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Reason to fear clowns #287.

A group of people wearing masks is never a good sign. Maybe it's the anonymity, the obvious Uncanny Valley, or decades of horror movies ingraining a deep sense of distrust about someone wearing a mask outside of a Masquerade Ball (or even in one, if it's sufficiently creepy). It's because of this dehumanizing aspect that masks are often used by villains, their Gas Mask Mooks, and other Faceless Goons. Though some heroes do go about wearing masks, they tend to be Anti Heroes, or at least a little edgy.

This varies by mask:

  • Cowls and Hoods: Not exactly a mask, but used commonly enough to merit mention. A simple bag or cloth over the head, may be creepy (Scarecrow from Batman, The Orphanage, Jason Voorhees' original Friday the 13th appearance) or may be worn by an altogether nice Superhero.
  • A Domino Mask, one that covers only the eyes, is a traditionally heroic mask. The Ghost Who Walks and The Spirit being two classic examples. However, it may also be worn by comedy criminals, such as the Beagle Boys.
  • Ski masks worn anywhere other than on the slopes in winter are often associated with criminals or terrorists. Masks that cover everything except the eyes are also associated with Ninjas, and can be either good or evil.
  • If the mask covers the top half of the face, it emphasizes the mouth, aka gluttony: Never a good sign. Unless of course, it's to show a Lantern Jaw of Justice instead.
  • If it covers a symmetric side of the face (left or right) then it's fairly neutral... except for the part where it is likely hiding a decidedly nasty scar. See The Phantom of the Opera (well, its adaptations). The same thing can be done with Peek-a-Bangs.
  • Masks that cover the bottom half of the face are likelier to be worn by the cannibalistic, or someone whose lower face is likely very damaged (as in, no jaw). They're also frequently worn by bandits in the Old West (possibly to keep out dust), as well as by ninjas who don't do full masks.

A full face mask is perhaps the most ominous of the lot, varying by type:

  • Abstract Mask: Similar to the Uncanny Valley mask below, the abstract mask is a haunting, unidentifiable mess meant solely to frighten and distract the victim from their oncoming demise. See Scream.
  • Animal Mask: The kind you would see in a kid's birthday party. When worn by an adult (or several of them) it brings to mind not animal cuteness, but savagery.
  • Clown Mask: As pictured above, nothing says "evil" like a clown, add in the faux cheerful mask and it gets ratcheted to another level.
  • Mardi Gras/Venetian: Nothing says "you're going to die violently" quite like the festive and cheery masks worn in Mardi Gras or a Venetian carnival.
  • Monster face: Usually used by the Cult and members of the Secret Circle of Secrets, in homage to their dark masters.
  • Plain and featureless: A blank, featureless mask emphasizes the anonymity it grants the wearer... which usually means they mean to do harm, don't want you to know who they are, and want you to freak out because they know you know this.
  • Rage Helm: Designed to make a soldier or warrior look more fearsome. The soldier actually wearing the helm may or may not be as mean as the helmet makes him look.
  • Uncanny Valley: Almost human masks are usually worn by criminals, be they kidnappers or Serial Killers. It may be to establish a Stepford Smiler like connection to "personality as a mask". See The Strangers.
  • Last but not least... the Nixon Mask! Almost exclusively associated with bank robbers out to make a political statement. Expect a witty pun along the lines of "I am not a crook!"

See also Faceless Mooks, Gas Mask Mooks and Scary Shiny Glasses. White Mask of Doom is a common subtrope. Compare Cool Mask and Coat, Hat, Mask. When combined with the classic Black Cloak, it's the uniform of a Secret Circle of Secrets. When the mask itself is malevolent, that's Evil Mask.

Examples of Malevolent Masked Men include:

Anime and Manga

Comic Books

  • The titular Order of Beasts wear full face animal masks in the Batman Elseworlds book Batman: The Order of Beasts.
  • The Men From N.O.W.H.E.R.E. in Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol wear abstract insectoid masks.
  • V from V for Vendetta wears a grinning Guy Fawkes mask. Self-identifies as a villain.
  • In Watchmen, Rorschach has the abstract/featureless version.
    • As does Hooded Justice. Both he and Rorschach are very protective of their "real" identities; the Comedian also has a full-face mask, but seems to have adopted it to hide his facial disfigurement rather than to protect his face from view.
      • Also, like a Mardi Gras mask, the hedonistic overtones of a gimp mask promise ultraviolence. It also matches his belief that "the joke" is that people aren't better than animals and lets him shove that in people's faces by looking like a violent pervert in service of the government.
  • Mazikeen the demon from Sandman wears a half-mask to cover the left side of her face, which is missing the skin, cheek, and part of the jaw.
  • Both the protagonist and villain in a 28 Days Later comic book use a riot mask and a hockey mask, respectively.
  • The Mask, natch. In Real Life, people wearing masks often report feeling uninhibited. In its original form, this work turns it Up to Eleven with the complete suppression of the inhibitions of the wearer, essentially a possession by the Id. The titular Mask is also a Mask of Power. The result is an ultraviolent Anti-Hero.


