By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Melanie Asmar
The radioactive vomit will not spew fast enough for Ed Edmunds.
Standing in the showroom of Distortions Unlimited, the Greeley gore factory he operates with his wife, Marsha, Edmunds is assessing an animatronic sculpture he calls "The Puker," a life-sized model of a guy barfing into a vat of toxic waste.
"There's a delay on the puke. That's not good. We need to fix that," he says.
"The Puker" is a prized piece in Edmunds's collection, which is housed in what is possibly the most nondescript building in Greeley -- which is saying something. Distortions' large, concrete warehouse and retail store is stocked with masks, dismembered bodies, vampire children, autopsied aliens, faux graves and altars, flaming cauldrons and severed limbs and heads. Vinyl molds and unpainted sculptures of gargoyles and zombies are piled in every corner like sleeping members of some ghoulish infantry.
Edmunds says the space is much emptier than usual. That's because the company just shipped tens of thousands of pieces to amusement parks, haunted houses, costume shops, goth boutiques and nightclubs around the world. In the dark-arts industry, October 31 is bigger than Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day combined, and Distortions Unlimited is one of the leading suppliers. During the Halloween season, Edmunds beefs up his usual staff of nine workers and operates the floor with assembly-line precision.
"I try to think like Henry Ford," he says. "But instead of bolts and car parts, we're assigning one person to be in charge of duplicating a bloody eyeball, another one to be in charge of making vampire lips. I don't think people understand quite what's involved when they place a big order with us. It's not like we automatically have a hundred six-foot gargoyles with nine-foot wingspans just sitting on the shelves."
Distortions Unlimited began in the late 1970s as a mail-order mask company that advertised in such horror magazines as Phangoria and Starlog. Since then, Edmunds has produced work for films -- the alien queen in Alien is his handiwork -- and for the lucrative film-merchandise industry. In 1989 the company landed the licensing rights for Batman, cranking out more than 100,000 pieces before the demand for foam chests and shiny bat masks died down. Eight years ago, Edmunds launched the Brutal Planet haunted house in Denver, which was later bought by Six Flags/Elitch Gardens and is currently scaring the wits out of visitors to Six Flags parks around the country.
Edmunds is glad to be out of the haunted-house business, he says, because what he likes to do most is make monsters. A former art teacher, he personally designs and sculpts the molds for most of the company's products. Though he occasionally crafts a cute or cuddly creature for clients willing to pay the price -- your standard-issue fog-producing, animatronic vampire bride, for example, goes for about $2,000 -- his vision is soundly macabre.
"I did a Smokey the Bear mask once. It was grueling," he says. "That's just not what I'm into. My love of monsters is lifelong, and it came out of watching Time Machine, Star Trek -- stuff like that was a powerful influence. I think it was a powerful influence on a lot of people of my generation. But the difference with me was that I wanted to be those monsters. I remember making my first foam Planet of the Apes costume. As a little kid, I was trying to do Spock ears. It just goes way, way back."
Edmunds is a father of four boys, a Trekkie (an autographed photo of Edmunds shaking hands with Leonard Nimoy enjoys prominent placement in an office hallway), a successful entrepreneur and perfectionist and, quite possibly, the most unlikely member of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship.
"Despite what it looks like, I have to consider myself pretty conservative when it comes to fundamental beliefs," he says. "When I was a teenager, I loved Alice Cooper. I would dress up like him, and I loved his music. So I was kind of an Alice Cooper-nerd kind of guy. And I remember that along one wall I had photos of Alice Cooper, and along the other I had pictures of Christ.
"I come from a Christian family," he continues, "so there was a long period when my parents were like, 'Why do you want to focus on the ugly stuff when there's so much beauty in the world?' But to me, it is beauty. A lot of what seems on the surface to be abhorrent can be beautiful. Like snakes. I've always had snakes, and I've always admired their grace and their patterning even though they're an animal that a lot of people think of as ugly or evil."
For the most part, Edmunds keeps his beliefs separate from his business, but he has found ways to practice his faith while engaged in even the most unholy endeavors. While he was running Brutal Planet, he and the largely Christian staff would secretly meet to pray for the crew and each of the souls entering their halls.
"There were some members of the crew who didn't know we were praying, and they said things like, 'For some reason, working here has really changed my life,' or, 'I've got this new feeling for God.' So I know that God honored it. We like to think of ourselves as sheep in wolves' clothing. I kind of got tired of just sucking air and making money. So we tried our best to take something that was considered the most evil thing going and secretly do something positive."
Edmunds's latest large-scale creation, The Beast, does have certain biblical undertones. But travelers and truckers can be forgiven for overlooking any spiritual element when they pass the bloated behemoth sitting alongside U.S. 85 a few miles south of Greeley. The first baby birthed by Brainchild Design, a subsidiary of Distortions Unlimited, the Beast is forty feet wide, 150 feet long and fashioned to resemble a gigantic dinosaur/slug hybrid that's been captured, imprisoned and chained. Visitors enter the animal through the mouth, pass by its beating heart and take a tour through its intestines and stomach before "being farted out" its rear.
Edmunds and his wife designed the Beast, which was then brought to life by a San Diego firm that uses computers to translate ideas into inflatable creations. So far, Brainchild has created four copies of the Beast -- which is being marketed as a roadside or amusement-park attraction -- and the original is currently making the rounds in Hong Kong while two more beasts are being shipped to Chicago.
The Beast is Edmunds's first foray into the realm of inflatable art, an industry that primarily produces gigantic apes, Santas, cans of soup and pumpkins for businesses looking for an unusual marketing tool. But Edmunds sees it as an unexplored medium, and he's currently working on designs for three more inflatable environments, including one that will have a heavy spiritual component.
"When we first found out about this computer technology that could turn almost any design into an inflatable, it was like, 'Wow. You can do anything. Why are you making fat gorillas?'" he says. "It's completely virgin territory for us, which is why I think we're a little more open to exploring what can be done with it creatively."
For now, though, his time is mostly taken up with the mundane business of monster mongering. He's got plans for other projects, however, including a series of videos and a Christian rock band. He's also writing a children's book.
"It's going to be about kids talking to God," Edmunds says. "It's very nice. There's nothing even remotely evil about it."