With spooky season coming to a close, horror aficionados and Halloween lovers everywhere are sobbing, either preparing to launch themselves into the holiday spirit, or back into a year-long slumber until next year’s spooky season rolls around. But the fun’s not over yet, and in celebration of the second-most-festive season of the year, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the best costumes in horror.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, I give you my Haunted Favorites:
Oftentimes, the villains of horror don more simplistic costumes. With Pennywise, however, the opposite is true. As a clown’s persona is already extraordinarily over the top, of course they’re going to need a costume to match their vivacity. Costume designer Janie Bryant is the woman responsible for bringing Pennywise to life in this 2017 version of Stephen King’s It. As a big fan of horror costumes and someone with a love for period clothing, Bryant was especially excited to design the Pennywise costume.
Some of Bryant’s initial research for the character of Pennywise consisted of images of Victorian clowns and acrobats, Renaissance clothing, and even Elizabethan clothing – hello ruffs! Bryant stated that she “really wanted to include elements of all the different periods,” considering that the lifespan of Pennywise stretches across hundreds of years. She also wanted to create a quality similar to that of an exoskeleton, to correlate the concept of Pennywise being a spider in King’s original novel. Janie added elements such as pleats to give Pennywise “that organic, caterpillar, creepy feel,” and used a dupioni silk as the primary fabric for the Pennywise ensemble, washing and distressing it in order to achieve that vintage look.
I think it’s fair to say that the end result is a masterpiece, no?
Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise; It (2017)
When we think of horror films, the word ‘beautiful’ rarely comes to mind, but that’s exactly the word I would use to describe Crimson Peak. With it’s gothic aesthetic alongside it’s impeccable attention to detail, Crimson Peak is visually stunning in every aspect.
Bringing that gothic beauty to life alongside director Guillermo Del Toro and production designer Tom Sanders, was costume designer Kate Hawley. Hawley states that Guillermo already had a very strong vision of the color coding he wanted to use for the settings and costumes, using rich, warm hues for the New York setting and harsh, cold hues for Allerdale Hall.
Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing; Crimson Peak (2015)
The pre-production for Crimson Peak was five months long, followed by shooting which lasted three months. Before pre-production, Hawley also did a month of her own research. According to Hawley, the project started off with a note from Guillermo that said, “It’s just Victorian.” Which she found ironic because, having worked with him before, she says in an interview with Inverse, “it’s never just anything.”
Grace’s Wedding Dress: Ready Or Not
The transformation of Grace’s wedding dress is the star of Ready Or Not, and no one can convince me otherwise.
“Lace… uh, reads blood really beautifully.”Avery Plewes, costume designer
Samara Weaving as Grace Le Domas; Ready Or Not (2019)
What begins as a chic, yet relatively simple gown, transforms into something else entirely by the end of the movie. Thus, the slow evolution of the wedding dress became the star that helped to tell the story of Grace’s struggle, to put it lightly. Costume designer Avery Plewes drew parallels between the character of Grace and her marriage into a wealthy dynasty, and familiar figures such as Grace Kelly and Kate Middleton marrying into royalty, which inspired the original design for the dress.
Though the lace is beautiful and entirely fitting for a wedding gown, Plewes states that there was another reason for the use of lace. “Lace… uh, reads blood really beautifully,” says Plewes.
When a costume goes through the sort of transformation that Grace’s wedding gown goes through, a costume designer has to strategically plan out every aspect of that costume’s deterioration. They also have to prepare for multiple variations of that same costume. For this purpose, Plewes created a color-coded flow-chart containing everything that could happen to Grace’s dress throughout the script, and then reverse-engineered it. So, just how many multiples did they have to make? The answer: 24. 17 of which were worn by Samara, and seven of which were worn by her stunt double, Jackie Geurts.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bram Stoker’s Dracula should never not be on a list of best costumes in horror. Or best costumes in any genre for that matter. With costume design by Eiko Ishioka, Francis Ford Coppola‘s 1992 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Monica Bellucci, Michaela Bercu, & Florina Kendrick as Dracula’s Brides; Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)
“The costumes will be the set.”Francis Ford Coppola
After being told that his budget for the film was much lower than he desired, Coppola decided to put a vast majority of his budget into the costumes, declaring that, “the costumes will be the set.” A rather uncommon choice when it comes to the film industry.
