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Last week’s post described various ways to incorporate characters with gas masks into your haunt. Assembling the costumes for these characters may seem intimidating and costly but actually, they’re pretty simple and not terribly expensive.
Before we tackle the more complex military character, let’s warm up with the far simpler doctor in a biological suit. You could actually make do with a painter’s suit from your local big box hardware store in a pinch. eBay has an enormous selection though, with a much larger color selection and probably better durability too. Just search for “Hazmat suit” or “Hazmat coveralls” to find all the choices you could ever need. To this, add some rubber boots & gloves and your gas mask of choice and your military doctors are all ready to go. It’s as simple as that.
For the military character, I base the costumes on some of my favorite gas mask wearing villains from the 2011 movie Sucker Punch. The film has a “unique” plot, fantastic soundtrack, and some of the most awesome (yet incompetent) villains hiding behind gas masks. I ask you, who wouldn’t be intimidated by one of these masked marauders? I was so taken with them that I nearly ended up making a Halloween costume using them as the inspiration, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle 7 hours in a long, leather trench coat wearing a full gas mask.
The scene these screen grabs are from is very dark and chaotic, so here are a couple of pictures to show what they would look like in the light of day. The first image below is the same as the picture above, just altered to increase the overall brightness & exposure. The other picture below focuses on the challenging part of the costume: the head and gas mask.
There are many possible ensembles for a soldier wearing a gas mask; a quick Google search will demonstrate that. Happily, this costume is an easy one to mix and match – take the preferred bits from whatever you like, stick them together, and you can make your own custom masked monster. I really like the gas mask from Sucker Punch; the coats not so much. Instead, the leather coat, boots and gloves from the image below really seem menacing, so I would mash up these two costumes.
Heavy boots and leather gloves work very well, since you really want to cover all the skin. If skin shows, you let your guests know there’s a person under there; otherwise, who knows what really lurks under that mask? I think the gas mask is the focal point of the costume and therefore what makes or breaks it.
I have previously mentioned that I really like authenticity and always go the extra mile if possible. This usually means scouring eBay or the interwebs for real items when possible. For instance, with a British explorer costume, I bought an actual leather holster and a replica Webley pistol that British officers carried. No plastic guns and cardboard holsters if I can help it. That’s exactly how I would proceed with this costume too. Although this time, it’s as much for convenience as for purity.
Surprisingly, it’s VERY simple to find real gas masks on the web. Conversely, I suspect trying to mock one up yourself would be quite a challenge. Therefore, buying an actual gas mask is the way to go. Many seem to come from Lithuania or China, and they do look like the real deal. There’s not an unlimited selection, but enough so that you can choose the style that seems the scariest to you. I am torn between the “Aardvark masks” (my term) like the Soviet GP-5 and the dual hose masks.
I think it’s pretty obvious why these make me think of aardvarks. Most are white/gray, but black is also available and both can be found with the long hose. In case you are interested, these are actually Soviet civilian gas masks. They are easy to find and very cheap.
The Soviet PRWU is also a very interesting mask due to its unusual, non-human shape. It makes me think of more of a Sci-Fi villain because of its appearance. It’s normally white, but is also available in black.
Soviet PRWU from Worthpoint.com
Even though they are considerably tougher to locate, I really do prefer the dual hose masks. For whatever reason they seem more menacing to me, and I hope to the guests that I torment with them. Or, maybe it’s just the villains from Sucker Punch are so awesome! The only mask I can find that is built with 2 hose connections in the Soviet PMK-2. However, the mask on the soldier with the leather outfit looks authentic and it is definitely different, so I suspect there are more I haven’t located. (If you have a great source, please share!) I also believe that the masks in Sucker Punch are custom built props for the movie, something most of us don’t really want to undertake.
Soviet PMK-2 from eBay
As you can see, this PMK-2 also contains a drinking system. It’s a very smart addition for the mask’s intended use but not useful for a haunt, so I would simply remove it. They have also enlarged the openings for the eyes, which must make it far easier to use, but softens the look for me. I really like the small, round, metal-ringed eyeholes of the GP-5. So, it’s a tradeoff between the dual hoses and the larger eye openings. For me, this PMK-2 is still the winner.
To help counteract the large eyeholes, I would use make-up around the actors’ eyes since so much of the skin will be visible. Black would be the obvious choice for hiding the face, although a sickish green could give a very eerie effect. A different concept would be to apply nasty looking scars around the eyes if you want your character to seem like a battle weary soldier.
