While Halloween took a couple of weeks to gain word of mouth and become one of the most successful independent movies of all time, as soon as that popularity struck, Michael Myers became a cinematic icon. In a shockingly small amount of time, he became widely accepted as one of the biggest cinematic villains of the twentieth century. Like Darth Vader the year before, Michael Myers was an immediately striking image and it was that design, that effortlessly frightening look of the character, that led him to become the massive pop culture figurehead that he has grown to be over time. Visually, Michael’s design is simple. There aren’t any of the elaborate individual pieces of a character like Freddy Krueger or even Leatherface. Michael’s design is so simple and streamlined that it’s truly representative of what makes Halloween so powerful in general. It’s just a white mask and plain, dark coveralls.
Because that look took off and because of the movie’s basis around the holiday, a Michael Myers Halloween mask was truly a no-brainer. The surprising thing, however, is that it actually took several years to happen. Fans weren’t able to get their hands on a Michael Myers mask until the Halloween season of 1986. That’s stunning, considering the fact that Michael had already become a huge icon long before that point. Even in the early ‘80s, after the release of Halloween III, which at that time promised a totally different direction for the franchise, fans regularly wrote letters to Fangoria to demand Michael’s return to cinemas.
It’s amazing that it took that long for a Michael Myers mask to become available, and even when it did, it wasn’t official. This mask, created by Don Post Studios, was not an officially licensed Halloween mask. You wouldn’t find the name “Michael Myers” anywhere on the tag, even though everybody knew what it was. It was just called “The Mask.” This mask became legendary and, for some Halloween fans growing up, it was their Michael Myers. Sometimes kids would even see it in stores around October before ever seeing any of the movies. For a lot of young fans, Don Post Studios’ “The Mask” was the first thing they identified with The Shape.
And Don Post had the monopoly on Myers masks for a long time, over a decade, before Cinema Secrets released their own Michael Myers mask in 1999. This mask looked very similar, but that probably didn’t surprise anyone. Mass-produced masks based on this franchise were bound to have similar characteristics, as they both conveyed a plain white face with brown eyebrows and brown hair. Nonetheless, Cinema Secrets had one thing that Don Post didn’t: the license.
Cinema Secrets’ mask was the first to actually have the name Michael Myers on the tag, even if the other mask (still in production at this point, though updated over time) was still clearly identifiable as the same character.
Don Post Studios, however, did not see the Cinema Secrets mask as simply another mask based on the same character. They believed that the new mask infringed on their own and was ripping off their design, so they sued Cinema Secrets, citing that the new mask was simply a carbon copy of their own, despite the fact that the Cinema Secrets mask was officially licensed and theirs was not.
Don Post claimed that Cinema Secrets’ mask was a direct ripoff, which the latter company naturally disputed. Cinema Secrets claimed that their mask was simply based on the same source material, so it was therefore bound to have similarities, but that it was not directly lifted from the mask that Don Post had produced. There are a couple of other noteworthy details that warrant mentioning, however. Chief among them being that while Don Post did not have the official license for their mask, The Mask was claimed to be created at the behest of the producers and rights holders of the Halloween series. Apparently, they just didn’t think an official license would be necessary. So while it was unofficial, it wasn’t made without the involvement or knowledge of the people that owned the Halloween franchise.
In 1997, Don Post Studios actually did attempt to obtain the license for the Halloween title to make their mask an official representation of the series, and that’s where things get really muddy. Don Post’s mask had always been unofficial, but they had never simply taken a popular franchise and attempted to produce their own unlicensed off-brand version of it. Don Post Studios was and had always been intimately tied to the Halloween franchise.
Because they had created the original mask in the first place.
It was a Don Post Studios Captain Kirk mask that production designer Tommy Lee Wallace had painted white and customized to create the iconic look of Michael Myers in the original Halloween. Their attempt to take some ownership over the look of the character was not unfounded. If they weren’t directly responsible for the design of Michael Myers, they at least had a significant role in the character’s creation.