Throughout the design process, nature became a primary source of inspiration behind many of Ishioka’s designs, from Lucy’s wedding dress, inspired by the Australian frilled lizard, to Lucy’s party dress that’s embroidered with intertwining snakes.
Ishioka also uses color and silhouette to show a characters evolution throughout the film. Mina, a rather innocent and modest character throughout the movie, is wearing a seductive red gown in the scene where Dracula finally seduces her. A color choice Eiko claims was to “tie the two lovers together in a burst of passion that cannot be contained.”
With Eiko’s background as a graphic designer, Coppola believed that Ishioka’s lack of roots in the costume design world, would give her the advantage in creating costumes that were entirely different than what was already associated with the Dracula legend. If the Oscar win isn’t confirmation enough that she succeeded in that endeavor, then I don’t know what is.
Have you ever spent two months creating a gown comprised of 10,000 silk flowers? No? Well, costume designer Andrea Flesch and her Midsommar team have!
Needing to make a massive gown that looked like a field of flowers, Flesch and her team started with the base of the gown, which she says was “more of an engineering thing than a designing thing.” So, of course, she enlisted her husband, an architect, for help. After multiple trials and errors, they finally found a design that worked and continued on to the cloak, which also required some trial and error. They then selected the flowers, making sure to be mindful of director Ari Aster’s color preferences throughout the movie, which were primarily yellow, red, and blue.
If that process alone isn’t enough to convince you that this film deserves a spot on this list, then maybe the rest of the costumes will. Following a color code throughout the movie, beginning in white and gradually becoming more vivid as we move through to the final ceremony, where the colors are most intense, we get to see how truly intertwined the costumes are with the plot, and how deeply Flesch’s research actually went.
Something about the simplicity of the costumes in The Nun makes them all the more appealing. While The Nun takes place in the war-torn Romania of the 1950’s, the focus of light and dark is prominent. Not only is it seen through the lighting and set design, but also through the costumes designed by Sharon Gilham. A brief example, as shown in the images above, is the costume of Valak being comprised of mostly black, excluding the area surrounding her face, while Sister Irene appears in all white. This contrast not only helps to make Valak appear as a sinister presence lurking against the backdrop of darkness, but also shows the innocence of Sister Irene in comparison.
You can’t have Halloween without at least one Tim Burton movie, and while it may not be horror, I simply had to include a costume designed by the esteemed Colleen Atwood.
While Edward Scissorhands is arguably considered to be more of a Christmas movie than anything, his costume is most certainly more of the Halloween genre. Unless you find that leather and metal puts you in the Christmas spirit?
Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands; Edward Scissorhands (1990)
According to Atwood, while she used old machinery parts and vinyl to embellish and accessorize the iconic character, Edward’s costume was partly inspired by the Victorian Era. She says she “pulled a lot from the 19th century.”
The Horror Classics
Ahh yes, the classic ‘sadistic-murderer-holds-weapon-up-against-conveniently-well-placed-backlighting-in-order-to-further-frighten-the-already-terrified-victim’ pose. Only a classic pose for such classic murderers, am I right? And do you know what helped these fine gentlemen become such classics? That’s right, their costumes.
It would be a dishonor to the horror genre not to include characters as well-renowned as these in such a list. However simple the costumes of these horror staples may seem, they were key in creating such unmistakable villains. I mean, a man wearing a fedora? Gotta be Freddy Krueger. Is that a hockey goalie? Nope, it’s definitely Jason. William Shatner’s face? Absolutely not, that’s Michael Myers.
Confused about the William Shatner reference? Allow me to explain. With the tight budget of $300,000 to bring Halloween to life, production designer Tommy Lee Wallace decided to go to a mask shop and pick up a few potential options for the mask of Michael Myers, one of which was a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask. Of course, this was the option they decided on and, after a few modifications it evolved into the familiar mask we all know today.
