Visit MaineToday's profile on Pinterest.

About The Author


Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Auburn with his lovely wife, the writer Emily L. Stephens, and their cat, Cooper. When not watching all the movies ever made or digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

Send an email | Read more from Dennis

Posted: March 12, 2018

Portland transplant plays a home invader in horror flick ‘The Strangers: Prey at Night’

Written by: Dennis Perkins

Damian Maffei and Lewis Pullman in The Strangers: Prey at Night.
Photos by Brian Dogulas/Courtesy of Aviron Pictures

Sometimes the horror finds you, even if you flee all the way to Portland. That’s the lesson learned by Damian Maffei, the New York-born actor whose decision to leave behind both the bustle of the city and his career instead saw him being cast as the terrifyingly unknowable leader of a trio of home invaders in the just-released Hollywood horror sequel “The Strangers: Prey at Night.”

Maffei plays the Man in the Mask, the leader of a trio of masked home invaders.

In the follow-up to the well-regarded 2008 original, “The Strangers,” Maffei plays the “Man in the Mask,” whose silent stalking of star Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) and others sees the actor exploring the limits of performance with no lines – and a bag on your head. I talked to Maffei about “Strangers: Prey at Night,” moving to Portland, getting back in the game, and how the call of the movies can reach out and grab you in Maine when you least expect it.

What prompted you to move to Maine from New York, and what’s been your experience with the Maine movie scene?

I’ve lived in New York all my life, and my wife and I just wanted to leave and try something else. New York is something. (Laughs.) I love doing theater there but I really got fed up with the business, and movie stuff is always 2 percent acting and 90 percent grief, stress and heartache. We have kids, and my wife has always favored New England, so she started applying for jobs. She asked, “You wanna move to Maine?” and I initially said, “No!” (Laughs.) I thought, “I hate snow. What am I gonna do there? I can’t do any acting there.” But we did it – sort of our own “Escape from New York.” (Laughs.) So I kind of called it quits, thinking that I don’t even have to remove myself, I’m removed.

Coming to Maine, I was hoping to find, in the Maine film community, the talented people who haven’t left yet. I wanted to do some theater and needed someone to direct. I knew (Maine filmmaker and Southern Maine Community College professor) Corey Norman from Facebook, and we got to be friends. He asked me to be in his short horror film “White Drift” (2016), which I thought was going to be my last hurrah, of sorts.

So, considering all that, how did you end up in a major Hollywood movie like “The Strangers: Prey at Night?”

A couple of weeks later, a producer friend I’d worked with years ago said, “Hey, we’re doing a ‘Strangers’ movie,” and recommended me. I really hadn’t been doing auditions, but ended up doing a screen test of sorts, with them in L.A. and me here. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that part, so I asked Corey, “I’m going to put this bag over my head, can you film me?” What he shot with me at SMCC looked great, far better than anything I would have done.

Part of the unnerving nature of the original film is that we have no idea what motivates the Strangers. Playing the role (taken over, coincidentally, from Maine actor Kip Weeks, who played the part in the original), were you made privy to more information than we viewers have about the why? (No spoilers ahead, so don’t worry.)

Not really, no. There are new people in control of this movie, and all is still being created by them. I didn’t talk with Lea (Enslin, as Pin-Up Girl) and Emma (Bellomy, as Dollface) about it, but came up with stuff myself. I hate to use the word “motivate,” but, as an actor, I chose things to give me a sense of who he was. It was fun to think if this guy sits in a cubicle or is making Subway sandwiches, then goes home and puts on an ugly corduroy suit and “woooo.” (Laughs.) Honestly, if you wear that suit to a job, people will think you’re a psycho.

As an actor, what tools did you use (or could you use) to embody the Man in the Mask?

I went to this very prestigious acting school in New York, so one thing was to put aside the fact that actors have enormous egos. (Laughs.) You have to fight the urge to wave your hands in the air to get attention. One of the most effective things about the original – which I liked quite a bit – is that you don’t see him that much, and, when you do, you have this chance to make it this iconic sort of character. I can’t say much, but I will say that there’s this one scene between me and another character in this movie that was probably worth it right there. A lot of it was finding the right posture and body language. The thing about the Strangers is that they play with their food – toying with the people is their fun and games, and also their business. I will say that, in this one, circumstances send their usual thing spiraling out of their control, so the game changes a little bit.

So has this experience changed your mind about movie acting going forward?

You know, I did wrap another horror movie, called “Haunt,” that Eli Roth (“Hostel,” the “Death Wish” remake) is producing since we wrapped. It came up and was shooting just blocks away from where we were filming “The Strangers” in Kentucky. I read the script, and it seemed like a blast for someone like me. It’s extraordinarily violent – sort of that great, irresponsible violence you hope your violent movies will have. (Laughs.) I did worry about playing back-to-back psychopathic villains, but, hey, considering the percentage of actual actors being paid to act consistently, I have to consider myself quite lucky. It was just too much fun. Plus, there was a little more talking – and no bag.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night” opened nationwide on March 9 and can be seen in most Maine movie theaters right now, with Portland’s Damian Maffei as the Man in the Mask.



Starting Friday: “Thoroughbreds.” This darkly comic thriller follows a pair of disaffected high school girls as they hatch a plot to do away with their most troublesome authority figures. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”), it’s being compared to the likes of “Heathers,” “Heavenly Creatures,” and “Brick,” which is an all-around good sign.

Monday, March 19: “The Departure.” Thought-provoking documentary about Japanese Buddhist priest Ittetsu Nemoto, who attempts to counsel suicidal people who come to him for guidance, even as he finds himself at a moral crossroads.

Up Next: