Saturday, August 19, 2006

If I Were Wolf: Collecting Werewolf Masks

"Honey! Honey! Help!" A man yells from inside the bathroom. His wife runs in to see him staring at the mirror. She asks him "What's wrong." He says, "In the mirror! I'm turning into a werewolf!" The wife looks at him like he is a fool and the look gets the point across that his childish prank is not funny. He insists it's true and she says nothing, walking out of the bathroom.

The next day the wife hears her husband scream "Honey! It's happening again! I'm turning into a werewolf." The wife walks into the bathroom, her arms folded and tells here husband to knock it off.

A couple days go by and the man screams "Honey! Honey! I'm turning into a werewolf!" The wife, tired of such silliness storms into the bathroom. The husband, wearing a cheap werewolf mask, turns around and GROWLS at his wife who runs screaming out of the bathroom and then out of the house and into the street.

Yeah, this common gag from the 1970's was pretty shocking mainly because pretty much no one (nee the wife) knew that werewolf masks even existed. Pretty much, only avid readers of magazines such as FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and MONSTER WORLD were the only people who knew the masks were out there. Or, more accurately, they knew about the high quality werewolf masks were advertised in the magazines, not the cheap run of the mill ones sold in drug stores at Halloween. Since quality werewolf masks were very rare for so many years, werewolf masks have become the top prized items by Halloween mask collectors.

When it comes to producing Halloween masks, werewolf masks were among the most difficult to produce mainly because werewolf masks require the application of hair, usually real animal hair or synthetic hair. This made the creation of this masks very expensive and quite a number of them were custom jobs. These custom masks were ultra expensive to purchase and older masks are quite rare to find and thus, highly collectible.

Today, when it comes to the world of werewolf mask collecting, oh my, have things changed and, in this case, change has proven to be a good thing. Not only have the quality of the masks improved, but also the prices of the masks have gone done considerably.

Perhaps saying the quality of the masks has improved is slightly misleading, as it would infer that the quality of the werewolf masks of yesteryear was not very good. To clarify, the quality of the mass produced werewolf masks was generally decent, sometimes creative, but paled in comparison to the handcrafted, custom masks that used taxidermy teeth and real animal hair. The handcrafted custom masks ran upwards of $300. That's in 1970's and 1980's dollars. The mass produced masks only cost in the ten dollar range.

The reason that the mass produced masks were so inexpensive was the fact that they were made completely out of rubber and the werewolf's face and hair were drawn and painted on the rubber. Making a werewolf mask was no different from making a Dracula or Frankenstein mask. The lack of real or synthetic hair, however, detracted from the look of the masks. The paint drew attention to the fact that the mask was a mask causing it to lack the realistic look of other types of monster masks. When it came to the invention of the werewolf's look, the originator and innovator who created the look set the bar very high.

In the early days, the legendary special effects icon Jack Pierce who created the main guise of the title beasts in the Universal Films WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) and the classic THE WOLFMAN (1942) designed the first werewolf makeup ever made. Pierce's make up designs were so incredible that no one ever changed the look of cinema werewolves nor the process that created them until the 1980's with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981) and THE HOWLING (1982).

The werewolves in Pierce's films did not wear masks. Pierce glued Yak hair on the faces of the actors and then cut, combed and crafted the visage into the fearsome, bipedal werewolf that the world knew, loved and feared.

When the monster movie TV craze of the 1950's and 1960's spawned the monster movie magazine fad (and those magazines are quite collectible as well) the magazines launched a number of tie in merchandise such as books, records, posters and, of course, monster masks. Don Post's excellent werewolf masks may not have been the first werewolf masks on the market, but they were the best crafted. Post continued to make monster and werewolf masks well into the early 1980's that was the last years of the old monster movie magazine's print runs.

As stated before, werewolf masks that are of collectible value from the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's were all high priced custom jobs. In today's world, the cost of werewolf masks has gone down considerably. The quality of the masks is nothing short of striking. The masks look incredible and come in all different varieties of looks spanning the classic old school Lon Chaney Jr. and Paul Naschy versions to the vicious creatures patterned after AMERICAN WEREWOLF to ones that are patterned after the CGI created VAN HELSING style werewolf. Best of all, the average price of these ultra realistic masks runs in the $35 range.

Technology and means of production have advanced. This makes the golden age of werewolf collecting in the here and now. Werewolf mask collectors have never been more pleased.

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