MTV's Terrifying Mistake? Wes Craven Explains Why the Original 'Scream' Mask Is Too "Perfect" to Scrap

Scream Mask Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Photofest

Scream Mask Still - H 2015

Wes Craven tells The Hollywood Reporter why the "Ghostface" mask is so iconic and why he has little to do with MTV's reboot despite EP credit, Bob Weinstein teases MTV's plans for the killer's new look, and the mask's original designer shares what really inspired her first sketches back in 1991.

It's ineffably haunting. The warped expression. The drooping eyes. The contorted mouth, howling in silence. The Scream mask has become as iconic as the visages of horror staples like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, but MTV is taking the face of the franchise in an entirely new direction.

Scream fans were in mourning this week after the network debuted the trailer for its upcoming reboot. The trailer, fans discovered, glaringly omits the most recognizable feature of the original films: the beloved Ghostface mask worn by all the killers. To their dismay, MTV has replaced it with a new mask, a blurry version of which the trailer glancingly reveals in a few short frames (see below).

In a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, original Scream director Wes Craven says he let MTV use his name in association with the series, but his involvement beyond that was minimal. "I just put my name on it," Craven explains, referencing his executive producer credit. "I was too busy to do much else."

More specifically, Craven, 75, says he had no part in MTV's decision to scrap the Ghostface mask for the reboot series. As far as he's concerned, even minor changes to a proven formula can be devastating.

"In general," Craven says, reflecting on his own experience with the Scream sequel and beyond, "we didn't mess with the mask at all. It's something we didn't try to change. With Freddy [Krueger] and the New Nightmare (below right), I felt that I probably should have stuck with the original face (below left). [With Scream,] we just let Ghostface be Ghostface."

"It would have been safer [not to change Freddy]," Craven explains. "I'm not going to speculate in public, probably shouldn't have even mentioned it, but you know, sometimes you realize that something's not broken, so don't fix it. And that was the course we took on all the Scream films: Don't mess with that, it's just perfect."
For Craven, the success of the Scream franchise hinged upon the mask. No other mask would have done the trick. "No way. No way," Craven insists. "I knew it in my bones that [Ghostface] was a unique find, and I had to convince the studio that they had to go the extra mile to get it."
Created by New York-based novelty company Fun World in 1991, the Ghostface mask was first conceived as a Halloween costume. It was mass-produced for years as part of a "Fantastic Faces" pack, but it wasn't until 1996, when the mask was licensed for use in Scream, that it became one of the world's most recognizable horror symbols.

There's been endless speculation about why MTV made the decision to redesign the mask for the new series. The network has denied it was budget-related, stemming from Fun World's licensing fee, but THR has learned preliminary discussions about incorporating the mask in the series did occur.

"We have been in regular contact with [The Weinstein Co.] for years while the TV series was conceived," Fun World executive vp Alan Geller tells THR via email, but "no deal" is currently in place for the show. MTV had no comment.

For its part, MTV has insisted the change was simply a creative decision to take the franchise in a "darker," more modern direction. "If the Scream movie mask was the more plastic version," MTV senior vp Mina Lefevre told EW, "this one is a more organic-looking and, frankly, darker version." Still, neither Fun World nor MTV has ruled out the possibility of allowing Ghostface a cameo in the series, presumably once a favorable deal is struck.

Aside from the mask, Roger Jackson, who voiced the original Scream killer, is another glaring absence from the reboot. "I can't picture it," he tells THR about the MTV show. "How can you have Scream without Ghostface? It's like Friday the 13th without Jason." Jackson says MTV hasn't approached him to voice the killer, or anyone.

Bob Weinstein, an executive producer on the original Scream and now an executive producer on the MTV project, agrees that the original mask was special, likening it to the masks in Halloween and The Phantom of the Opera, but is more optimistic about the changes made for the show, revealing one key difference between the old and new versions.

"The [new] mask itself plays a story element, and that is different from Scream the movie," Weinstein says, "It ties in specifically to the story. The mask has an importance; it's not a mask for mask's sake."

But it doesn't quite have the same history.

"When this mask project was given to me," says Brigitte Sleiertin-Linden, the artist who developed the initial concept drawings for Fun World's Ghostface, "I was tasked with designing ghostly faces to be made as masks and to do some drawings with a similar look and feel. So I did a bunch of sketches of different white, ghostly faces with simplistic black facial-feature shapes."

"As an animation junkie," she continues, explaining her inspiration, "I loved the old Max Fleischer cartoons, and Betty Boop was one of my faves. Those faces were mostly inspired by the ghosts from some of those old 1930s black-and-white cartoons."

This flies in the face of the popular assumption that the famed Edvard Munch painting The Scream was the primary inspiration for the mask. "That whole inspired-by-Munch thing is a pat way to write off the design," Sleiertin-Linden says, "but it's not where my influence came from."

"I just loved all vintage animation and that fluid, almost rubbery movement," she adds, citing jazz singer Cab Calloway as another major influence. (Interestingly, Alan Geller, Sleiertin-Linden's former boss, adamantly disputes that she created the mask. He insists the mask is his creation, and an upcoming documentary will reveal the true story behind its genesis. Geller wouldn't provide additional details.)

Following its inception in the early '90s, the Ghostface mask was in circulation as a Halloween costume for several years before Scream producer Marianne Maddalena stumbled upon it by accident in 1996 while scouting locations for the first film.

One location, Maddalena says, happened to be the Santa Rosa house made famous by Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt, which, at the time, was owned by an old widow. The woman lived there alone, and — in what sounds like the set-up for a horror movie in itself — Maddalena says she spied the mask draped over a chair in one of the vacant rooms.

Maddalena immediately took it to Wes Craven and the rest is history.

Can MTV rewrite it?