Making a living by waking the dead

Shrill sounds, dark shadows, and hellish villains send chills up the spines of most horror-movie goers, but for some these frights have led to career choices and cash flow.

Two films, The Thing and Evil Dead, are the unlikely muses of Vancouver Film School costume makeup student, Jeff Leblanc. His family would gather in front of their TV every Halloween to watch these classic horror flicks.

Instead of cowering or closing his eyes, Leblanc fixated on the special effects that make the viewer believe in what they are watching. So when the opportunity arose to move from Calgary to Vancouver, he knew it might be his only chance to pursue makeup as a career at one of Canada’s most prestigious makeup schools.

“The best part of makeup is the ability to change a person into whatever your imagination can come up with,” said Leblanc. “And working on living canvas is such a fun medium to work on because you have ability to interact with the subject.”

Every year, Leblanc fills his day on Oct. 31 with costume makeup for friends and family. Halloween 2010 brings the challenge of werewolf makeup with a full foam latex prosthetic and hand laid hair for one client.

Owner of Calgary’s Chuckles Unlimited, Dave Fletcher didn’t aspire to own a costume shop. Rather he jumped on the opportunity to save a dying business.

Three weeks before Chuckles’ date with the repo-man, Fletcher and his wife intervened. Seven years later, Fletcher has doubled the retail space and brings in 20 seasonal staff members for Halloween.
“Most retail sparks in December, ours spark is in October,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher attends the Halloween Show every year, held in Las Vegas, Huston or Chicago, to stock up. This year, Avatar costumes were predicted as the number one seller.

“It’s crazy, but I don’t know what we’d do without Halloween,” said Fletcher. Half of Chuckle’s yearly revenue is made in October.

Halloween is on Mike Sheppard’s mind leading up to his 12-day Screamfest at Calgary Olympic Park.

“Business is my passion, but I never imagined I’d be making money on Halloween,” said Sheppard, who is also a business instructor at Mount Royal University.

His participation in haunted houses began as a hobby. But when his favourite house fell bankrupt Sheppard saw an opportunity to maximize his investment.

“Most of the haunted houses that come up in this city are built by people with a second job,” said Sheppard. “They look handmade. Our goal is to create a professional carnival.”

To date Screamfest has expanded to both Vancouver and Edmonton, and has brought in sideshow celebrities like this year’s highlight, the Human Guinea Pig. Screamfest spooked or scared 26,000 Calgarians in 2008.

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