Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor

One of the people that I am looking forward to meeting this Spring convention season is Doug Bradley.1 He is listed as being one of the guests at Motor City Nightmares.2 For those of you who are not familiar with the name, he is the actor who portrayed Pinhead in all of the Hellraiser movies.3

The big question, as with most autographs, becomes what will I have him sign? When you like an individual enough to ask for their autograph you generally like them enough to have multiple items to choose from. In this particular case, one of the things I'm thinking of having Mr. Bradley sign is a copy of his book
Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor. Since it would be kind of false to have him sign something I haven't read, I made sure to read it recently.

Behind the Mask is a well written look behind the cinematic curtain. It is equal parts biography, theater history, and interview.

Bradley begins with A History of the Mask: a look into the historical uses of masks from shamanistic practices to the Greek and Roman stage through the Renaissance. In doing so he reveals that he is knowledgable in a number of subjects. His examination of the philosophical, theological, and psycho-social aspects of using masks to become someone else and symbolism of doing so is fascinating. The same can be said for his brief history of the various eras of the stage and how actors of those times and places used masks and make-up to create the characters they portrayed.

What makes this especially enlightening is that Bradley is able to use his own years of experience on the stage and in front of the camera to illuminate the various points he makes. I found his discussion of the moment when Doug disappeared and the character stepped forward enthralling.

From there he goes on to The Silent Era in which he discusses the German expressionist films and the Man of 1,000 Faces himself, Lon Chaney. The Golden Age covers the actors who brought the Universal monsters to life including Lon Chaney, Jr and Boris Karloff. The Fifties and Sixties focuses on Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and the Hammer films. What makes each of these snippets of cinematic history compelling is that Bradley does not focus only on the actor, although he does provide a lot of background about each individual he discusses. He also focuses on the make-up and special effects people and their techniques. He goes from the early days of the cinema when most actors were in charge of their own make-up to the beginnings of specialization. The reader learns about the innovators of the special effects world. There are also tidbits about the friendships forged between actors and their effects people as well as the notable, shall we say, not so friendships.

The last and longest section of the book The Sons of Ten Thousand Maniacs, covers the "modern horror villains."4 Much of this material was gathered by Bradley through interviews with the actors who played Michael Myers, Jason Voorhies, and Freddy Kruger. The reader learns about how some of these roles were filled by various stunt people who were chosen to step into the shoes (and make-up) of the various slashers simply because of their size. We also learn about how the various make-up techniques evolve, mostly for the better from the actor's viewpoint.

These chapters follow each other in a rough chronologically. Bradley intersperses bits of his own history in them. There are portions about his early stage collaborations with Clive Barker (who wrote the forward for the book) and other roles. He recalls his early concerns about playing Pinhead, trying to find the right voice, mannerisms, etc. He also details his experiences with the make-up required for the character.

In this last section the reader learns about some of the problems with some of the appliances, especially with regards to temperature regulation. There are a number of funny stories about not being able to eat anything solid for fear of damaging the make-up, people not wanting to associate with the actors while they are fully made up as killers. Bradley's writing takes a humorous turn when he talks about the dread he felt every morning when driving on to the set, the myriad little things he would do to delay his inevitable return to the "dentist chair" where the make-up wizards would begin his transformation into the Dark Pope of Hell. We find that he is not alone in this from some of the other actors he speaks to. As a horror fan, especially a fan of the movies in question and the actors who played the primary roles, it made me appreciate both the actors and the effects people even more. While one might acknowledge that some actors have to be on set at 7, we tend to forget that for roles like these the actor has to be there hours earlier for make-up application. Of course the make-up people have to be there even earlier than that to set up. At the end of the day most of the cast and crew get to go home, but the ones in the masks have hours of make-up removal ahead of them before they can drive off.

I found Bradley's writing both informative and engaging. I especially enjoyed the portions discussing the creation of the characters, the actor becoming someone new. While
Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor may not be for everyone, I think any fan of horror, special effects, actor, writer, or anyone else who creates new personae will find it thoroughly enjoyable. Recommended.

1 I am also going to try and get Michael Rooker and Heather Langenkamp at MCN and Stan Lee and Norman Reedus at
Motor City Comic Con.

2 The convention that I will only be at for a day because I will be spending the rest of that weekend at

3 Once again, if you are reading my blog, you should bloody well know who Doug Bradley is.

4 Keeping in mind the original text began as a series of lectures that Bradley gave in the 90s and the current volume is expanded from
Sacred Monsters: Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor which was published in 1996. The book does not cover any of the recent reboots of Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Nightmare on Elm Street nor does it touch on the increasing use of CGI.