By Ginny Cooper
Barry Perkins may be a nurse during the day, but at night his life takes a very different turn.
The Hoover resident, who is also known as “Monster Maker,” transforms people into monsters for Atrox Factory, a 50,000-square-foot indoor haunted attraction in Leeds that has been scaring guests for a good cause since 2002.
Perkins grew up in the Moody area and graduated from Moody High School in 2003. His interest in makeup, however, started much earlier.
“When I was a kid I saw something on ‘Reading Rainbow’ with LeVar Burton. They were doing the musical ‘Cats’ and Terrence Mann, the guy who played Rum Tum Tugger, went on this big spiel about the show and then they did a time-lapse of him doing his makeup that really blew me away.”
Perkins credits this early exposure to the art of makeup–he estimates that he was about 5 years old when he saw the episode–with igniting his current passion.
“It got me interested because I was like, so you can do more with this stuff than what my sister is doing in the morning. Okay. I get that.”
Perkins began as one of Atrox Factory’s few paid actors–most of the monsters are volunteers–in 2004 after he completed the online application on a whim. He started working in the makeup room when it was unexpectedly short-staffed one night. The stage supervisor at the time knew that Perkins had an interest in makeup and asked him to help out.
Two years later, he became the head makeup artist and has been pursuing his passion ever since.
Makeup is not Perkins’ only area of expertise. The monster-creator is a registered nurse.
A graduate of Wallace State Community College, Perkins spends his weekdays working in the geriatric clinic at the University of Alabama at Birmingham medical center, which specializes in helping older adults deal with heart failure and improve their quality of life through symptom control.
“I wish this (makeup) was my career, but I’m a nurse by trade. I enjoy taking care of my patients. I like being a nurse, but makeup is my passion. It’s cool being creative, and I have a great appreciation for the arts,” he said.
The work Perkins does at Atrox Factory is a combination of makeup and art. Classic characters such as Frankenstein or Dracula inspire some of the monsters, but most are original creations. Chunky Money, a chubby bunny that feeds on the dead, is one of Perkins’ favorites.
Atrox Factory also features a frightening fish and a red-eyed vampire with blood splattered across his jaw.
Each character requires prosthetics, layers of stage makeup and intricate shading. Some wear colored contacts and masks as well, and all of the characters take a lot of time and practice to create, Perkins said.
However, Atrox Factory is not just a house of horrors. It’s the only charity haunt in Alabama that donates 100 percent of its profits, Perkins said.
Children’s Charity, Inc. is the charity under which the haunted house operates, but proceeds are also donated to the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, Shepherd’s Supply, Special Olympics and other nonprofits.
The cast and crew do their part for charity, too, Perkins said.
“We did a drive last year for jackets and blankets you aren’t using anymore, for the homeless. This shirt that I’m wearing is a breast cancer shirt for UAB. We helped the Women’s Center raise some money for breast cancer (awareness),” he said.
The Atrox crew, made up primarily of volunteer workers and a few paid actors, is extremely close-knit, Perkins said, describing them as a “second family” to him.
To get ready for the Halloween season, the crew spends nearly a month preparing the sets and running the haunt, which creates a real sense of community, Perkins said.
“When it starts getting towards the end of the summer, everybody’s like, I’m ready for some Atrox. I’m ready for the Atrox family,” he said.
The dedicated volunteers who make Atrox Factory possible are not usually in it just for one night or a single season, Perkins said.
“Once they’re here, they’re staying,” he said.
Though he never attended formal classes for theatrical makeup, Perkins gathered a lot of expertise in the decade he has worked for Atrox Factory, he said.
He has also spent many hours perfecting his technique at home, long before landing his position at the haunted house. Perkins said he particularly remembers one botched attempt at recreating the makeup of Freddy Krueger from the horror classic “Nightmare on Elm Street” that went “horribly wrong.”
To help Over the Mountain Journal readers look perfectly frightening this Halloween, Perkins offered a few tips for home makeup that he learned through trial and error over the years.
He suggests layering color to add dimension.
“The key to making it look more realistic is doing washes of color. You don’t just want to slap it on the face,” he said.
For those who don’t have the movie-quality makeup Atrox uses readily available, Perkins has a very simple substitute. He suggests getting the same effect with diluted paints from arts and crafts stores.
“It may not last as long, but it’s totally safe and great for Halloween night,” he said.
Perkins creates the monsters that make Atrox Factory terrifying, but in the end the haunt is about something much bigger than just fun and screams, he said.
“After the season, after everything is done, the best result is going to be the kids you’ve helped,” Perkins said.
Atrox Factory is open Friday and Saturday nights from 6:30 p.m.-midnight and Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday nights from 6:30-10 p.m. Admission is $18. The haunted house, located at 8404 Parkway Drive in Leeds, is not suggested for children younger than 12. The haunt also features guest celebrities. For the dates and times of their appearance, go to www.atroxfactory.com.