Adam Durham smiled Sunday when he pointed to the limbless zombie corpse propped beneath the old-school X-ray machine, red spatters streaking down the walls.
“The scare is in the details,” said Durham, 32, a haunted house operator from Jonesboro, Arkansas. “That’s how you really make people uncomfortable.”
Durham was one of the dozens of haunted house enthusiasts who flocked to Baton Rouge on Friday for the 12th annual Haunted Attraction National Trade Show and Conference, a five-day tribute to the macabre and finding new ways to scare.
At tables lined side-to-side at the Belle of Baton Rouge Hotel, vendors pitched products that ranged from monster masks, makeup and eerily life-like limbs.
Chad Besse, 34, co-owner Mystic FX in Port Allen, went to the conference to deliver a series of workshops, including one on sculpting fake body parts from alginate, a seaweed-based molding material.
“The hardest one to build is the foot,” he said. “The curve makes it tougher than other parts of the body.”
Besse, who specializes in prosthetics and faux gore, fills orders for clients from across the country.
“That’s the one thing about this community,” he said. “It’s spread out all over, but it’s pretty tight-knit.”
Whether it’s with more precise fake blood or better clown makeup, vendors and attendees alike said they’re always on the hunt for new methods to better engage their audience.
Eric Cambell, 38, general manager of Houston-based Techland, was selling software in which users can design motion images to be projected onto a fixed object.
It’s a technology, he said, that may lend a glimpse into the future of haunted houses.
“It’s much easier and faster to get different content onto a single piece than have to repaint and make multiple props,” he said. “It just allows more flexibility.”
In its first year based in Baton Rouge, the convention drew 45 vendors, event coordinator Leonard Pickel said.
“We’re extremely pleased with how everything has gone so far,” he said.
Brett Baker, 47, owner the Creepy Hollow Haunted House in Houston, got into haunted houses after years of ambitious Halloween lawn decoration.
“I had corpses hanging in the trees and monsters coming out of the bushes,” he said. “But I got tired of scaring kids dressed as Power Rangers and fairies, and decided to start something for the whole community.”
A decade later, he now operates three haunted houses, with themes including a haunted forest and a zombie-infested industrial site.
“A lot of what we do is to raise money for charity. I haven’t actually made any money on the place yet,” he said.
Durham, who operates the Scared City Haunted House in Arkansas, said he scours flea markets and classified ads to find the perfect props for his scenes. His goal is to incorporate items that complement and ring true to the story-line of a haunt.
“If it’s a doctor’s office, for example, you want to find the props that go with it,” he said. “And when I find them, a lot of times people don’t know what they’re worth.”
Durham often watches the response of his patrons to make tweaks to his haunts: the key is focusing on the person in the back of a group.
“I’ve pretty much got it down to a science. The person in the back is usually the one looking around and taking in all the details,” he said.
Durham said he feeds off the energy at trade shows like HauntCon . After 10 years building haunted houses, he said his passion for the trade has only gotten stronger.
“I asked my wife the other night, ‘Do you ever feel so excited about something you don’t want to go to sleep?’” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world when you’re doing what you love.”
Follow Matt McKinney on Twitter, @Mmckinne17.