Have you ever walked past an old portrait or photograph, one of those proud pictures from the late 19th or early 20th Century featuring the stoic visage of a person, and felt like the eyes followed you? Or maybe, just maybe, caught a glimpse of a head turning and following you as you pass? I think we’ve all felt the shivers that brings, but only Eddie Allen has taken steps to bring those shivers home to you.
Through his company, Haunted Memories, Eddie brings to life creepy and horrific changes to portraits of an earlier time. He alters old black and white portrait photos so that they change when you move past them or shift your gaze from side to side. An old man may turn into a devil, a small child may become a hideous zombie, or a kindly couple’s loving pose might become a shocking image of murderous violence. All done with a wink of good-natured humor and trickery, of course.
Initially inspired by the changing portraits in Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction long ago, Eddie has created numerous portraits and is continually working on new creations. I recently had a conversation with the man behind the madness to find out what drives him to create such monstrous masterpieces.
Dark: On your site, you talk a bit about how you got started making creepy changing artwork. What were you doing prior to this and how did you get the skills to create the portraits?
Eddie Allen: Prior to launching Haunted Memories, I did not work with horror at all. I was a musician and also managed a cool 1940s-era movie theatre. I got my first modern computer in 1998 and worked with digital photo restoration for several years before attempting to create my own characters. Being a lifelong Halloween fanatic, I always had a spooky imagination, but it was just a matter of finding the right medium.
Dark: How do you pick the photos you use for the portraits? What catches your eye and says, “Hey, that guy would make a great zombie!”?
EA: When selecting old photos to use for characters, I consider the person’s pose, expression, clothing, and hairstyle. I then try to imagine them as different entities – zombie, demon, vampire, skeleton, etc. Sometimes it takes a couple of tries before I realize a character’s best potential. Originally I was going to turn “Aunt Polly” into a vampire, until I realized that her tilted-head pose would be perfect for a hanged woman. Now I can’t imagine her any other way!
Dark: While I know you can’t talk about the actual process you use to create the portraits in detail, about how long does it take you to convert a portrait to a haunted memory, and how long does it take you to reproduce them for sale?
EA: It really varies. Some character concepts are born quickly. “Grandpa Esbat” (my second character) came together in a few hours, as if I were channeling him! However, most of them take days and some are abandoned for months until I feel truly inspired to finish them. I have a whole list of concepts that I’ve brainstormed, and now it’s just a matter of finding the right photos to use.
Once a character’s design is finished, I must print out and then hand-assemble each portrait. It’s tedious and time-consuming, but you can’t rush it because there’s so much that can go wrong. If you don’t position the lens just right it will be off-center and won’t change properly. I have strict quality control standards and will not release anything that I feel is substandard. On a good day I can produce between 10-20 finished portraits working by myself.
Dark: Have you ever had a portrait you really wanted to pull off, and it just didn’t work out? Tell us about it if you have, and what problems you ran into.
EA: My first headless woman was a nightmare. “Aunt Bertha” was this big, haughty-looking woman who had a lot of potential as a portrait, but she was very uncooperative. She was supposed to end up decapitated and holding her staring head in her hand, but putting the concept into practice proved quite difficult.
She had a light background and the shadow of her head was always somewhat visible in the headless stage. It was also very difficult to make the one head disappear at the same time as the decapitated head appeared. Eventually I did get a few to work, and about three were released before I decided she was too much trouble and discontinued her. (For the record, I did end up making a successful headless woman whom I call “Aunt Gretchen.”)
Fortunately “Aunt Bertha’s” decapitated head was later incorporated into my portrait of “Uncle Jack.” So she wasn’t a total loss!
Dark: Have you considered selling smaller versions of your work to make them more accessible to, for example, your average struggling horror journalist?
EA: You’re in luck! I have recently been able to produce some smaller 11” x 14” versions of my characters. While the larger 16” x 20” portraits are recommended for their more intimidating size, I am pleased that these smaller versions look and change so well. I have also made a few 5” x 7” cards, but they are really more like samples and I will probably only release a few of them. It’s pretty hard to be scared by something that tiny.
