"Dude, you look awful!" says David Paris as he examines the face of Corey Thomas. "Really, you look like crap… just bad. And I mean that in the best of ways!"
Corey grabs a mirror and peers at his reflection. "Oh yeah, that's awesome!"
"Man, you disgust me!" laughs David.
David just completed over an hour's worth of work on Corey, painstakingly applying prosthetics and make-up, converting him from an ordinary Paducahan to the latest member of the walking dead.
"I started as a kid," he says as he applies a base coat of paint to his wife's face, the evening's second victim. "The first horror movie I saw was Halloween. I was about six. That was probably way too young, but it really impacted me. They used that William Shatner mask for the character of Michael Myers. They converted it into something so simple yet so effectively frightening." David was further inspired by the saga of movies from zombie guru George Romero and the make up work of Tom Savini (Friday the 13th, Creepshow, Day of the Dead) and Rick Baker (American Werewolf in London, Michael Jackson's Thriller, Men in Black).
"There were all of these zombie movies and Romero remakes, and I just loved the makeup. Me and a buddy of mine would experiment and make fake blood and guts all the time. I don't even remember how we found out about it, but we learned how to make the blood with Karo syrup and food coloring. It was fun to play with, plus we could eat it!"
When Children of the Corn appeared in 1984, David and his friend decided to reenact parts of the movie in a nearby cornfield. "We really tore that guy's field up," he admits. "I guess we didn't think much of it at the time, but afterward we got in a ton of trouble."
It was also about that time that David learned an important lesson when it comes to makeup. "My friend Chris and I were out playing around and running, and he fell. I went over to him, and when he lifted his head up, he had this frothy blood gushing out of his mouth. I was very concerned and a little freaked out. Then, he started laughing. That's the day I discovered blood capsules and that the ultimate goal to this craft is believability." David experimented on his mother with the newly discovered blood capsules. "I caused her to freak out quite a bit," he laughs. "Yeah, she's had to deal with this most of my life!"
Most recently, he posted a photo on Facebook of some experimentation he did on his arm with a prosthetic piece and makeup. "It was a simple wound,and it created quite a stir among family and friends. They thought I was dying from a spider bite or something. That's the ultimate compliment, for someone to think it is real."
As he got older, David found fewer opportunities to work the art of theatrical makeup. His interest in the subject did not wane, however. "One of the neatest things was to watch the rise of DVDs and especially Blu-rays. I get to see all these special features and behind the scenes footage and see how all of this amazing makeup is done!" He even received tutelage from his hero Rick Baker from the ground-breaking film American Werewolf in London. "I get to see a master at work and learn how he created those amazing transformation scenes with makeup, latex, and air bladders. They do a lot nowadays with computers, and they have their place, but for things like the TV show The Walking Dead, you just can't replace the craft of makeup."
David continued to learn, exploring different genres of horror makeup, filing the information away in his mind. Then, in 2012, he was approached with the idea of doing makeup for Paducah's Zombie Prom. "I really hadn't done anything in a long time. I had kept my interest in these things on the down low. Most people don't even know I do this. But the zombie prom sounded like a lot of fun and a chance to give it another try." David stocked up on old clothing, liquid latex, prosthetic wounds in various shapes and sizes, and makeup paint in colors such as Corpse Flesh, Frankie Grey, and Blood Blister. He also delved into larger prosthetics such as fake brows and jaws in order to take the illusion up a few notches. He left no detail to chance, even using makeup for the teeth. "Let's see, this one is called Nicotine Decay. You can't have a zombie with nice teeth!"
The Zombie Prom, while hectic, was a success for David. "I certainly learned a lesson about time constraints that night! By the time I got around to doing my own transformation, everyone else was already on to eating. But once I got done, I walked around, and people didn't recognize me anymore. They all wanted to have their picture taken with me. I was in heaven!"
As he applies the prosthetics, smooths edges in some places, roughens up latex in others, and applies the grease paint, his thoughts keep going back to the movies he saw and experiences he had as a child. "It all comes from the love of those movies," he says. "I watched, I tried, and it just seemed natural. And the results were pretty good. I don't really have to think about it. I start with with a color palette in mind, and I work, mold, and paint until I get to something that looks like the end to me, whatever that is. It really is rather therapeutic."
David puts the finishing touches on his wife, Marci. He applies some fake dirt to her hair, and even outfits her in an old wedding dress that makes it look like she was run over. "He took an old tire, coated it in black paint, and rolled it over the dress," laughs Marci. The transformation is complete. Marci and Corey are now a zombie bride and groom. Marci even finds a group of dead, flowering weeds to hold. "The makeup is a little itchy at first," she says, "but that goes away after a bit. Then it's fun!"
David stands back and looks at his work. His broad smile tells the whole story. "Yup, you guys look awful!"