weather icon Clear
RJ App
Vegas News, Alerts, ePaper

Horror guru leads us on a tour of Monster Museum — PHOTOS

Updated October 31, 2017 - 1:55 pm

The sinister smoking apparatus wasn’t just going to start terrorizing stoners on its own.

“I had to make that bong talk and move and everything,” Tom Devlin says, eyeing a stunt puppet for the “Evil Bong” B-movie horror series, which he’s worked on since the third entry — you know, the one where our baked heroes attempt to save Earth by traveling to an alien bong planet only to be captured by space vixens.

Since he was a teenager, Devlin has been ensconced in the world of movie makeup and special effects, crafting homemade Leatherface masks out of cut-up ball caps and disassembling his childhood Teddy Ruxpin doll to figure out how animatronic creatures work.

Decades later, Teddy resides at Tom Devlin’s Monster Museum. A horror fan’s dream and a scaredy-cat’s nightmare, it opened in Boulder City in July.

It’s a (fake) blood-splattered shrine to both Devlin’s lengthy career in film and the history and culture of fright flicks. Devlin’s credits run deep: He’s worked on hit TV series like “The X-Files” and “Buffy the Vampire” as well as countless films big and small, from “Red Dragon” and “The Scorpion King” to “Silent Night, Zombie Night” and “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.”

It’s the latter he prefers.

We recently joined Devlin on a tour of his gnarly new digs, which house a costume shop in front and various horror attractions in back.

We begin flanked by a life-size “Thriller”-era Michael Jackson likeness in full-on zombie mode and a trio of towering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We head to a display of Devlin’s massive collection of muscular figurines culled from a certain ’80s cartoon staple, where he grabs one of the characters.

Review-Journal: Where did this all start?

Devlin: It all starts with ‘He-Man.’ The monsters are badass, like this mosquito dude with blood in his chest. After He-Man died out, Ninja Turtles were everything, but I really gravitated to the Toxic Crusaders, because it was like the B-version of the Ninja Turtles. I always liked that slightly lesser-known kind of thing. And then I saw ‘Toxic Avenger,’ and that segued into my whole life.

That informs your work. There’s a technical side of things, but there’s also that fun Troma films vibe.

I like the spooky/kooky more than straight horror. I’m not super into realistic gore. I worked on “CSI: Miami” for a long time, and it was rib cages and this and that. We did so much, it kind of burned me out.

We walk to a mock workshop, with a drafting table covered with realistic-looking monster drawings. A 7-foot-tall werewolf looms across from a wall of framed movie poster art from films Devlin has worked on, prude punishers like “Slumber Party Slaughterhouse” and “Ed Gein.” And then, around the corner, stands a certain evil rubber fowl.


That was a lifelong dream, man. It all started with Toxie for me, and to get to “Poultrygeist” was huge. When I got this job, it was because I was just sending photos to Lloyd (Kaufman, the intensely prolific B-movie director and co-founder of Troma Entertainment). I knew they were making the movie and he had a bigger artist attached, Rob Hall, who I used work for on “Buffy.” I was sending Lloyd pictures of sculptures, like, “You want to use these chicken zombies in your movie? Just have them. I want my work in a Troma film. That’s all I ever want to do.” He got mad at Rob Hall and then told his producers, “Call that kid that keeps sending the pictures. Give him the job.” And I got it.

You started in the comic book realm. What was the process of learning to do stuff like this?

It started seriously in the 10th grade. I grew up in a town called East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, and a very famous comic book/fantasy artist is from there, Frank Frazetta. He created “Conan the Barbarian,” Heavy Metal magazine. His son owned a store called Frazetta’s Fantasy Corner that was a costume shop with rooms of horror, which is very similar to what this building is now. I used to hang out there day and night, and they taught me who (gore guru) Tom Savini was, gave me the book “Grand Illusions” and I learned about makeup effects. That’s when it transitioned from comic book, 2-D art to me practicing in my room making masks. I just worked at it.

It’s kind of a lost art, nondigital effects.

That’s the idea of the museum. Hopefully we can preserve the art of practical effects.

There’s a humanity in them that you subtly pick up, like listening to a vinyl record as opposed to a digital download.

There is. I don’t really understand how people can watch the digital effects and even be scared or react other than the loud noise that hits them in the face. I don’t believe it’s the character that’s scaring them. It’s the atmosphere.

We come to a glass case that houses Devlin’s props from “Puppet Master 11.” We watch one of his characters, Blade, slice off a guy’s fingers as the movie plays next to the animatronic creation in question. After passing through a white curtain, we enter a room that’s kind of like the Library of Congress for midnight movies, with tributes to icons such as Lon Chaney and Vincent Price as well as classics such as “They Live” and “Texas Chainsaw Machine Massacre.”

Is there something within the industry that you’re particularly known for? “If we want this, this is the guy to turn to?”

Throughout effects history, there’s technical guys, there’s the gore guys, I think I’ve become the rubber monster guy, much like John Carl Buehler or Gabe Bartalos — they did “Ghoulies” and “Basket Case.” I think I’ve followed in their footsteps. I’m a creature guy. It’s goofy cheeseball movies, but I’m stoked to be a part of them. That’s the kind of punk rock stuff I love.

Punk rock is a good analogy. It’s more about feeling and attitude than playing every note correctly.

I like the off-kilter. That’s kind of how I’ve tried to shape my whole career. Even the big stuff that I’ve worked on, the passion wasn’t there for that as it was on “Poultrygeist.” As much as I love being a part of “Red Dragon,” I didn’t come out here to make that. I came out here to make “Killjoy” or “Puppet Master.” I love the lower-budget, lesser-known gems, the ones that you show up at the sleepover with when you were a kid. You bring a VHS of “Demonic Toys” and you’re like, “You guys have never seen anything like this.”

■ Phobias? You can’t have many in this line of work.

I’m really not afraid of much. You know what creeps me out, though? When potatoes grow those weird little things. I don’t like that.

■ Favorite musician: Alice Cooper.

Favorite band: Social Distortion.

Favorite song: “Dragula” (by Rob Zombie).

■ Newest Vegas discovery

Evel Pie

■ Favorite indulgence

I love dirt bikes.

■ Favorite vacation destination

I don’t get a lot of them, but my wife and I love Hawaii. We go to Kauai.

■ Food you could eat every day

Hot dogs

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Top 10 things to do in Las Vegas this week

The Aces’ home opener, Punk Rock Bowling and the “Straight Jokes, No Chaser” comedy tour lead this week’s lineup of things to do in Las Vegas.