One of the longest-running horror franchises from Hollywood, Friday the 13th is also one of the most memorable, sticking into your mind like a splinter. How do I know this? In my opinion, what horror movies lack in plot – unfortunately, most of them do – they make up in shocking scenes and symbolism.
The mask worn by the killer – because, indeed, the killer is the driving force of the plot, central character and villain at the same time – is key to horror. Never mind the blood, brutality and the ingeniousness of killings. At one point, they slide into a hazy background and lose their character and shocking impact.
But the mask remains. The simple name of the movie calls forth the mask. They become one, the production and its symbol. The goalie mask worn by Jason Voorhees ranks well in tops of the most frightening masks featured in horror movies. What makes it so special, when compared with other masks?
Devils, Satan even, masks made of human faces – literally – pigs, porcelain faces, scarecrows, ghosts: how can a hockey mask compete with these? Like any of them, Jason Voorhees’s mask is meant to hide identity and create suspense. As viewer, you must constantly ask yourself who is behind the mask and doubt the commonsense evidence.
Nothing special so far, all disguises do that. I believe the true impact of the hockey mask, as featured in Friday the 13th, is yielded by the way it distorts the reality of the human face. There are holes for eyes and a slight eminence for the nose. Apparently randomly punctured holes increase the absurdity of the cover, as if to make you doubt the humanity of the one who hides behind it.
On top of all that, there is no mouth. A predator’s classic representation consists of their jaws, fangs, tusks. Nothing here. In humans, mouths are a symbol of communication. In this case, its absence is like a sentence: there’s no way for the victim to establish a connection with the killer, no way to make him rise, even for a second, to his humanity.
In my opinion, one of the key selling points of Friday the 13th is the use of the goalie mask, slightly adapted to increase horror. An inspired artifice that has honored – for that matter, and with much more finesse, I might add – the image of the exquisite Hannibal Lecter as embodied by Anthony Hopkins.