  • Star Wars has Darth Vader, Darth Maul, General Grievous, and the Stormtroopers. The Jawas aren't that evil, but they probably count.
  • The Scream series gives us the Ghostface killer, who can occasionally be a Malevolent Masked Woman.
  • Batman Begins: The Scarecrow wears a burlap sack sewn into the form of deranged scarecrow. He uses a gas which induces waking nightmares.
  • The Joker and his henchmen in the opening of The Dark Knight.
  • The bank robbers in Killing Zoe all wear creepy, Venetian-style masks.
  • Nightbreed (1990). David Cronenberg's character wears a bondage/scarecrow mask.
  • Dragnet (1987). The Evil High Priest wears a goat mask.
  • Michael Myers in the Halloween series, with his modified William Shatner mask.
  • Subverted in The Princess Bride.

 [As the Man in Black is climbing up the cliff toward them]

Fezzik: [to Inigo] You be careful. People in masks cannot be trusted.

  • The Strangers
  • Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • The Friday the 13 th franchise has Jason and his hockey mask.
    • Except in the first where it was not him and the second where he wore a burlap sack
  • The attendants of the masked ball from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, where the "Poor Thing" scene takes place, wore animal masks. It's exactly as nightmarish as it sounds.
  • In Kick Ass, the men who are in the live internet broadcast of the torture video of Kick-Ass and Big Daddy are masked with balaclavas, with the exception of one man who wears a red supervillain mask. Katie Deauxma, originally excited to see a video of Kick-Ass's retirement, stops smiling as soon as a balaclava-clad man appears and introduces a kidnapped Kick-Ass to the viewers. In a draft script the "Baby Goon" brings supervillain masks, but the "Sporty Goon" rejects them and asks for balaclavas instead; however "Baby" gets to keep his supervillain mask.
  • In The Black Hole, the formerly human crew members of the Cygnus wear smooth, featureless metal full face masks.
  • Pavi's faces from Repo! The Genetic Opera are a little of this and a little of Uncanny Valley Makeup. They're skinned off women he particularly likes and held onto his face with metal clips, and underneath, he's horribly scarred, but they have an uncanny factor about them all on their own.
  • Makkabeus and his cultists in Damnatus.
  • The Jigsaw Killer of Saw has a freaky Uncanny Valley mask along with a pig's head mask.
  • Naturally, this is all over Trick 'r Treat, with Sam (in a scarecrow mask), the Undead Children (dressed as Halloween staples), and the masked vampire (in a Venetian mask) who turns out to be a Serial Killer using fake fangs.
  • The Eyes Wide Shut sex sect.
  • The Anderson Tapes, as seen on the poster.
  • David Lynch's Rabbits (also included in Inland Empire) are people wearing rabbit costumes. Impressively, they never look Narmful, even when finally seen up close.
  • In Maximum Overdrive, autonomous semis are the biggest threat to the Muggles, but the one sporting a grinning Green Goblin mask is especially chilling.
  • In Dagon there is a cult wearing human skin masks.
  • Satoris' wrestler Mooks in The Final Sacrifice.
  • Subverted in The Nightmare Before Christmas. The three shady trick-or-treaters, Lock, Shock and Barrel, wear masks all the time, but in their introductory scene they take them off, revealing faces that look exactly the same.


  • Death Eaters in Harry Potter.
  • Scipio from The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke wears a Venetian carnival mask.
  • The Phantom of the Opera.
  • In Michael Moorcock's Hawkmoon saga, the evil and deranged people of Granbretan wear elaborate animal masks all the time, and would rather be seen naked than unmasked.
  • The Watraii in Star Trek: Vulcans Soul. At first.
  • Martin Lake, a character in Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris collection City of Saints and Madmen, is invited to a very grim event and met there by three men. One wears a raven mask, one a heron, and the last an owl. Lake is afraid of birds to begin with. He's also dressed as a frog, who could be eaten by any one of them.
  • The cultists in Diario de un Zombi wear formless wax masks. These actually serve a purpose as they confuse zombies and makes recognizing them as humans difficult for them.
  • In the Belgariad, the Grolim priesthood wears steel masks when they want to be intimidating, such as in combat or when attending their religious duties. They wear these in imitation of their god, whose mask covers his maimed face.