Don Post Studios took this evidence with them when they tried to file a copyright for The Mask, presenting both a copy of the mask used in the original Halloween and an original Captain Kirk mask. Their attempt to copyright the mask was denied, however, because the Michael Myers mask, which they were attempting to copyright, was nothing more than a customization of a separate mask with different color, hair, and other signifying details that were crucial to their attempt to obtain ownership.
They couldn’t copyright the Michael Myers mask because the design itself was a customization—of a mask that they had originally created.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see how Cinema Secrets had a much easier time obtaining the Halloween license just two years later. They didn’t have the muddy, complicated history with the franchise that Don Post Studios had. They were just a company who had already licensed several classic horror figures, such as the Universal Monsters and Jason, Freddy and Leatherface, with great success. They wanted to simply obtain the Halloween license and produce a mask of their own that would comfortably represent the Michael Myers brand. They succeeded because, unlike what Don Post appeared to be doing, Cinema Secrets was only after the license and was not attempting to copyright the mask itself.
Still, Don Post Studios, who had just been shot down a second time for trying to obtain copyright for The Mask, claimed that Cinema Secrets’ brand-new Michael Myers mask was a ripoff of their own design and sought legal action. Chris Hanson, who sculpted the mask for Cinema Secrets, claimed that he was given three pictures of the mask and a videotape of Halloween as his working materials. He did not, by any accounts, have access to the mold used for the Don Post mask to rip it off as deliberately as Don Post Studios claimed had been done.
Because the Don Post mask was not officially licensed, in order to obtain copyright for The Mask, they had to eventually provide proof that their mask was not directly influenced by the look of Michael Myers in the original Halloween. To do this, they had to point out the inaccuracies in their own design and present them as evidence. They noted that the mask used in Halloween had dark brown hair and dirty white skin, while theirs had light brown hair and plain white skin. Don Post himself even claimed that the mask was simply molded from his own head as he provided the sculpting bust—of himself—to be used for the mask that his studio produced. Don Post even went on record to testify that any similarities between The Mask and Michael Myers were happenstance, and that the two were entirely unrelated.
This is, of course, ridiculous. But it’s also sad and ultimately shows what a complicated legal mess absolutely anything can become. All Don Post Studios wanted to do was copyright their mask, initially having the approval of the producers of the Halloween films on their side, and had attempted to provide proof that they could technically be entitled to some ownership of the design of Michael Myers in general, only to then have to point out the inconsistencies in their design to retain copyright over their own mask.
The Mask continued to be unrelated to the Halloween series, more so than ever, in fact. Cinema Secrets, on the other hand, was allowed to keep producing its own officially licensed mask. Other companies, like Illusive Concepts, obtained the Halloween license as well. Thankfully, Don Post Studios also got the go-ahead to produce officially licensed Halloween masks in the 2000s, which they continue to do today.
Cinema Secrets even helped form the foundation of our current age of authentic replica masks based on specific Halloween films—thanks largely to Trick or Treat Studios—in 2002, with their replica mask based on the then-new Halloween: Resurrection.
When you walk into Spirit Halloween this year, you’ll see Michael Myers all over the place, maybe more than ever. From life-sized animatronics to light-up decorations, window stickers and mugs… but the masks will always be the attention grabber. This year, you’ll often see masks that are not only officially licensed, but based on specific movies like Halloween II, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and this year’s upcoming sequel, all in the same store. It’s easy to see all of this and take it for granted. But as we celebrate not only the season, but the fortieth anniversary of this franchise, it’s worth remembering a time when Michael Myers masks were a little harder to come by; when claims to ownership became tangled in insane legal technicalities and—ultimately—spiraled into utter nonsense.
I’d recommend anyone to just read over the case for themselves, as we’ve only even covered the tip of the iceberg, and there’s so much more to unpack for those willing enough to dig deep into this legal rabbit hole that—perhaps most bafflingly of all—is also a part of franchise history.