What creeps you out? Serial Killers? Nuns? Devils? Doctors? Or maybe it’s a good old-fashioned bloody bunny with fingers sticking out of its mouth? Whatever gets under your skin, there’s probably some nightmarish incarnation of it strapped to the face of a would-be killer in USA Network’s upcoming The Purge TV series.
Based on the hit horror franchise from Blumhouse and creator James DeMonaco, the 10-episode limited series takes the long-form approach to the concept, set in a near-future America where all crime, including murder, is legal for one night a year. That means we get to see a whole lot more Purging, and more Purging means more masks. In fact, something like 10 to 15 an episode according to costume designer Lauren Bott, who headed up costuming team on the new series.
Back in June, I had the opportunity to visit the set of The Purge in New Orleans, Lousianna, where a joined a small group of journalists to tour the sets, observe filming, and speak with the cast and crew. One of the highlights of the day was speaking to Bott about her work after checking out a costume exhibit showing off a few of her new mask designs — a chilling assortment including a neon-lit nun mask with human teeth jutting out of the mouth, numerous black-and-white photoreal masks of serial killers, and yes, the finger-mouthed bunny I mentioned before.
For Bott, it’s all about making the designs attainable and realistic with with a DIY feel. “We tried to keep the designs quite simple and obviously, there’s four Purge films prior to me, so there’s a lot to live up to,” Bott said. “I think the most important factor is the DIY factor, looking as though anyone could make these.”
The other crucial element is variety. Because there are so many masks called for in each episode, Bott and her team have to make sure they’re always mixing it up. “Because every single episode, we’ve had these texture elements that are quite large that are, five, six, seven vignettes with different stunt guys. A lot of times, we’re using the same stunt people and dressing them 10, 12 ways, so it’s just about keeping the masks sort of scary and cool and interesting, keeping everybody interested and also staying true to The Purge.”
So what makes a good design for a Purge mask? Bott explained, “I think the main thing with each of the masks is mixing a human element with some level of disgust.” She pointed to the mask on the far right — an exaggerated doll-faced blonde with a startling expression. “That, I just hand painted myself with watercolor and it’s just about overselling the eyes, overselling the mouth and reminding you that there’s a human underneath. I think if you lose the human element completely, you lose the scare tactic.”
As for those black-and-white serial killer masks, Bott explained those play a key role in the events that transpire at the Stanton Mansion — a local estate where the high society player convene on Purge night to network and indulge their darkest whims. “The idea was that they just took iconic serial killers and made them chic and interestin,” she said. “This is a wealthy party. These are wealthy party-goers. So you had to make it where they were not shocked and disgusted. They looked nice with their ballgowns.”
The inspiration came from an old image of Andy Warhol at a party. “I was like, that is so creepy just to have almost like a newspaper clipping of the face and then adding surreal elements.” Each mask was cut to allow some feature of its wearer to show through — a hole in the eye or the mouth revealing the real killer beneath the famous murderer’s face. “200 people in couture gowns with these masks is very scary,” she said with a chuckle. “Yeah, it’s not a cute look.”
However, Bott’s favorites are the brightly lit Catholic nun with inky black stains running down their faces and a wonky set of chompers sewn into the mouth. “We used real dentures and then we just pop the teeth out and rearranged them so that there was just a little bit of inconsistency,” she explained. “I find that drapes are the scariest, so as when you see five people dressed the exact same with slightly different variations… It’s so cultish. It’s so creepy.”
Bott also teased a horrifying run-in between the killer nuns and another cultish-looking group — the cult of martyrs led by Fiona Dourif‘s character, who dress all in blue and serve themselves up like sacrificial lams to the slaughter. “They do run into the cult, so it was two opposing groups, which was super weird because the cult robes are very chilling and they’re super sweet and which makes them so scary.” In contrast, she gestured to the nun costume. “These guys have big chains that they were swinging. I mean it was not something that I would want to run into.”
you think of the setting. Who would dress as a nun? What kind of person would dress as a nun? Why would dress as a nun? What’s sort of their rage element? ‘Cause you have to find the rage because otherwise, I mean you wouldn’t be out.” She Continued, “Because everybody has a story, so and I think once you dig into that, I tell the guys at the shop, the main thing is making sure that there has to be a scary element. There has to be a freak element. This guy is probably the prettiest. He was our rappelling freak so he was actually dangling from a rappelling wire with a huge machine gun, so that was the scary part, so we were able to get away a little bit more with this.”
You can see all the spooky masks unleashed when The Purge premieres on USA Network Tuesday, September 4 at 10/9c, and get a peak at what we saw on set in rest of the images below.