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Halloween makeup tutorials for any skill level and temperament, from Taylor Swift to Ultron

Still from an Age of Ultron YouTube makeup tutorial.
Still from an Age of Ultron YouTube makeup tutorial.

Halloween is just a few short days away, which means it's time for lazy revelers who don't start working on their costumes weeks or months in advance to start panic-planning something last-minute.

While it's possible for you lazy Halloweeners out there to get away with combining old garments from your closet into something masquerading as a "costume" — or to fall back on some cheap, store-bought crap, patooie patooie — if you really want to look like you put in the effort, you need to get a little more ambitious on the hair-and-makeup front.

Enter YouTube, which is lousy with DIY costume ideas and tutorials ranging from stuff you can throw together with clothes you already own to over-the-top fabrications more in line with what you'd see on SyFy's Face Off than anything that can reasonably be called "DIY."

Still from a popular Halloween makeup tutorial.

These Halloween-specific tutorials are an offshoot of the YouTube makeup tutorial phenomenon, which is responsible for more than 20 million videos, billions of pageviews, and a virtual army of "makeup gurus" who can make a solid living off their YouTube channels. Makeup tutorials cover everything from everyday looks to high glamour to drag and special effects makeup, any of which could be incorporated into one's Halloween look for that extra dash of, "I put effort into this!"

If you want to go the tried-and-true route with your costume this year, there are approximately 100 billion YouTube makeup tutorials for skeletons, zombies, vampires, scary clowns, and any number of other classic creepy-crawlies. But part of the fun of Halloween is expressing yourself and your tastes via super-timely cultural references that will forever tie your costume, and drunken photos of you in it, to the year 2015.

There are plenty of premade costumes to this effect, many of the needlessly sexy variety, but with help from YouTube, you can go a step further with some pop culture–referencing makeup. (A bonus to this approach: If you're ambitious enough on the makeup-and-hair front, you can get away with half-assing the rest of the costume.) Below, I've collected several handy tutorials to get you started. And since not everyone is willing or able to apply layers and layers of artistic goop to their own face, I've divided these suggestions into three levels of difficulty, ranging from "just barely a costume" to "will probably win a contest, if you can pull it off."

Level 1: Basically just regular makeup

These costumes will require more than makeup — i.e., specialized clothing and/or props — but you'll get to feel pretty and look more or less like yourself all night.

Taylor Swift in "Bad Blood"

Taylor Swift's bestie-packed music video currently has more than 600 million views on YouTube, so why not round up a few of your closest frenemies to recreate a bunch of the video's various "Taylors" for Halloween? There are tutorials out there for all of Swift's looks in the video, but make sure to save the best one for yourself: red-haired vamp Taylor.

Katy Perry's Super Bowl look

Calendar-wise, we're closer to next year's Super Bowl than we are to this year's, but Katy Perry's candy-colored seizure of a halftime performance is still present enough in the cultural consciousness that "Left Shark" is one of this year's hottest costumes. If you have a friend going the Left Shark route, why not tag along as Katy — because sometimes you want to spend Halloween singing "California Girls" instead of sweating inside a smelly shark costume.

Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn

Zack Snyder's Suicide Squad isn't out until next summer, but the cast photos from the film worked the internet into a tizzy this summer, to the point that YouTube already hosts a bunch of tutorials for the film's specific take on Joker accomplice Harley Quinn. Tap a friend or (un)loved one to take on the more difficult Joker; you can claim the much easier Harley look, which is basically just smeary eye shadow and bright lips.

Level 2: More ambitious, but doable

These looks will require some time in front of the mirror to futz with your makeup, but only minimal effort in terms of clothing, so it's a solid trade-off.

Snapchat filters

In September, Snapchat introduced "Lenses," a filter feature that allows users to transform their selfies into ... slightly weirder selfies. The WTF-worthy rainbow-puke Lens quickly became an internet phenomenon all its own, complete with the attendant makeup tutorial. If you're doing Halloween solo, the rainbow-puke look is the way to go — because who doesn't want to walk around all night barfing rainbows? — but those planning a group outing might want to consider going as several different Lenses. Good luck to whoever draws the scary-teeth one.

Inside Out's Sadness

There are tutorials out there for all of Inside Out's emotions, but let's get real: Everyone's gonna be Sadness, because she is the best, and because her slouchy turtleneck sweater is as warm and comfy as Halloween costumes get. You'll likely need to invest in a blue wig, but it's worth it to be able to spend Halloween night moping and not talking to anyone if you don't feel like it.

Mad Max: Fury Road's Imperator Furiosa

Charlize Theron's feminist hero is already a cosplay favorite among Fury Road fans, which is a good indicator that it's going to be a popular costume this Halloween. It helps that it's a pretty easy look to pull off, provided you're willing to stipple black makeup all over the top half of your face and ruin a plain white T-shirt. (More ambitious/evil types may want to consider transforming themselves into Fury Road's excellent villain, Immortan Joe — and yes, there's a makeup tutorial for that, too.)

Level 3: Good luck, you're gonna need it

These are varsity-level face paints that will require a steady hand and a lot of time (and probably cursing), but are guaranteed to elicit "wows" from the less committed.

The Avengers' Ultron

Now, granted, it would be easier to just buy a cheap Ultron mask if you want to go as The Avengers: Age Of Ultron's titular villain this year, but honestly, what fun is that? If you manage to complete this full-face makeup look, people will be so impressed they won't even care if you just wear a T-shirt and jeans — just say you're Ultron on his day off. (Note: If Ultron isn't your favorite timely Marvel character, you could also try the day-off excuse for Ant-Man.)

American Horror Story: Hotel's Mattress

Ryan Murphy's popular horror serial is a perennial Halloween inspiration, and this year's Hotel offers plenty of costume fodder. While it would be easier to go as Lady Gaga's blood-loving Countess, why not confound (and delight?) your friends with a much more esoteric AHS monster: the mysterious mattress killer. This is a costume you'll likely need to explain to people, but it'll be worth it to see their looks of confusion and/or fear when you say, "I'm a killer mattress."

Ex Machina's Ava

Alicia Vikander's performance as a humanoid robot made Ex Machina one of this year's best science fiction movies, and the character's eerie but beautiful design was a big part of that. Provided you're willing to make your own bald cap (or, let's get real, just buy one and paint it yourself), you can create a Halloween costume that doubles as an advertisement for your excellent taste in genre films. Just rustle up a silver or mesh shirt — and a creepy, disconnected affect — and you're in business.

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