Once you have chosen your mask-o-menace, you will normally add a helmet for the soldier character. Some masks cover the entire head, which gives a uniquely creepy feel on its own. The Soviet GP-5 is one such mask, so with that I would not add a helmet. But, most masks stop before the ears and would benefit from a helmet. There are so many helmets available that you can pick whatever look you like. You could go with the plastic toy helmet, but for just over $20 you can get an actual motorcycle helmet like below. Just remember to cover up the D.O.T symbol before deploying your characters.
Even cheaper are Czech M42 helmets, which is what I chose, although I now question my choice and prefer the more authentic aesthetic of the motorcycle helmet. In the dark chaos of a haunt I will probably get away with this minor mistake. However, it does allow my creation to depart for the usual association with Nazis, and become just a menacing villain.
Czech M42 helmet from Midwayusa.com
Despite my helmet blunder, things are coming together well. We now need to address the coat. Even though Sucker Punch used a shorter wool jacket, which is probably more authentic for a trench soldier, having the long, leather trench coat really amps up the effect of the entire costume. I found a decent selection of both coats and jackets on eBay using the search term “German military leather coat” but they started above $100 and many were actually $500 or more. Not what we’re looking for, price-wise.
After a bit more searching I found that “leather trench coat” produced more reasonably priced results. I am sure there are other search terms that will get you just the look you are after. For under $60 (incl. S/H) I found the black leather coat I need.
I also ran across these three beauties at a site called Sportsmansguide. They have a whole section of military trench coats. These coats ranged in price from just over $20 to just under $50. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a great a selection of sizes, but you can probably locate a great coat for a reasonable price with a little looking. They even have gas masks! Sadly, Sportmsansguide.com did not have my dual-hose PMK-2, but there is a nice Polish SMS M-41 for $14.99! Another contender in my book.
The rest of the costume requires leather gloves to match the coat, heavy leather boots and dark pants to complement the rest of the costume. All these can be found locally, or your actors might already own some of them.
For a costume like this, I prefer to buy the pieces early and wear them around the house to give them a seasoned look. This requires some forethought to get them in time. That’s especially important with the gas masks from overseas as the shipping can be up to 4 weeks for some of them, so plan well and buy early!
One caveat about buying from eBay: make sure to check from where they are shipping. I have had some unpleasant surprises when items I didn’t scrutinize closely enough took 6 or more weeks to arrive by China Post. The greatest deal on a killer gas mask doesn’t help if it shows up weeks after you need it.
While I love this costume, I will reiterate that it is a bad choice for a Halloween party, since it will get very hot in that coat and mask for hours on end. If you will use this in a haunt it can work, as long as you give your actors enough time between groups to cool down. Just opening up the coat for a few minutes will let them cool down. Similarly, they will be desperate to take off the gas mask after 10 minutes or so. If you stagger your groups correctly you can make this pleasant for your actors, but do consider their working conditions when you are planning things out.
There are commercial products designed specifically to solve this problem. They are cooling vests that are worn under costumes, especially mascot costumes. This does explain how Pluto can survive the Florida heat in Disney World for hours on end – I knew there had to be a trick. They come in many sizes and styles, but they are all similar in concept to the product below with cooling packs to slip into a vest or around the neck.
While I am sure these are outstanding products, the price and cooling time (2-4 hours) leads me to wonder if this would be simple to create just using standard cooling packs (for example these from Uline) and a little bit of scrap cloth. And for the sewing impaired (like me) a simple mesh fishing vest (like this from Amazon) and the Uline cold packs will probably work very well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a short video from us about this sometime in the future. These won’t help with the discomfort of hours in a gas mask however – so be sure to give your actors frequent breaks.
Now our gas mask wearing villain costume is complete and we are ready to unleash them upon the world. At least upon the world that exists within the walls of our haunt. While this is significantly more complex than just visiting your local Halloween supply store, I am sure both you and your guests will appreciate the extra effort you put in.
Most of the costume pieces you purchase or create for your haunt will be specific to that one character you envision, whereas a gas mask can be used for multiple characters, giving it an added versatility and value over multiple Halloween seasons. It’s probably not the first thing that leaps to mind when thinking about your haunt, but there are many scenarios where it can make a useful, unexpected and unnerving addition to your haunt.