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The Serial Killer Trait That Has The Horror Movie Community Divided

Movie slashers: you love them, we love them, everybody loves them, except their many, many victims and those of us with particularly weak stomachs. The fiends who have hacked, slashed, and, sometimes, shot their way through hordes of prey are an extremely effective embodiment of some of our primal fears: of loss of control, of dismemberment or disfigurement, of the unknown, and (of course) of meeting a violent, untimely demise. 

Despite the fact that they're specifically conceived to make us run screaming to (always temporary) safety, some of these characters have become iconic and transcended their on-screen monster-dom in unique ways. Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees? One of the guys who has played him will wax philosophical about how the brutal, machete-wielding beast is actually a sympathetic characterA Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger? Heck, he's rapped with the Fat Boys and been defeated by the Fresh Prince, how scary can he really be? Halloween's Michael Myers? He... okay, no, he's actually just terrifying.

Movie monsters come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of mobility (some shamble, some sprint, but they'll all get you eventually). Everyone has their personal favorite, but over on Reddit, on the bustling Subreddit r/horror (also known as "Dreadit"), legions of slasher fans were recently posed a simple question: are movie killers more effective with or without a mask? The question proved to be strangely divisive, and we'll dive into the discussion momentarily — but first, as you've probably anticipated, we happen to have an opinion or two on the matter.

To mask or not to mask, that is the question

First, consider the merits of the mask. On the surface, it's easy to argue that a movie slasher's mask is part and parcel of what makes them so scary; after all, they're generally depicted as soulless, inhuman monsters, and few things obscure a person's humanity so much as taking their actual face out of the equation. This is why the most iconic masks aren't exactly designed to be scary so much as they're simply blank. Jason's famous hockey mask and Michael's Shatner-faced visage, for example, aren't super scary in and of themselves — but put either one on a hulking brute who is single-mindedly pursuing you with a very large blade and they become a lot more so in a hurry. One obvious exception is the Ghostface mask from Scream. That thing is just freaky.

To counterpoint, consider Freddy Krueger, a mask-less murderer who can be absolutely terrifying when he's not getting down with old school rap groups. Particularly in Wes Craven's original 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street — before he developed a strong tendency to crack one-liners, Freddy was evil personified, and the fact that his face was horribly burned was just a part of what made him so unsettling to look at (seriously, that sweater did not work for him). Mostly, that was down to Robert Englund's amazing performance in the role: the malevolent twinkle in the eye, the predatory scowl when revealing himself to his victims. That performance, of course, wouldn't have been nearly as effective if Englund's face had been hidden.

Having said that, not many slasher flicks can land an actor of Englund's caliber to play the villain, nor is such casting often required. Jason, for example, has never uttered a word throughout the entire Friday the 13th series, and his extreme physicality means that his portrayal by a succession of stunt performers with zero charisma needed. All things considered, we've got to come down on the side of the "masked is better" camp — it's that fear of the unknown, coupled with the absence of humanity that the mask affords, that hits the sweet spot for us. 

Reddit has no shortage of opinions on the mask issue

The Dreadit community was split down the middle on the issue, like that poor guy who encountered Jason while walking on his hands on Friday the 13th Part 3. Many users outright refused to pick a side, noting that it really does depend on which murdering ghoul you're talking about. "I prefer masked, but as with everything I also love unmasked if the character calls for it," wrote user OldMoray. "I just find that the mask adds a supernatural air which positions them as a force of nature to be survived rather than defeated." User wolfgangr19 concurred, writing, "I prefer [masks]. Just looks cool and take away their humanity. However there are plenty of unmasked killers that are just as scary."

User Nathan2424 had an opinion typical of the "no-mask" crowd. "No mask killers [not gonna lie]," they wrote, noting that the ability to relate to someone without a mask makes them "a bit more creepy." User Theons_sausage was also in this camp, writing, "Sometimes if you have an actor that can express themselves great and inspire horror I think it can be more powerful."

Among the pro-mask crowd, the sentiments usually began and ended right along the lines of "MASKS ALL THE WAY," but user bechBR had a more thoughtful take which happened to echo our own. "I think I prefer with masks because it makes more sense that killers don't want to show their faces. But I prefer masks with no expression (like Mike Myers, Jason, the bag guy on The Strangers) to scary looking ones." The user opined that the utter lack of emotion from someone doing something horrible made it more disturbing. "You mean nothing to the person that is killing you. It's a thing they do."

We actually wish we hadn't read that last comment, if we're being honest. At any rate, the masked killer debate is obviously one with no right answer — as long as they're scaring the heck out of you.