FOR THE MOST PART, DECORATING YOURSELF for Halloween has become a commercialized holiday of interchangeable, mass-produced costumes and shoddy, downright-shameful craftsmanship.
In Halloween costume stores, we can choose from a wide array of cheap monsters and zombies, “slutty fill-in-the-blank,” sad superheroes, and even cheesy puns for the annoyingly ironic partygoer. Gone are the days when people put thought and effort into their costumes, when interesting, unique, or—dare I say?—scary costumes were actually desirable.
Well, not if Brandon Scott Murphree has his way. Murphree started out as a makeup artist for film and theater productions; enjoyable as that was, he felt like the makeup business wasn’t his ultimate calling. While working in an effects house in South Carolina assisting monster-mask making, Murphree was inspired and realized that he could actually make masks for a living.
Even though he has only been mask-making on his own for about a year now (with his own label Mad Science FX Studios), horror has been a part of his life ever since he can remember—in fact, “watching old Universal monster movies” is his “oldest memory.” For Brandon Murphree, horror masks aren’t just disposable Halloween costumes or fan collector’s items—mask making is an art.
Murphree rejects our consumer society, bulk-production and consumption tendencies by custom-making each and every mask himself. The process begins with at least a full day of sculpting. To make quality masks, the clay, glass, or plaster mold must first be a perfect representation of the character for the mask. It can’t have any weak spots or air bubbles, or the integrity of each mask will be ruined. Then, Murphree has to use very precise measurements of liquid plastic or a resin mix, timing each part of the process exactly in order to create a structurally sound mask. Only small amounts of the liquid mix can be applied to the mold at a time, essentially layering the latex, resin, or liquid plastic and avoiding air bubbles in order for it to be durable, flexible, and beautiful.
After everything has had time to dry and, eventually, bake, Murphree can start painting the masks—probably the most interesting part of the process. Each mask has its own individual, marked characteristics. Not a single one is an exact replica of another. Murphree emphasizes the importance of making each mask distinguishable from the next, even if it’s just “a splatter of blood in a different place.” When he went to Maskfest 2013 in Indianapolis—the biggest custom mask-making festival in the country—he was assured that he had made the right choice. Not only did he sell each and every one of his masks there, but he also found a mask maker whose custom style matches his own:
“It may seem silly, but it’s just so important to me that the mask I buy from him is mine—I’m the only person in the whole world with this exact mask. Yes, the differences are in tiny details, like the number of teeth missing, but I still feel like I have something special and unique,” he says.
Working from his own kitchen, Murphree has decided that he wants his small business to remain small—the value of his particular artistic process depends on him doing the painstaking work by hand, rather than allowing it to be mass-produced mechanically.
His most popular masks are hockey masks from cult horror movies like Jason from “Friday the 13th” and other figures in popular culture; however, Murphree explains that he has the most fun making his own, original designs, which he finds to be in far higher demand during the Halloween season.
If you feel like returning to the artistic roots of pop-horror culture and rejecting its commercial bastardization, visit Brandon Murphree’s website to order one of his custom masks in time for Halloween 2013: madsciencefxstudios.com