Designing Fear: Michael Myers

A tall, description-less figure seems to be following behind you. But, whenever you turn around, the figure slips just out of sight, causing you to doubt your own vision until the moment that figure is upon you, and in those final moments, you regret not trusting your instincts.

The fear of faceless killers gripped the American imagination through the late 1960s and 70s as a seeming epidemic of serial killers dominated the news cycle. As always, Hollywood responded to this fear with a new kind of horror film, the slasher.

While the origins of slasher films can be found in the high body counts of early Agatha Christy films and the crazed killer in Alfred Hitchcock’s, Psycho and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Many mark John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween as the first true slasher film. Halloween’s story of teenage babysitters being senselessly murdered by a faceless, unstoppable assailant terrified audiences and established a horror icon, Michael Myers. Halloween’s tale of teenage babysitters being senselessly murdered by a faceless assailant terrified audiences and established a horror icon, Michael Myers.

Halloween (1978) Promotional Poster

The infamous killer is now a Halloween costume staple for those aiming to celebrate the horror genre on the scariest night of the year. Michael Myers’s featureless mask and generic navy blue jumpsuit turn one into the perfect non-descript individual that can blend into the crowd and spook unsuspecting passers-by just as Michael did on the streets of Haddonfield.

Carpenter’s inspiration for the character of Michael Myers came from an experience he had in college, where one of his courses took a trip to a mental institution in Kentucky, and he saw a patient with a “blank, pale, emotionless face and blackest eyes.” This description became the basis for the character, but in the script, he states Michael Myer’s mask has “the grotesque features of a man,” but Carpenter knew they didn’t have the money to create the mask he described. So instead took inspiration from the French film Eyes With Out A Face directed by Georges Franju, deciding that the mask should be blank and featureless. Bringing how he imagined Michael under the mask to the mask, it’s self.

Nick Castle as Michael Myers in Halloween (1978)
Nick Castle as Michael Myers in Halloween (1978)
Nick Castle as Michael Myers in Halloween (1978)

With a budget of only $300,000, Carpenter and his team were forced to get creative with making the mask. More precisely, it was down to production designer Tommy Lee Wallace to bring that blankness, featureless mask to the screen. So Wallace went to a mask shop on Hollywood Boulevard and picked up three options. First, a clown mask to reference the clown costume he wore as a child, the second a Star Trek Spock mask, and the third a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask that he ironically picked out because he thought it didn’t look like anyone in particular. Then after Wallace had modified in under an hour to look precisely as Carpenter described.

Tommy Lee Wallace recreating the Michael Myers mask
Source: (screenrant.com)

In 2014 Wallace demonstrated how he created the original mask during an interview with Sean Clark. The Process boils down to five simple steps.

  • The Captain Kirk Mask
  • Sprayed the Back Hair
  • Remove Side Burn and Eye Brows
  • Widen Eye Openings
  • Spray Paint White

It’s hard to imagine that five simple steps and $1.95 were all it took to create one of the most terrifying and iconic killers in all of horror.

John Michael Graham as Bob (Left) Nick Castle as Michael Myers (Right) in Halloween (1978)

Want to know more? Check out my sources

Cerulli, Mark, director. Halloween: Unmasked. Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc. , 1999.

Clark, Sean. “Rebuilding the Shape/Halloween Michael Myers … – Youtube.com.” Youtube, Malfuncsean, 3 May 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzhM8Ut3cRc.

Elizabeth, Hilary. “Halloween: 15 Hidden Details about the Horror Movie Costumes You Didn’t Notice.” ScreenRant, ScreenRant, 28 May 2021, https://screenrant.com/halloween-10-hidden-details-horror-movie-costumes-didnt-notice/.

Felthousen-Post, Cyn. “How the Movie ‘Halloween’ Was Made, against All Odds.” Groovy History, 25 Oct. 2019, https://groovyhistory.com/halloween-john-carpenter-making-of.

Hutchinson, Sean. “15 Terrifying Facts about John Carpenter’s Halloween.” Mental Floss, 26 Oct. 2018, https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/59788/15-terrifying-facts-about-john-carpenters-halloween.

Hedash, Kara. “Halloween: The Real Life Story behind Michael Myers’ Mask.” ScreenRant, 19 Oct. 2019, https://screenrant.com/halloween-michael-myers-mask-origin-story/.

Nick Castle on the set of Halloween (1978)
Nick Castle on the set of Halloween (1978)
Nick Castle on the set of Halloween (1978)