Left: Tommy Lee Wallace in YouTube video ‘Rebuilding the Original Michael Myers.’ // Right: Jason in Friday the 13th Part III.
While Michael’s mask has been his staple since the first Halloween film, Jason’s hockey mask did not make an appearance until the third Friday the 13th installment, when he steals the mask from the corpse of one of his victims. Aw… how sentimental. The decision to use the hockey mask was actually a happy accident thanks to 3D effects supervisor Martin Jay Sadoff.
Another mask that we all know and love is that of Ghostface from the Scream franchise. Costume designer Cynthia Bergstrom says her original sketches of the Ghostface costume were inspired by Edvard Munch’s Scream painting, as well as the Grim Reaper. Bergstrom also stated that, while the mask wasn’t her department, she still did a lot of research for it, “looking back through various historical periods.”
Original Ghostface costume sketch by Cynthia Bergstrom (1995)
The Ghostface mask itself was actually found in a box in the garage of a location that was being scouted. Director Wes Craven apparently took one look at it and said, “this is like the famous scream painting.” After trying to recreate a version of the mask, they decided to just get the rights to the mask they had found and use it.
The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)
Alright, so the masks make sense, but why give Freddy a fedora? With Dana Lyman as the costume designer and mechanical special effects designer Jim Doyle in charge of designing Freddy’s glove, the idea to put Freddy in a Fedora actually came from an experience Wes Craven had as a child, one where a drunk in a fedora “did a mind-fuck” on Wes. Wes says in an interview for The Take that “the idea of an adult who was frightening and enjoyed terrifying a child was the origin of Freddy.” Which is why he made the decision that Freddy would don a hat.
You can read more about the origin stories of these classic horror costumes in the “Designing Fear” series, written by Elizabeth Glass!
What movies or costumes would you like to have seen on this list? Let us know in the comments!
Want to learn more about these iconic looks? Check out my sources!
- A24 Films. “So You Think You Can Dress Like A May Queen.” A24 Films, 23 Oct. 2019.
- Bhavani, Divya Kala. “‘A Film Like ‘The Nun’ Requires Inverting the Lighting Process’ Says DoP Maxime Alexandre.” The Hindu, 20 Sept. 2018.
- Burgos, Danielle. “The ‘Midsommar’ Costume Designer Reveals the Hidden Clues You Should Look Out For.” Bustle, 3 July, 2019.
- Galas, Marjorie. “For Award Consideration: Costume Designer Janie Bryant’s Work in “It.”” NY411, 11 Dec. 2017.
- Glass, Elizabeth. “Designing Fear: Freddy Krueger.” The Art of Costume, 22 Oct. 2021.
- Gritton, John. “Tools of the Trade: An Interview With Costume Designer Cynthia Bergstrom.” Scream Thrillogy, 9 Jun. 2020.
- Jones, Mike. “Scream’s Ghostface Mask Has An Eerily Perfect Origin Story.” Screen Rant, 19 Oct. 2021.
- Sarner, Lauren. “Guillermo Del Toro’s Go-to Costume Designer Talks ‘Crimson Peak.’” Inverse, 6 Oct. 2015.
- Soo Hoo, Fawnia. “The ‘Ready Or Not’ Wedding Dress Was Inspired By Commoners-Turned-Princesses Kate Middleton and Grace Kelly.” Fashionista, 19 Aug. 2019.
- Steigbigel, Matthew. “Costume Designer Kate Hawley Talks Crimson Peak.” The Credits, 6 Oct. 2015.
- Staff, Startrek.com. “Was Michael Myers’ Halloween Mask William Shatners Face?.” Star Trek, 25 Oct. 2021.
- Svetkey, Benjamin. “Edward Scissorhands’ Look.” Entertainment, 11 Jan. 1991.
- The Academy. “How Eiko Ishioka’s Revolutionary Costumes Won Coppola’s “Dracula” an Oscar.” Art & Science, 7 Jan. 2016.
- Tyler, Adrienne. “Friday the 13th: How Jason Got His Hockey Mask (In Both Versions).” Screen Rant, 12 Sep. 2019.
3 responses to “Haunted Favorites: The Best Costumes in Horror”
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