Who was that masked woman?
Because of the visual nature of film and storytelling, masked women play an intriguing part of film history. Up until the latter half of the twentieth century, women in Western culture were rarely the villain in stories and film. Men were the heroes and villains, the women often helpless characters that had to be rescued, or worse, property that was simply a part of the show. Whether a love interest, damsel in distress, or simply “eye candy”, women didn’t really get an opportunity to rule or save the world. They were seen as to be the “weaker sex”. Because of the nature of film, the portrayal of masked women in cinema would become one of empowerment; strong females, hero, villain or somewhere in between, would show other women that anything could be done. These women showed that sisters, indeed, could do it for themselves.
In horror films, masked women are considered relatively new. Horror fans would say Pamela Voorhees, Jason’s mother, was one of original “bad girls”, yet she wore no mask. The mother and daughter in “The Strangers” wore masks as terrorized the family. In one of the scream movies there is a female killer. “Curtains” has a spurned female killer. A vengeful female hunts young girls in “Alice, Sweet Alice”. Part of the interest in the unmasking of a killer is when it is a female, particularly a brutal killer; the shock value is much higher. The term “Hell Hath no fury as a woman scorned” certainly applies to these ladies.
Hero films tend to have more masked women characters, both hero and villain. In 1966’s “Batman” Julie Newmar laid down a memorable performance as “Cat woman”. Cat woman almost has her own history. Created in 1940 by Bob Kane, a number of women on the big and small screens have played her. Besides Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt have played the femme fatale on the small screen version of the show. Michelle Pfeiffer played the role in “Batman Returns” and Halle Berry played in a standalone “Cat woman” film (though it was only loosely based on the Batman character, and was box offices flop). Even today, with rumours about of a third instalment of the current “Batman” franchise, Cat woman’s character has been suggested, with names like Angelia Jolie, Megan Fox and even Cher being connected to the film, though all can show is, after the failure of Halle Berry’s version, the film audience longs for a return of “The Cat”.
Also in the Batman universe, “Batgirl” was a big part of the 1960s program. “Poison Ivy” was introduced to the big screen, along with Batgirl in “Batman and Robin”, the fourth and final film of the previous Batman movie franchise, which also received negatively due to its campy theme. Outside of the Batman universe, masked female heroes and villain are hard to find in film. It could be suggested that Hollywood doesn’t want to cover up “that pretty face”.Heist films are an interesting place look, particularly if there is an espionage element. The comedy “Sugar and Spice” featured a group of cheerleaders wearing “Barbie” masks to hold up banks to help their fellow pregnant cheerleader. “Lady in the cage” had women with stockings over their head as they robbed a bank. In the original 1966 “Mission Impossible” television series series, there are a number of women who are unmasked during the series, both villains and heroes alike. In Disney’s “The Witches”, the lead witch hides her true, rodent-like face with a mask of a beautiful woman. In the movie “Return to Oz”, the villainess goes so far as to wear different women’s heads, as she takes them off and puts them on depending on what suits her in this dark “sequel” to “The Wizard of Oz”. Women are slowly getting their due in regards to masks and movies, though it has taken awhile. Perhaps culture is still not used to the idea of women being strong, assertive characters. Maybe it’s the “pretty face” effect. For whatever reason, Hollywood doesn’t like to mask women