Of corpse it’s gross

Scott Bibus loves animals.

It shows in the attention to detail on the blood-slicked dog carcasses and disemboweled pigs he lovingly crafted by hand.

“I just don’t exclude dead animals from my interests,” Bibus said while standing among myriad mutilated animal corpses that look like they belong in a mad butcher’s meat locker, not on display in a convention center attached to two of the swankiest hotels in Las Vegas.

Bibus is among several thousand people — and probably as many “dead,” “semidead” and “disfigured” bodies — who spent St. Patrick’s Day looking forward to Halloween, the ghoulish event that’s emerged as America’s fifth-biggest celebration, according to enthusiasts.

They staggered like zombies into the Sands Expo Center for the International Halloween Costume and Party Show and the National Haunt and Attractions Show.

The annual convention for costume and haunted house makers and sellers is among the most bizarre industry showcases to visit Las Vegas.

Bibus, prop master for a Minnesota company called Fright Props, showed off replicas of skinned horses’ heads that sell for $170, gutted dogs that hang from the ceiling for $60 and smaller items like dead rats for $40. None of the props are from real animals. Bibus makes them with foam filled latex and paint.

The props look frighteningly real, however, thanks to his background.

“I went to taxidermy school,” said Bibus, who has a stocky build and a long, unkempt beard that would be suitable for a mad butcher. “That was way more traumatic than working with this stuff.”

The four-day convention includes more than 700 exhibitors and is expected to attract about 10,000 attendees from 47 countries.

In 24 years it has grown from a small event in Chicago with about 20 vendors to today’s incarnation, a multiday costume, prop and gore extravaganza for an industry worth about $7 billion.

“Something like 20 percent of people in the U.S. will attend a haunted house,” said Joe Thaler, chairman and CEO of TransWorld Exhibits, the company that runs the Halloween show. “It can be very valuable.”

Mutilated bodies, full-length Sasquatch and Yeti suits, trampy nurse and superhero outfits are among the highlights of the Las Vegas event. There’s plenty at the show to shock even the most hardened sensibilities.

The firm Dapper Cadaver of Los Angeles showed off a line of vintage medical instruments, mutilated and vandalized corpses and a collection of faux human and animal fetuses stored in jars.

Dapper Cadaver owner-artist BJ Winslow said he’s been fascinated by macabre preservation techniques since childhood.

“Even when I was a little kid and I had a toy I was no longer interested in I would stick it in a jar, fill it with fluid and put it on a shelf,” Winslow said. “My mom still has some of them.”

The show is a carnival of dark fantasy but that doesn’t stop the bright light of reality from shining in.

Organizers are changing the dates and moving the event back to Chicago after just one year in Las Vegas.

For the local economy, it means the loss of about $17 million in spending, the amount attendees would spend on things like hotel rooms, food, cabs and entertainment. The estimate doesn’t include gambling losses.

The changes upset vendors who don’t relish a January date in the Chicago cold.

“Shipping this stuff in the cold is not a good idea. It is latex,” said Jerry Parrino, owner of The Horror Dome, a prop, costume and mask company in Port Washington, N.Y.

But he added that holding the show in Chicago could save money.

Parrino said he would need to write about $100,000 in orders to make the trip to Las Vegas worthwhile.

“We could make it a little lower in Chicago,” said Parrino, estimating it would take just $50,000 to justify a trip to the Windy City.

Thaler said he wanted to keep the event in Las Vegas but couldn’t find a venue to accommodate a January date. Major venues like the Sands, Las Vegas Convention Center and Mandalay Bay Convention Center were already booked.

“A show this size just can’t go into a hotel,” Thaler said.

So he backed out of a March 2009 lease at the Sands to make the move back to Chicago.

Renovations at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont make that venue a suitable host for the event and a January date gives big box buyers and foreign factories the lead time they need to make orders for Halloween, Thayer said.

“I serve a marketplace. I need to be able to accommodate the needs,” he said.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or (702) 477-3861.

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