In June of 2024, it will have been fifty years since I began a summer job making monster masks at Don Post Studios. That turned into a very long “summer!” A whole lot of monsters and a whole lot of masks.

What we made at DPS were masks that made a regular person look like a monster. I’ve been thinking about the movies where the monster is wearing a “regular person” mask — a benign mask that hides their scary monster face.

I was among of the first generation “Monster Kids” in the fifties and sixties, when the old monster movies were being released to television, and I tried to watch them all. I loved and dreaded the way they shocked and scared me.

The majority of the monsters didn’t take any pains to hide the fact they were monsters. Godzilla, King Kong, and the Creature didn’t pretend to be anything they obviously were not. What freaked the young me out were the monsters who looked pretty presentable on the outside, but were revealed to be a revolting mess. The REVEAL scene in these movies always hit me smack between the eyes. The suspense build up, the blast of music, the shock closeup. Worked on me every time. Still does, more often than not.

I’ve made a list of movies that have the most memorable monster unmasked scenes. As you can guess, there will be some spoilers. Anybody not know the Phantom of the Opera doesn’t look like Prince Charming under his mask? The newest movie on the list is seventeen years old, so I’ll assume you’ve all had time to get up to speed, but use your best judgement.

Okay, oldest to newest!

The Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera (1925)

Phantom 1925 unmasked

He’s serenading her on his pipe organ. She thinks he’s mysterious and possibly dreamy under the mask he’s wearing. She creeps up behind him and pulls off the mask and… Yikes!

One of the most famous monster faces in movie history. This silent Lon Chaney movie is my second-favorite shock reveal. (I’ll tell you my favorite later.) The other Phantom movies all have similar unmasking scenes, but this one’s the best.

Ivan Igor in Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Mystery of the Wax Museum unmasked

Kindly, fatherly wax museum artist Lionel Atwill suddenly starts acting weird to King Kong’s favorite girl, Fay Wray. She smacks him in the face, and his face breaks apart! His Atwill mask falls away, and he’s a charcoal scorched mess with eyeballs. Fay is right to cut loose with one of her famous screams.

Dr. Jack Griffin in The Invisible Man (1933)

Dr Griffin unwraps The Invisible Man

His head is wrapped like a mummy, and he’s wearing really cool sunglasses. When he finally does his unmasking reveal, it’s crazy, because there’s no face at all. He’s a monster whose face is hidden even when it’s exposed! I found this thrilling and creepy as a kid.

Edmond Bateman in The Raven (1935)

The Raven 1935

Doctor Bela Lugosi promises Boris Karloff that Boris will have a whole new look after his plastic surgery. True enough!

Lugosi does the predictable double cross, and half of Boris’ face is a disaster. Even his eyeball is shriveled, which the young me found especially disturbing. The unwrapping of Karloff’s head after the surgery is very suspenseful, and both actors play it to the hilt.

Prof. Henry Jarrod in House of Wax (1953)

Vincent Price House of Wax unmasked

Vincent Price does the honors as the wax museum artist who hides his true face. I think Lionel Atwill’s makeup in the first version is a little better, but Vincent looks awful enough here.

This movie was originally in 3D, so it was probably even more shocking to 1950’s theater audiences.

The Creature in The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Hammer Films The Curse of Frankenstein bandages

The first of the Hammer Films to re-imagine the classic monsters. Christopher Lee is Doctor Frankenstein’s creation, and he spends the first part of the movie inert, wrapped head to toe like the Mummy. (Which Lee would also play in a later movie.)

When the Creature finally comes to life, he reaches up and rips off the bandage wrappings from his head and reveals… one of my least-favorite Frankenstein monster makeups! Sigh. But the scene itself is great, and lots of people like this version of the monster. I was just a little disappointed.

Queen Yllana in Queen of Outer Space (1958)

Queen of Outer Space mask

I don’t think this movie was intended to be taken seriously when it was made, but it freaked young me out. The Queen dresses like a fifties glamour gal, and wears a silver sequin mask all the time. The astronaut hero of the movie puts his smooth moves on the Queen and says something like, “You’re so beautiful, I’ve just got to see the face you hide behind that mask.”

When he pulls her mask off, the astronaut and I were both ready to blow our chunks. She’s way past butter face. The rest of the movie is low brow fun, but that scene gave me a major jolt!

Mona in She Demons (1958)

Mona mask She Demons 1958

The usual “Nazi mad doctor on an uncharted island experimenting on the native girls captures shipwrecked heroes” scenario. The doctor wants to restore his wife Mona’s face, and is using the native island girls to run his gonzo tests on.

These tests turn the natives butt ugly and unruly, and they’re kept caged. The doctor’s wife is sweet and mousy and her head is always wrapped in white bandages.

At the end of this extremely goofy movie, the volcano is erupting, the laboratory is exploding, and the heroes are making their escape. They try desperately to convince the mad doctor’s wife to go back to civilization with them. She responds: “Would you go, if you looked like THIS?!!

She pulls aside just part of the wrapping from her face, but it’s enough! Wow. Worth sitting through everything else just for that one scene.

Andre Delambre in The Fly (1958)

The Fly unmasked

The nice guy scientist gets his head and hand swapped with a house fly during an experiment. He hides his head under a cloth bag and keeps his fly claw hand in his lab coat pocket.

