Ghostface explained – who is the killer in the Scream movies?

Who is behind the mask of the killer in the Scream movies? From his backstory, multiple identities, to all his powers - here is Ghostface explained.

Ghostface explained: Ghostface in Scream 6

Who is Ghostface? In 1996, horror maestro Wes Craven introduced the world to one of the most memorable figures in horror – the home-invading killer Ghostface. For decades, he has made us gasp, cry, and think twice about owning kitchen knives. But, even after decades, Scream’s main killer is packed with mystery and is still dying to be unmasked.

Over the course of several horror movies, a TV series, and even videogame appearances, Scream has taken many forms. But one thing has always remained constant when it comes to the slasher series – Ghostface. Through thick or thin, Ghostface has turned up in every Scream-related project and has become a scary movie icon in his own right. But with new killers popping up in every Scream movie and decades’ worth of lore to unpack – even hardcore fans of the killer may be a bit confused.

With that in mind, and with the Scream 6 ending now out there, The Digital Fix is here to unpack everything you need to know about the killer. From his powers, backstory, and multiple identities, here is Ghostface explained.

Who is Ghostface?

Ghostface is the main villain of the Scream movies. However, his identity is pretty unique compared to his horror peers. Unlike some of the other best movie villains out there, such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, Ghostface is more of a symbol than he is a specific ‘person’ (or perhaps killing machine is a better word?

Ghostface doesn’t have an in-depth origin story; he doesn’t have a traumatic childhood or a ghost mother driving him to kill. Instead, this slasher icon is purely named after his white plastic Halloween mask and long black robes. The iconic vinyl mask is based on the Edvard Munch painting, The Scream (we love a good pun), and was sold as part of a Father Death costume in real life.

There may only be one Michael Myers throughout all the Halloween movies, but there have been a total of 12 Ghostfaces in the Scream franchise (and that’s not even counting the TV series). Ghostface himself is a mask; his very being is designed to protect the identity of the killer (or killers) in each and every new movie in the Scream franchise.

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Ghostface’s icon status is even woven into the Scream movies itself, thanks to the meta Stab franchise, which is introduced into the IP in Scream 2. In the films, Ghostface is a symbol of the tragedy that follows Sidney and has entered into the sphere of horror movie fame – even in the flicks.

So, in answer to the big question ‘who is Ghostface’ – there is no permanent identity. In the first Scream movie, Ghostface was Sidney’s boyfriend, Billy Loomis and his mate Stu. And the killers in Scream 6 added some new names to that list.

Ghostface explained: A close-up on Ghostface

What is the backstory of Ghostface?

While Ghostface as a character doesn’t have much of a backstory, his iconic mask does. The original concept art for Ghostface was more gruesome and zombie-like than the design we know now. The memorable look that we’ve grown accustomed to was actually for a mask that was first developed by the novelty store by Fun World in the ’90s.

The real-life mask was part of a series entitled “Fantastic Faces” and was called “The Peanut-Eyed Ghost”. Producer Marianne Maddalena spotted The Peanut-Eyed Ghost mask while scouting for filming locations for Scream, and well, the rest is history. Craven went about trying to obtain the rights for the mask, and luckily Fun World and Dimension Films managed to strike a deal.

But, when it comes to the backstory of Ghostface’s creation, his mask isn’t the only exciting bit of Scream lore. The writer of the first Scream screenplay, which was first titled Scary Movie, Kevin Williamson, penned a story featuring a young woman who was taunted over the phone by a serial killer.

This plot point would make it into the final cut of the ‘90s movie with the opening scene of Scream seeing Drew Barrymore chatting with Ghostface via a landline before meeting her bloody end.

Ghostface explained: Ghostface holding a bloody knife

But this iconic movie moment was actually based on a true story. Ghostface’s standard home invasion ways came after Williamson learned about the Gainesville Ripper – a serial killer in Florida – one night when his own windows were open.

Watching a report on the killer and feeling vulnerable – he was spooked enough to use his feelings and horror movie expertise to write a slasher villain who would stand the test of time.

Danny Rolling (aka the Gainesville Ripper) killed five students, but besides targeting young women and men, he and Ghostface don’t have many striking similarities. You can read more on the subject in our article on the true story that inspired Scream.

Ghostface explained: Ghostface trying to open a door in Scream 5

What powers does Ghostface have?

Every person who takes on the identity of Ghostface is very much human. However, they all tend to have decent speed, stealth, and physical durability. In nearly every Scream movie, Ghostface has been punched, kicked, and sometimes even stabbed.

Still, he gets back up and chases after his victims with sure-fire determination. And, while sometimes there are two or even three Ghostface killers in one movie – meaning it can appear that the killer is everywhere all at once – the slasher baddie has proven to be quick on his feet, chasing teens and often catching his prey.

If there were any doubt on supernatural goings on, it would be Ghostface’s uncanny stealth ability. He pops up unexpectedly and constantly manages to avoid detection from his targets and the police alike. We know Ghostface is human at the end of the day, but sometimes it seems like that mask has some sort of power-up (to clarify, it doesn’t.)

Ghostface explained: Ghostface on a train in New York

Ghostface also has the power of Knowledge on his side in every Scream movie. In each outing of the franchise, the killers have planned out how they want the situation to unfold and all the traps that the victims are set to die in.

While these plans are often revealed at the end of every Scream movie, along with an unmasking (think Scooby Doo but with more death), the level of preparation and detail is still impressive. So, credit where credit is due.

For more horror movie baddies, here are all the Cenobites from the Hellraiser movies ranked, and Freddy Krueger explained. Or if you still can’t get enough Ghostface, here is our Scream cast guide, how to avoid an attack from Ghostface, and Scream 6 review.