Live Action TV

  • Torchwood Miracle Day has a cult, all wearing white masks and marching in the streets. Since they were never even slightly relevant to the plot in any way at all ever, it's likely that this trope was invoked just to have an epic freaky cult marching in the streets for the trailers.
  • The Are You Afraid of the Dark? episode called "The Tale Of The Twisted Claw" had a group of older kids wearing masks of some kind and bullying these two trick-or-treaters.
    • Also, "The Tale Of The Many Faces" was all about people wearing masks, and asked the question "Is it our masks (faces) that define who we are?" The villain in the episode stole girls faces and wore them to keep herself young. The girls faces she stole, were left with fish lips and white eyes, so they were given masks to cover up their ugliness.
  • The Prisoner final episode Fall Out. The rows of Village members wearing white/black masks as well as Number One wearing a white/black mask and a gorilla mask. And maybe, maybe not, a Number Six mask.
  • The pilot episode of Ghostwriter had as its antagonists a group of backpack-snatching kids in goblins masks.
  • The Twilight Zone episode "The Masks," involved a dying old man wearing a death mask and forcing his greedy family to wear masks that reflected their personalities. Unfortunately, when the old man finally dies, the family members' faces change to resemble their masks.
  • In FlashForward, mooks working for the show's big conspiracy wear clown masks.
  • Luther has Cameron Pell, who commits brutal murders while wearing a Punch mask, in order to create a striking and memorable image as well as hiding his identity.
  • Sqweegel on CSI-not only a mask but a whole body suit.
    • CSI: NY had an episode with clown masks being used in a bank robbery. An explosion caused an outline of a mask to get seared into one guy's face.

Professional Wrestling

Tabletop Games

  • The Guardians of the Veil, of Mage: The Awakening, are often viewed as at least creepy and people you shouldn't get involved with (if not viewed as outright malevolent), and much of their symbology revolves around masks such as these. In particular, the Interfector (read: executioner) wears a blank masks with only eyeslits, and bloodstained gloves, whenever appearing in the capacity of Interfector.
  • In the BattleTech universe, Clan warriors are issued full face animal masks reflecting their Clan's totem to wear for ceremonial purposes. Further, the mercenary known as The Bounty Hunter is also only ever seen masked
  • The Fiend Folio, another Monster Manual of the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons, introduces the Ethergaunts, coldly rational and atheistic aberrations from the Ethereal Plane who are Colour-Coded for Your Convenience and also sport featureless masks over their faces... which is fortunate since their faces are truly horrifying.

Video Games

  • The Splicers from Bioshock often wear Mardi Gras-ish masks. Possibly justified, as it's stated in Audio-Logs that everything really went to hell in Rapture on New Year's Day.
  • The Legend of Zelda has a boss and some mooks which you must remove a mask from before you can hit them. Lots of different masks appear in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in the Happy Mask Shop in Hyrule Castle Market. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask game is all about masks. There are three masks that can change you into a Zora, Goron, and a Deku Shrub, as well as a whole inventory of masks that you collect and you can wear them, using some of the powers that the masks have. Also at the Carnival Of Time, all the townspeople wear masks as part of a tradition. Then there's the evil Majora's Mask that you must defeat.
  • The Pigmasks in Mother 3. Their general is also specifically known as the Masked Man, but his isn't a pig mask.
  • Thanatos of Secret of Mana - for a 16-bit pixellated fellow he's shockingly eerie, too.
    • His energy-sapped fanboys wear freaky full-faced masks too. NPCs comment on this, too, along the lines of: 'What's with all those masked weirdoes in the ruins?"
    • Thanatos's mask is echoed by the one worn by Hakuoro of Utawarerumono, incidentally. It really is the exact same mask writ animated, complete with the quirky little mark at the top of it.
  • Each shadow in Persona 3 wears a mask that IDs it with one of the major Arcana.
    • The Power Ranger-esque Phoenix Ranger Featherman R masks, first seen in Persona 2. It is also in this game that they are significant to the plot.
    • And, of course, the word persona itself literally means "mask." Aside from the Shadows, several character-specific Personas from throughout the series wear additional masks to hide their own inhuman facial features.
  • The Testaments of Xenosaga wear concealing robes, hoods, gloves, and blank face masks; in fact, before each individual Reveal, they're simply referred to by the color of their mask and robes (Black Testament, Red Testament, etc) — this being the only way to tell them apart, other than their voices. At first, not so much malevolent as really, really mysterious, but later in the series they're definitely antagonists. Except for Albedo. He's a Reverse Mole.
  • More than one Sith Lord in Knights of the Old Republic and its sequel. Darth Malak wears not exactly a mask, but a metal prosthetic plate thingy covering his lack of a jaw. Darth Revan wore an abstract/blank mask that emphasizes his mysterious anonymity. Darth Nihilus has a creepy, vaguely skull-like mask that gives him an inhuman look.
    • Which is befitting of Nihilus' nature, as he really isn't human anymore. He is, more or less, a living black hole in The Force whose life essence is bound to his mask.
  • Dead Rising has the Raincoat Cult. Aside from the obvious, they all go around in Green Goblin-esque masks.
  • Relius Clover of Blaz Blue. A man who sought perfection in everything, a man who turned his family except his son to automatons without conscience, a Complete Monster, and a man who likes opera very much.
  • Several of the Assassin's Creed Brotherhood multiplayer characters wear masks, such as the Executioner, the Doctor and the Harlequin.
  • The protagonists in Army of Two both wear masks - ostensibly this is to offer head protection, but the designs (a snarling skull and a blank face with no features) are pure Rule of Cool. Incidentally, this troper has an airsoft mask based on the left-hand, blank design and can attest to the discomforting effect many people feel when faced with a featureless face and no visible eyes.
  • Fallout: New Vegas The White Glove Society. and their creepy ass Domino Masks. Their leader meant the masks to give them a "mysterious allure" but all it does is make them creepier in the eyes of others.
  • The bank robbers of Payday: The Heist all wear creepy clown masks.
  • The Masked Man, Big Bad of Rune Factory Oceans, well... wears a mask. Obviously.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Koh the Face Stealer had a centipede body and was able to steal people's faces if they showed any type of emotion on their face when they were around him. If he stole their faces he would wear any of them at his choosing like they were merely masks. Several of these faces were based on traditional Noh masks.
    • Zuko's Blue Spirit mask.
    • Many of the Fire Nation soldiers, especially in the first season, have helmets that double as masks.
  • The Equalists from The Legend of Korra are Gas Mask Mooks, and their leader Amon wears a White Mask of Doom.
  • Scooby Doo. Every episode. Subverted, inverted, played straight, whatever you can think of.
  • Teen Titans has Slade and Red-X.

