Movie Legends Revealed | The Surprising Origin of 'Scream's' Ghostface Mask

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The mask used in Scream was discovered in an abandoned house during location scouting for the film.

It appears that with the creation of any sort of iconic film, there’s always a little bit of serendipity mixed into the process. In an old Movie Legends Revealed, I discussed the various factors (including, improbably enough, the 1970s soft-rock hit "Dream Weaver") that contributed to Wes Craven’s idea for Nightmare on Elm Street. More than a decade later, the filmmaker once again drew inspiration from an unlikely source for the iconic "Ghostface" mask that terrorized victims in the 1996 hit Scream. Reader Guillermo M. asked whether it was true that the mask was discovered by Craven by accident in an abandoned house during the location scouting for the first Scream. Did this iconic piece of horror film history really have such a spooky origin?

The answer is yes!

When Craven took on the project that became Scream (it was originally dubbed Scary Movie), screenwriter Kevin Williamson gave no direction for the look of the villain beyond "ghost mask killer." So it was up to Craven and his production team to come up with a look for the film's killer. In an twist of fate, producer Marianne Maddalena was doing location scouting when she came across an abandoned house in Santa Rosa, California, that had been used in the 1943 Alfred Hitchcock film Shadow of a Doubt. She ended up not using that house but instead chose a neighboring one for the home of Tatum and Dewey Riley (Rose McGowan and David Arquette) in Scream. However, while at the first house, she discovered a striking mask hanging from a post.

She brought the mask to Craven (he accidentally once stated that it was he who discovered the mask, but he has since concurred with Maddalena that it was she who found the mask), and he loved it. There was only one teensy little problem: The mask was the intellectual property of the Halloween mask company Fun World. It was designed by Brigitte Sleiertin and released sometime around 1992 as part of a "Fantastic Faces" series (originally the mask was called "The Peanut-Eyed Ghost"). So now Craven was in a bind; he had a mask he absolutely loved, but in order for the film to be able to use the mask, his studio, Dimension Films, would have to license it from Fun World. Naturally, that company had quite a bit of leverage in the negotiations, and it drove a hard bargain.

Dimension initially told Craven he would have use a different mask. Instead, Craven asked Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger of design company KNB Effects came up with their own version of the famous mask, altered enough so that it wouldn’t infringe on Fun World's intellectual property. That mask was actually used in the first few scenes in the film, including the famous opening sequence with Drew Barrymore.

It’s quite possible, however, that Dimension was just trying to prove to Fun World that it was willing to make the film without the mask so the company would lower its price. After all, they knew Craven still wanted to use the Fun World mask in the film. Fun World and Dimension Films finally came to a licensing agreement, and Craven was able to use the original mask in the rest of the film (it was at this point that Fun World came up with the new official name for the mask, "Ghostface").

The film was a massive success (spawning three sequels), and the mask has since become one of the most popular Halloween costumes ever, making Fun World quite a bit of money. A rare win-win for everyone involved! However, it appears as though the upcoming Scream TV series won't be featuring the Ghostface mask. It's the end of a Scream era!

The legend is ...


Thanks to Guillermo M. for the question!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

Be sure to check out my Entertainment Urban Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the worlds of TV, Movies and Music!

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