The bleak white storefront has no sign, and the windows are obscured by paint. Most people driving past would assume the building was vacant, though dim lights reveal activity from shadowy figures.
Inside, visitors are confronted by tall shelves stacked with dismembered arms, rotting torsos, and a variety of bloody appendages. One wall proudly displays dozens of gruesome heads, tastefully mounted on an industrial art backdrop.
This isn't the hideous hideout of an escaped lunatic wreaking havoc on Cleveland's near West Side. It's the headquarters for The Monster Makers, one of the country's premier providers of mask-making and special effects supplies. The mail-order shop fills requests from around the world, including some of Hollywood's most successful production companies.
"I know our stuff is good, because there are tons of supply companies in California, but a lot of studios choose to order from us here in Cleveland," says owner Arnold Goldman, a surprisingly regular-looking guy. "People assume that, because I'm a monster mask maker, I'll dress bizarrely or live in some strange Gothic house." Instead, he prefers to channel his creativity into making creepy custom masks.
Goldman, 38, developed a taste for horror growing up in University Heights, watching The Ghoul and Superhost. "I liked the classics -- The Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula, that kind of stuff." He also loved action figures. "I couldn't wait for the next set of characters to come out, so I started making my own."
In 1986, while still a sculpture major at Cleveland State, Goldman decided to try his hand at mask making. "A friend wanted to film a movie called Demon Project, and he asked me to make a mask of the demon." The movie never got off the ground, but Goldman found that he had a skill for bringing the creatures of his imagination to life.
Goldman made another great discovery in college -- his future wife, Kimberly, who currently works with him at their Detroit Avenue business. "I met Arnold at a nightclub," she recalls. "He was wearing all these eyeball rings, which was a little strange." Far from being repelled by the ocular ornaments, Kimberly was intrigued. "I've always liked unusual people," she confesses.
In the early days of The Monster Makers, Goldman molded masks and sold mail-order supplies out of his basement. He also taught classes in mask making and put out a book on the topic, The Mask Maker's Handbook.
In 1997, Goldman received a phone message from special effects artist Tom McLaughlin. "I couldn't believe it when I heard his voice on my machine."
Known as Hollywood's "rubber man," McLaughlin has worked on over 50 major motion pictures, including Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and two of the original Star Wars movies. McLaughlin is responsible for creating the rubber forms and giving life to such famous characters as Yoda and Jabba the Hutt. He's also the inventor of McLaughlin foam, a moldable latex used for a wide variety of makeup and special effects in both the theatrical and filmmaking industries.
McLaughlin was looking for a distributor for his instructional book Silicone Art. But the two men hit it off and eventually struck an agreement for Goldman to exclusively manufacture and sell McLaughlin foam. It was a huge show of confidence in the Cleveland mask maker.
"Not even my wife knows the foam formula," Goldman confides. "There's a lot of competition in California for theatrical foam, and McLaughlin's is the best."
McLaughlin is just as enthusiastic about his association with Cleveland's Monster Makers. "I wish Arnold's place was around when I was a kid, because I would have spent all my money at his shop," he says in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "I could have really wrecked my parents' house."
McLaughlin foam is one of Monster Makers' bestselling items. "A lot of TV shows are currently using it," says Goldman. "We've got a list a mile long." That list includes Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Xena: Warrior Princess, Hercules, and ER. According to Goldman, the foam is also being considered by creature creator Nick Dudman for the next Star Wars episode.
For aspiring amateurs, Monster Makers offers mask-making kits, sculpting equipment and supplies, and a wide range of unusual items, which can be found online at www.monstermakers.com. Horror aficionados can order anything from classic collectors' masks, false teeth, and glass eyes to Fantastic Dentistry, a videotape guide to dental-appliance making -- perfect for enthusiasts who want to custom-make their own vampire fangs at home.
Although the mail-order business keeps him busy, Arnold still finds time to create new masks and animatronic display pieces. He worked on the short-lived Comedy Central series The Clinic, creating a mask and claw for the character Bird Boy. He once created a mechanical dragon head, Dinosaurous Rocks, that breathed fire and shot missiles. The contraption fit over a Volkswagen and provided halftime entertainment at a monster truck rally.
Probably the most unusual project Goldman ever worked on was for IBM. "They were doing fingerprint recognition. They wanted us to mold dozens of fingers to try to fool the computer."
Goldman looks around. "Where's that box of fingers?" he asks his staff, who help him rummage through piles of simulated appendages and boxes full of supplies. "We got to mold the fingers of all these genius research scientists. Our molds fooled the IBM systems."
Unfortunately, the box of fingers cannot be found.
Not surprisingly, Halloween is the busiest time of year for The Monster Makers. Goldman spent two seasons terrifying patrons of Hallowood's Haunted Trail and Fright World at the Summit County Fairgrounds. "We specialized in things that would pop out at you. We made this old lady whose head would fly off about 20 feet. People would fall over when they saw that kind of stuff."
Goldman's next big project will be an animatronic alien driving a movable spaceship, inspired by a creature he saw in the movie Men in Black. "I'm influenced by designs of creatures that are original -- things I haven't seen before," he says. "I like to think of special effects artists as mad scientists, bringing things to life with their bag of tricks."
Adrianne Ambrose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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