Ed Edmunds on electric chairs, haunted houses and the Travel Channel's Making Monsters
Chances are you've seen -- and screamed at -- some of Ed Edmunds' work, whether you realize it or not. The artist is responsible for creating the creepy animatronics in haunted houses all over Colorado, as well as for making custom projects like set pieces for Alice Cooper. Edmunds' Greeley company, Distortions Unlimited, is the subject of the Travel Channel series Making Monsters. Two episodes of the show will screen for free tonight at the Denver FilmCenter along with a Q&A with the people involved. We caught up with Edmunds and asked about how he got his start in the business, the electric chair that revolutionized the haunted house industry, and how even Animal Planet wanted the show.
Westword: How did you first start making monsters?
Ed Edmunds: That was back in 1978. I was going to college here in Greeley and I was painting masks for a little bit of extra money and went to a costume contest at the college and lost to a guy in a mask that I had painted. So I thought well, I'll just make a mask or a whole costume that'll win these costume contests. So I started right away in November. I sculpted a full head mask and then showed it to this costume store that I'd been painting the masks for; they really had crummy masks back in the day. So he wanted to know if I could make them for his store, and I said well, yeah, so he started selling them and it just turned into a business. I've been doing it for 33 years now.
Do you have a favorite animatronic that you've made?
Probably the thing I liked the most that we've made is the Shake N Bake Electric Chair. It's a guy on an electric chair. It's all metal; it's a really industrially crafted thing and he smokes and screams and shakes violently. I mean he startles people when he goes off. They think he's gonna wiggle or something. Oh no, it's like "POW POW" and it's just very very violent. Essentially that product was the catalyst that changed the whole haunted house industry from a charity-driven small industry to for-profit, big haunted houses. They discovered if they invested in this device at first and later in the attraction itself and other animatronics that there was big money in it. Until the electric chair, and I think that was '95, nobody had done a dark, violent animatronic. They were always like, theme park stuff: little whimsical characters. Well to have a guy getting fried in an electric chair and screaming and smoking, there'd never been anything like that.
How did the show get from the Missoula-based company that produced it, Warm Spring Productions, to the Travel Channel?
The people in Missoula are the nicest people you could ever meet, and they're not in New York, they're not in Hollywood. They're in Missoula, Montana. And when they went to the networks, they're probably thinking "Turkeys. This is a flyover state, what could they possibly have?" When they showed it, and they put it in, they said it was funny to watch them because they'd be leaned back and they'd start to lean forward and they'd start to laugh and they'd start to "Wow." I think one or two of them told him it was the best thing they'd seen in over a year and everybody wanted to buy it. Even Animal Planet! I said "What possible use could this be to Animal Planet?" He said "Well, you make creatures." They would use that loose tie in! Everybody wanted it.
What attracts you about Halloween and scary creatures?
I guess I've always loved monsters. When most people are like, "Ooh, that monster's scary," I actually related to the monsters. I wanted to be the monsters. I thought the monsters were cool. There's probably some kind of stupid psychological stuff going on like, who knows, I like the idea of being powerful or smart or who knows what kind of stuff goes on in a kid's mind. It was probably just in my DNA. I was probably just supposed to do this.