Being a lifetime horror and sci-fi geek, I've lost count of how many times I've seen tie-in merchandise items that are made in the image of characters from popular comic books, movies, TV shows and video games. Yet every now and then, a piece of licensed merchandise becomes more recognizable and enduring than the media property from which it originated. Case in point: the Syngenor mask, a monster mask that has made regular appearances in Halloween costume catalogs since the 1980s and can still be found in some costume shops.
When I was younger, I had seen this mask appear a number of times in catalogs and in geek-centric magazines such as Fangoria and Starlog, so I assumed for years that it was just one of the generic monster masks that mask companies produce that had no connection to anything other than Halloween and other costuming events. Little did I know that the Syngenor was in fact a movie monster ... just not a very popular one. Read on for details about this pop culture oddity, a licensed mask that took on a commercial life of its own outside of its point of cinematic origin.
The name "Syngenor" actually stands for "SYNthesized GENetic ORganism" and it first appeared in a low-budget 1980 creature feature called Scared to Death. Scared to Death was the first theatrical movie directed by William Malone, and Malone designed the Syngenor specifically for his debut film. According to Wikipedia:
"Wanting to become a director, William Malone decided to make a monster movie because it was the type of film one could get a lot of production value for very little money. He also had experience with monster designs as he had previously worked as a designer at a Halloween mask factory so he knew he could design the monster himself. In order to raise enough money for the film Malone had to sell most of his personal belongings including his car and mortgaging his house. After raising enough money he began building and sculpting the monster suit. Being inspired by H.R. Giger's design from the movie "Alien" he took 3 months to build the suit."
According to IMDB, Scared to Death only cost $74,000 to make, so it quickly made its money back during its initial theatrical run. Given how obscure this movie is--it went straight from drive-in movie feature to forgotten z-grade fright flick within months--it's kind of funny that Malone's monster design has probably been seen by more people as a Halloween mask than as a character from a movie. In fact, producer Jack F. Murphy loved Malone's design so much that he produced his own low-budget film just so he could use it. Appropriately, the second film was called Syngenor and it was released in 1990; however, outside of the Syngenor monster and Malone's assistance in building new monster suits, it has no other connections to Scared to Death.
Above and below: Scenes from Syngenor.
The history of the Syngenor doesn't end with two low-budget movies and a memorable Halloween mask. From what I can tell, there are two variant masks from the Syngenor, masks that also occasionally have the word "Syngenor" added to their names. Both have the Giger-inspired biomechanical look and both have a humanoid face, although one has a tentacle-like mandible in place of a human mouth.
These other two masks can be found under the names of "Syngenor Thanatoid", "Thanatoid", or "Titan Find Thanatoid", and I think that both of these were sculpted by Malone as well. Fun trivia fact: Titan Find is also the alternate title for a 1985 Alien rip-off that Malone directed that is more widely known as Creature. However, even though one of these designs makes a cameo appearance in Creature, neither are used for the movie's titular monster.
A poster for Titan Find (a.k.a. Creature), the only one that I know of
that prominently features the Thanatoid design,
Here are some additional pictures of the Syngenor and its spin-offs: