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Why MTV Decided to Redesign the Iconic Scream Mask

The Scream killer’s new look.

Courtesy of MTV

When MTV debuted the trailer for its TV remake of Scream back in April, the most striking reveal was that the franchise’s iconic masked killer, Ghostface, had a very different look. The original Scream director Wes Craven stumbled on the now-iconic Ghostface mask, which was part of Fun World’s line of Halloween masks, by chance, while scouting locations for the 1996 film. But the new TV series, which features an entirely new cast of characters and a brand new killer, has updated the classic gruesome visage. Much like the first film in the franchise, the show takes place in a small town after a murder sparks a violent chain of events. In this case, the protagonist is Emma Duvall, who discovers a connection to events from 20  years ago, when a different masked killer, Brandon James, terrorized the town.

Slate spoke to showrunners Jill E. Blotevogel and Jaime Paglia to discuss the mask’s redesign, the visual legacy of Ghostface, and why the killer now has cheekbones.

The original Scream mask is so iconic—why redesign it for the new show?

Blotevogel: Our original thought was that it was very much how we were also redesigning Scream itself for TV. We talked about how if we were going to try and improve on something that’s really great, it has to really mean something for us, and so we looked at a way to create a new version of Ghostface that is actually very meaningful to the new mystery we’re establishing in our story.

The original mask we first saw in 1996, with the character [Ghostface] going after Drew Barrymore. We were looking for how to get that same sort of gut-punch of something new and terrifying. In the original Scream, this is just a mask that’s bought at a store and slipped on and used to create terror in a very sort of almost casual, anonymous way, whereas in our series, the nature of the mask is very much intertwined with the mythology of this killer from the past.

The original Ghostface mask.

Courtesy of Dimension Films

Tell me more about the mask’s mythology.

Paglia: In the pilot we learn about a character, Brandon James, who 20 years ago went on a murderous rampage. He suffered from Proteus syndrome, and we liked the idea that during his childhood he was homeschooled, and people were afraid of him, the monster that lived in the shed behind that house. He was going through these multiple reconstructive surgeries through his adolescence and this mask is something that he had to wear post-op to protect his face from exposure, while concealing a very painful and prolonged process. So he never got to be normal. He was always behind this mask.

The show is really looking at the masks that we wear now. In the original movies, we have the telephone call as a sort of iconic way of connecting our killer to Sidney Prescott. We have new types of social media now. Through social media, we expose ourselves in so many ways—in this movie, it’s dangerous, but we also hide behind it. It can be used and often is used as a very destructive kind of tool whether cyberbullying, which is something we deal with in our pilot, or just putting out images of ourselves that are not real, with everything put through a filter. Everybody hides behind these various masks, and our killer is unmasking them and showing Emma who people are around her, who are her friends really?

So the new mask is more than just an artistic choice—it’s also central to the plot.

Paglia: It really is. Once it comes out that our character is terrified of the idea of Brandon James, this monster, it raises questions: Who was this teenager who was beaten? What led to this night of violence that happened 20 years ago, and how and why is that related to the plot for this group of characters in the present day?

What was the process like for the redesign?

Paglia: I actually walked into a minefield on that one, when I came onboard after the pilot because they had gone through a very prolonged process of various incredibly talented mask designers around town—literally probably 60-80 different design concepts. At the eleventh hour, in sort of racing to shoot the pilot, it still didn’t have the impact that everybody had initially intended or hoped that it would. We actually decided to revisit the design and luckily people were open to it.

What were some of the inspirations for the new mask?

Paglia: The new mask helped unite the original Scream movies and this surgical, post-op mask that we wanted for our character’s story, as well as sort of some of the more frightening masks worn in other movies. Certainly the Michael Myers [from Halloween movies] and the Jason [from the Friday the 13th franchise] masks come to mind. It’s really a love letter, in some ways, to the horror genre.

A Michael Myers mask from the movie Halloween.

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

The new mask has some noticeable differences from the original, including a nose and cheekbones.

Paglia: The concept was that this was really the shape of Brandon James’ face. It has these protrusions over one eye, and a larger eye socket on one side, and the more drooping brow on the left. If you really look at it closely, the cheekbones and jaw are sort of misshapen. This is all taken from photos of people with Proteus Syndrome.

The mask itself, what’s interesting is that it’s actually very flexible, like the post-op masks that they actually do use in the surgical world. Up close you can really see the textures and colors it has in detail. It really hardens over time, but it still has the organic shape. We also wanted it to also have a certain amount of luminosity akin to the original Scream masks. I mean that mask really does pop when it’s on screen in darkness with a black hood around it.

You mention the black hood that the Ghostface killer usually wears with the mask, which is part of a longer black cloak. I noticed in the pilot, the new Scream killer seems to be wearing a rain poncho instead.

Paglia: Our killer is kind of a more realistic, grounded character. The rain poncho is essentially our new version of our killer’s cloak. That and the mask are going to be our iconic look for the show.

What are your expectations about how fans will feel about the new look?

Blotevogel: We hope he’s terrifying!

How else is this modern killer different from the original Scream killer?

Paglia: I think the main difference for us in creating a television series in today’s television landscape is that we are completing with serial killers on different shows that are incredibly intelligent, from Dexter to Hannibal to The Following to American Horror Story. There’s a certain level of sophistication with the serial killers that are on television right now, so for a television series, you really can’t have a killer that’s leaping out of the closet slashing wildly at the heroine and then getting kicked down the staircase. Those kinds of near-misses really diminish the terror of the killer. So ours is much more methodical, intelligent, and there’s a plan at work. When our killer does make an appearance, you know someone is going to die.

You’re not going to see the killer every episode.

Blotevogel: And he’s not always going to kill. It’s a bit of a long game. With the original movies, the mystery was brought up and solved within 87 minutes, whereas in ours, we need to take a little more time with it.

It’s not just, “how many bodies can I wrack up in 87 minutes?” [The killer] has a bigger plan. He’s playing mind games as well as physical games.