you answered believing you knew the caller, but the voice on the other end is one you don’t know, but it knows you. It knows exactly who you are.

By the 1990s, slasher films had become predictable with a clear formula that at times was almost comical. Because of this, Wes Craven wanted to once again shake up the genre he had helped create and found his inspiration in the Scream screenplay by Kevin Williamson.

Teens who try to out smart their killers with their knowledge of horror films like Halloween and Friday the 13th was a tongue in cheek reframing of horror that intrigued Craven and set the perfect stage for our new horror icon, Ghost Face.

Scream (1996) Promotional Poster

While today, Ghost Face is one of the most recognizable slasher villains of all time, with ghost face masks and black robes so easily accessible and a Halloween staple. However, he almost looked very, very different.

Drew Barrymore as Casey in Scream (1996)

Taking inspiration from Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream”, Craven and costume designer Cynthia Bergstrom wanted a very drawn melting look to Ghost face. Cynthia immediately imagined Ghost Face to be black to contrast the mask and create a grim reaper look for him. However, Craven wanted not just a ghost faced mask but a whole ghost with the killer wearing white robes. While Cynthia respected Craven’s vision and created the robes in white she was not convinced this was the right look.

“We put a friend of mine, who’s a big guy, about 6-foot-2, in the white costume, and he basically looked like a giant Casper the Ghost. And Wes still liked it. And Marianne [Maddalena, the producer] and I are just kind of like looking at each other going, ‘How can we get him away from the white?’ It wasn’t until a couple of weeks before we started shooting that we really nailed the costume.”

– Cynthia Bergstrom, Nylon

And nailed it they did when the director of photography, Mark Irwin, stumbled upon the perfect fabric for the robe,

“He said, ‘I can light it in a way where we get that spark and that glint, almost like the glint of the light hitting a knife,’ and that was it, Wes was sold,”

– Cynthia Bergstrom, Nylon
Still from, Scream (1996)

While the robes were being sorted out to look much more sinister, getting Ghost Face’s famous mask presented some issues, especially with the legal department.

It all started when producer Marianne Maddalena simply stumbled upon the mask while scouting locations. The home was abandoned, but someone had hung the mask on a post at the house. When she showed Craven, he loved it wanted it for the film. However, it turned out the mask’s design was protected by intellectual property laws meaning they would have to get it licensed from its producer, the Fun World company. The mask was initially named “The Peanut-Eyed Ghost,” designed by Brigitte Sleiertin around 1992 for the company “fantastic faces” line. While needing to get a license for the mask was not ideal, the they went to Fun World with a deal for the right to use it. However Fun World wanted much more than they were offering, the deal fell through.

Now needing to make their own mask, Craven enlisted Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger of KNB Effects company, to create a version of the mask that he liked and didn’t violate Fun Worlds’ intellectual property.

Ghost Face concept mask and drawing by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger

Nicotero and Berger came up with dozens of horrifying designs but ultimately settled on the one inspired by the peanut mask the most. The mask was made and ready for shooting when Fun World came back with a much more reasonable deal. With Craven’s dream mask cleared for the movie, the peanut mask became the Ghost face mask we all know, love, and fear today.

Skeet Ulrich as Billy in Scream (1996)

Want to know more? Check out my sources.

Squires, John. “Original ‘Scream’ Ghostface Mask Concepts Were Way Different.” Bloody Disgusting!, 21 Dec. 2016, https://bloody-disgusting.com/news/3418632/original-scream-ghostface-mask-concepts-way-different/.

Cronin, Brian. “What Is the Spooky Real Life Origin of Scream’s Ghostface Mask?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/what-is-the-spooky-real-l_b_7686112.

Fletcher, Rosie. “This Is How the Iconic Scream Mask Nearly Looked.” Digital Spy, Digital Spy, 13 Nov. 2018, https://www.digitalspy.com/movies/a817554/what-scream-iconic-mask-nearly-looked-like/.

LaSane, Andrew. “18 Interesting Things You Probably Didn’t Know about the ‘Scream’ Movies.” Insider, Insider, 13 Oct. 2021, https://www.insider.com/scream-movies-cool-facts-you-may-not-know-2021-10.

Lodi, Marie. “8 Fashion Moments You Might Have Missed in ‘Scream’.” Nylon, Nylon, 22 Oct. 2021, https://www.nylon.com/fashion/scream-movie-costume-designer-outfits-fashion.

Meghan, and Jules. “S01 E01 – Ep 1: Cynthia Bergstrom ‘Scream.’” Lasting Looks, 27 Oct. 2020.

Atkinson, Alex James. “3: Episode Three – Cynthia Bergstrom, Scream Costume Designer.” The Woodsboro Podcast, 9 Sept. 2021.

Drew Barrymore as Casey in Scream (1996)

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