Real Life

  • The KKK.
  • Cuirassiers (armoured heavy cavalry) of the early 1600s wore helmets with intimidating faces to rattle their opponents and gain confidence.
  • The band Slipknot may or may not be malevolent, but their masks are definitely menacing.
  • Averted with Hollywood Undead. Their masks are not at all menacing, and their Wangsty, Emo/PrettyFlyForAWhiteGuy songs are even less so.
  • The men in the Nick Berg video and other beheading videos. The executioners wear balaclavas and kaffiyeh, so we do not know their real identities.
  • The identical "X Face" masks worn by the band Mushroomhead.
  • While Your Mileage May Vary as to how menacing the last 3 bands are, there is no debating that Australian industrial death-grind band, The Berserker fits this trope.
  • The teacher in the video for The Birthday Massacre's song Looking Glass was a Malevolent Masked Man.
  • They are Anonymous. They are legion. They do not forgive. They do not forget. They are the online equivalent of a Malevolent Mask, the know-how to mask one's presence online. Their logo (seen on the page linked above) and their name are definitely meant to be evocative of a group that wants to instill fear by pressing into their targets the impression that they know you don't know who they are. For now, they've shifted their style appropriately in Real Life to protest the actions of The Church of Scientology. They wear Guy Fawkes masks to protect themselves from lawsuits and the Church's goons (not that kind), and actually make a point of having a lot of fun in the process.
    • Project chanology mask wearers are only a tiny fraction of Anonymous' real bulk, most of which seem to treat the chanology protesters like a drunken cousin dragged around town, singing obnoxiously. 7chan in particular now bans anyone referring to the Chanology incidents and treats them like pariahs. This said 7chan has possibly one of the most toxic group dynamics known to mankind (assuming that heading even applies anymore)and it tends to crash more often than Polish Presidential flights.
  • For centuries, nearly the entire population of Venice wore masks nine months of the year, like people of other nations wore hats. Only during the hottest summer months they left them home. During the Carnival they dug out the extra-special decorated masks so popular today. According to foreign visitors, they felt either themselves completely surrounded people of this trope, or being in a city of ghosts.
  • GWAR's full-face monster masks, bristling with teeth and Spikes of Villainy. Subverted by stage acts so Over the Top with menace that it wraps around to Campiness.
  • Uncaught serial killers the Zodiac and the Phantom both wore creepy homemade masks during some of their attacks.
  • The Visors on some ceremonial cavalry helmets used by troopers in the Roman army certainly had an intimidating effect.
  • Filipino dance group, the Jabbawockeez, wear full-face, white masks that also shadow their eyes, hats and hoodies, and dance with relatively dark lighting. Why? We're not sure either, but with their choreography and occasionally ghostly performances, it really does look pretty cool.