When his wife tries to help him recreate the failed experiment in reverse, she feels sure he’s returned to normal again and yanks the bag off his head. Scream time, and bonus points for the compound eye fly vision shot of her screaming face. Great reveal, and an excellent fly mask to boot!

Justine in The Hypnotic Eye (1960)

The Hypnotic Eye

Beautiful women are hypnotized into messing up their faces. Who could be the mastermind behind this horrible horror? Why, it’s the Hypnotist’s assistant, Alison (50 Foot Woman) Hayes!

The monster unmasked scene goes something like, “But Alison, why be jealous of those women? You’ve got a beautiful face!” to which she says, “If you like my face so much, you can have it!”

And she rips off her very realistic Alison mask and throws it at the heroes, and they see she has a face like an infected scab. Ewww! Then she gets killed and dies.

Mr. Sardonicus in Mr. Sardonicus (1961)

Mr Sardonicus mask 1961 william castle film

This is one of Director William Castle’s better efforts. Sardonicus is a villain who speaks and dresses with class, and wears a rigid mask of his likeness all the time. He’s got good reason to.

In a thunder and lightning night scene we finally see what he really looks like and, omg, it is awful! Worst smiley face ever. I jumped when I saw this for the first time.

Dr. Aton Phibes in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Vincent Price Abominable Dr. Phibes unmasks

Vincent Price is at it again. Vinnie is Dr. Phibes, out for revenge on the surgeons he blames for the death of his wife.

Phibes was also in the car crash that killed his wife. He still looks like himself, but is very pale, and he can only speak through an electronic device. He looks like a million bucks compared to the face revealed under the Vincent Price mask Phibes wears! He’s basically just a skull.

The movie company ruined the shock of the big reveal scene by showing Phibes’ monster face in all the advertisements for the movie. Doesn’t really matter. The scene still works, and the movie is a lot of fun. One of Price’s better efforts.

The Terminator in The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator monster unmasked

This unmasking of the monster is unusual. It is progressive instead of the standard abrupt shock-reveal.

As Terminator Arnold gets machine gunned, blown up, and lit on fire more and more of his human face (and body) disappears, until the killer robot is completely revealed. This is one of my favorite movies from the 1980’s, which was a great decade for monsters.

The Predator in Predator (1987)

Predator 1987 silver mask

Another great ’80’s monster! The movie has a nice slow buildup to the big reveal.

First, the monster’s invisible. Then, you can see it, but it’s wearing a fancy helmet. Finally, at the end of the movie, it takes off the helmet and you see what the Predator really looks like.

It is worth the wait! Arnold describes its face best in a line I shouldn’t quote here. A top notch unmasking job!

Miss Ernst/Grand High Witch – and Every Other Witch! – in The Witches (1990)

The Witches 1990 grand high witch unmasked

Roald Dahl wrote some wonderfully bonkers children’s books that became movies, and The Witches is one of my favorites.

A little boy and his grandmother vacation at a seaside resort and have the bad luck to be there at the same time as a convention of all the world’s witches. One of the disturbing best scenes is when the head witch, Anjelica Huston, is addressing a room full of conservative, grandmotherly-looking women and tells them it’s safe to relax and get comfortable. And then Anjelica and all the old women proceed to pull off their hair and faces and reveal their extremely grotesque real witch faces!

As if old people aren’t scary enough. A classic monster(s) unmasked moment in movies.

Sam in Trick ‘r Treat (2007)

Trick r Treat 2007 Sam mask

The best horror anthology movie I’ve seen in a long time. There’s a costumed little kid who acts as a link to the various individual stories in the movie. He wears a burlap bag mask, kind of like a scarecrow head with button eyes.

When his bag mask finally comes off, he’s off the chart freaky. He’s a human Jack-o-lantern! Fun stuff, and recommended.

Bonus: Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th, Part 2…onward! (1981 – ???)

Friday the 13th Jason Voorhees unmasks

Just wanted to give a tip of the hat to Jason Voorhees. He wore a bag on his head in Part 2 and got his iconic hockey mask in Part 3.

In every movie there’s always a scene where Jason’s mask gets removed and we get to see the latest version of Jason’s true face. He never gets any prettier.

I’m not a huge fan of this series, but I enjoy seeing what the different makeup artists create for the unmasked Jason.

What’s YOUR Favorite “Monster Unmasked” Horror Movie Moment…?

So, there it is, my list of favorite unmasked monster moments. I’d be curious to know what some of your favorites might be. Write to me via the comments’ section below!

Oh, yeah. Almost forgot. I promised to say which unmasking on this list is my number one favorite.

Drum roll, please. Number one is…

She Demons!

She Demons bandage removal

I know, the rest of the movie is god awful, but that might be why the unmasking scene packs such a jolt. You don’t expect anything potent in such weak tea.

One last thought. Unmasking gone wrong — Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Darth Vader is… Humpty Dumpty? I’ll be scratching my head about that one forever. Okay, thanks for letting me ramble!

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Images in this post were purchased via MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial or obtained via trailer screenshots.

About the Author

Robert Tharp is married to the lovely and talented artist Cathy Tharp; and he's father to the lovely and talented Lauren Spear whose husband is the handsome and talented Frank Spear. Robert is now retired from what he had previously been doing.

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