Dark: I know the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland was a huge influence on your work. Recently, they’ve made some changes to the changing portraits in the Mansion so that they change when the lightning strikes, as Walt originally wanted. What’s your take on the changes, and what would you like to see them do with the portrait hall? If you could add one to the hall, what would you do?
EA: Wow – I had no idea they restored that effect! I remember seeing them change that way in the 8mm Haunted Mansion film (taken circa 1969) and I always wondered why they stopped doing it that way. I’ll have to get down to the park and check it out, but I think it’s definitely an improvement!
Marc Davis had so many great changing portrait concepts that went unused. If I could add one to the hall, it would have to be the Decaying Bride – one of his creepiest concepts ever! They really should rotate some of the others in and out to keep things fresh. (Ed. Note: Ironically enough, Disney has done just that with the latest renovations to the Mansion, swapping out the “May/December” female portrait with the Dorian Gray-like portrait of “Master Gracey” from Walt Disney World…I guess great minds think alike! – Dark)
Dark: You occasionally do custom work. Tell us about some of the more unusual custom requests you’ve had over the years.
EA: I wouldn’t say the requests have been all that unusual. I get asked for all of the standard characters – vampires, skeletons, demons, etc. But I always find it rather strange when someone wants a portrait of their spouse turned into a zombie. I personally wouldn’t want to see images of my loved ones dead and rotting, but hey – to each his own!
Dark: I’ve seen your work at conventions; have you ever gotten an extreme or humorous reaction from someone when they get their first look at a changing portrait?
EA: Oh yes – and they’re priceless! I really need to do a few more conventions! Working with these characters all day, I’ve grown pretty desensitized to their creepiness. So it’s really rewarding to see other people’s reactions to my work.
I’ve seen people scream and jump, but they mostly freeze in disbelief. They then begin to do what I call “the leaning dance,” tilting their bodies from side-to-side to see the changes. It’s a lot of fun to watch the effect my creations have on them. Most people have never seen anything like it.
I really wish I could have been at all the Halloween parties that featured my portraits – not because I want the accolades, although they are nice to hear! I’d just like to sit back anonymously and enjoy the people’s reactions to my work.
One customer of mine had a particularly brilliant idea. She had a Halloween party and hung a “Cousin Drusilla” in her bathroom so that it was visible in the mirror and was showing her “normal” stage. Then when people turned around to exit the bathroom, their position had changed and they were face-to-face with Drusilla’s grinning vampire stage! She said that people were screaming all night and it was hilarious.
Dark: What kind of portraits do you have running around your head for the future? What new and different creations can we expect to see in the weeks and months ahead?
EA: Well, there are two types of images that I make: “Changing Portraits” and “Spooky Scenes.” The changing portraits feature a close up of one person who dissolves into a frightening entity. I hope to add changing portraits that feature a more transformed werewolf and a younger female zombie. I need a female demon, as well. I have other, more elaborate concepts in mind, but who knows if they will actually be workable. This medium does have its limitations.
However, I can tell you that I will soon be releasing a “Spooky Scene” which shows a little girl sitting on a swing in the forest. Although her name is “Little Annie,” she has a lot more in common with Little Miss Muffet. (I’ll leave it at that!)
Dark: Now, my required final question: What’s your favorite horror movie?
EA: There are so many that I like…“The Changeling” is a favorite that is often overlooked. I also recommend “The Woman in Black,” a made-for-TV British film which is a slow burn, but extremely creepy!
However, my all-time favorite horror movie would have to be the 1979 mini-series of “Salem’s Lot.” (I also love the novel). That was the one that kept me awake at night and was the inspiration for my first character “Granny Glick.” So please tell Stephen King that I am a big fan!
I want to thank Eddie for taking time away from his twisted work to chat with us. I encourage anyone with a haunted attraction, a home-based haunt, or just an eye for spooky home décor to check out the Haunted Memories website and peruse the collection. I’ve seen the work in person, and I can testify that it is absolutely striking. Just remember the next time you walk past an old photograph to check and make sure that it isn’t staring back at you…it just might be a Haunted Memory!