Gory greetings from beyond the grave, please introduce yourself and tell us where you are from.
My name is Rick, and I’m the proprietor of Horrify Me, a horror-themed photographic portrait studio based in Lydden, Kent, in the UK. I’m a graphic designer, photographic artist, and makeup artist as well as a life-long horror fanatic. I’ve loved horror since I was a little kid. I think I actually became a horror fan while I was still in my mum’s womb, surrounded by all those guts and gore.
Please explain to your horror loving audience what you do?
I do portrait photography. The difference is, instead of clients looking pretty and being photographed under the most flattering lighting, people are transformed into grotesque horror characters and photographed under moody, atmospheric horror lighting. I turn people into zombies, vampires, demons, cult horror icons such as Freddy Krueger, Valak the nun, and many others. You could say it’s a “novelty” portrait, but the makeup, lighting and photographic technique are all done to a very high artistic standard.
Tell us more about “Horrify me”. When was it established and what was your inspiration?
I studied fine art and design, and I’ve worked in design and graphics my whole working life. I’ve done several book cover designs for authors during my career. In 2014, an author named Lisa Richardson asked me to create a new cover for her brilliant trilogy of books, Blog of the Dead. This project led me to arrange a photoshoot with a few zombie fanatic buddies, to generate images for the book cover. It was so much fun that a bunch of us later created more zombie photos, just for a laugh. Then some other friends wanted to dress as vampires and take some photos, and out of nowhere I appeared to have a weird new hobby, but no decent camera equipment. One day, someone asked me how much I charged for the horror photos. I was actually very surprised that someone was willing to actually pay me to do this! So I took their cash and shot some photos, and they were really happy. I kept getting requests for horror shoots so I decided to invest in decent camera gear, studio equipment and, of course, a decent makeup kit! Being something of a horror expert, I knew very early that lighting was one of the key factors to good imagery and so I took some training from a film set professional on how to light horror correctly, which was one of the wisest choices I ever made. Like all the best things in life, Horrify Me was a complete unplanned accident, which I simply never saw coming.
In terms of inspiration, I grew up enjoying all the 1980s horror flicks, which are still greatly loved today by everyone. I particularly loved the George A. Romero zombies, and of course the gore effects of Tom Savini. Much of my work is inspired by the work of Savini. There was something quite spellbinding about his gory creations which has stayed with me my whole life.
How is it working as a couple? Who does what?
Everything is based on my work, and my wife Claire helps out in the studio. I’ve trained her in some good horror makeup techniques (she’s actually pretty talented at it!). Some days she just comes along to help in basic duties and other days she takes on full-on creative tasks. She’s got an excellent creative streak. Claire is also a pretty fine model and she’s allowed me to experiment on her many times, try out ideas, or sometimes just shoot stuff for fun. I’m actually very lucky to be married to someone who is into it and can share the weirdness, and I love working with her on shoots.
What has been your most requested character or scenario?
Zombies and vampires continue to be the most popular requests. I’ve met hundreds of amazing people, from all walks of life, from office workers to university lecturers to medical professionals to tattooists and everything in between, and transformed them all into monsters. It always fascinates me to see how their personality changes after I’ve created their new face.
Do you have a favorite?
Oh boy. I get asked this a lot! I actually have lots of favorites but if I was to pick just one, I’d have to say the Bride of Pinhead. This wasn’t a client shoot, it was an in-house project that I wanted to tackle. I sometimes create big, complex projects for myself just to take on a challenge or just for the fun of it. Bride of Pinhead took a lot of planning, careful design, and preparation. The model, Lottii Rose, was incredibly patient as she was hand-painted and had hundreds of pins fixed to her body over a ten hour period. The photos were incredibly rewarding, attracting a lot of praise (including from Clive Barker himself which was nice).
Tell us about some of the awards you have received, what types of venues have you exhibited your work at
I received a National Photography Award in the creative image category, which was my first. They sent me a medal and a certificate both of which are now displayed in my man-cave. I did enter the award scheme in the same spirit as most people buy a lottery ticket: I won’t win, but it’s fun to try. I didn’t think my work would ever win any accolades so that was a surprise. I later won a prestigious SCAR award for excellence in design and creativity, which is still my proudest achievement. The SCAR Award is presented by ScareTour, and is the official award of the UK scare industry. To have my work acknowledged by the horror trade is incredible - I still have to pinch myself when I think about it. I have an awesome piece of silverware on my shelf with Horrify Me engraved into it. I also won the Alt Fashion Photographer of the Year poll two years running, neither of which I entered (photographers get nominated for this). I was up against incredible competition so this was also a big surprise.
I normally exhibit work at various horror conventions around the UK but one of the best was when I was invited to exhibit at the Bram Stoker Festival in Whitby in 2014. That was amazing.
What other projects have you done?
Far too many to list here but some of the highlights have been:
• Cannibal Holocaust - I recreated the horrific “impaled girl” scene using the exact same technique as the movie. These were some of my most controversial images ever, and, I think, some of my most robust reputation-building photos. The shots demonstrated that I’m not shy of being pretty graphic with my horror.
• TarMan - I love the 1985 Return of the Living Dead and TarMan was always such a cool character, I just had to have a go at creating him. A model named Lee Frost endured some of the most vile, disgusting, gloppy makeup you’ve ever seen. That guy was such a trooper.
• Bride of Frankenstein - I absolutely love the Bride and I’ve shot this theme several times (and plan to do so again). My favourite was with an art nude model named Debbie Tolley. This was a massive makeup job, as I created ugly scars all over her body to show the bride nude, and all the medical malpractice involved in her creation.
• Leatherface - Obviously, I love the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I found a big scary guy named Nick Slack (who was also a scare actor) to be Leatherface. He was actually such a nice guy, but in the costume and in character, his huge frame was incredibly intimidating. I gathered a bunch of victims, including one of the UK’s top horror authors Matt Shaw, and created what I think are some of my most violent, brutal photos.
• The Wolfman - My friend Keith Larkin and my wife Claire posed for these shots which are some of my most classic images.
What was your most challenging encounter in your line of work?
Oh that’s easy to answer: Alien. I set myself a difficult challenge with this one, creating a full Alien xenomorph character. My work is almost always portraiture but this was a departure because no human portrait was present in the work. Instead, it was a full creature feature. I spent months making the life size Alien head and various body parts, but I’m pleased with the outcome.
What kind of response do you get from the public? Have you faced controversy? Is it embraced?
Generally, in fact overwhelmingly, people seem to love what I do, which is really nice. I don’t have a huge ego so I always appreciate and feel grateful for good feedback, and I don’t actually believe for one second that I’m as awesome as many people claim I am. Most of the time I just feel like I’m muddling through creative problems and winging it. Some of the tasty results I’ve had have probably had as much good luck as good judgement. But yes, people seem to like it and clients always leave 5-star reviews. The whole experience and responses tend to be very positive.
I have had some interesting controversy though. I knew going in that horror photography wouldn’t be for everyone and some “haters” would no doubt find their voices aimed in my direction. But I don’t mind, I have a pretty thick skin. One incident did upset me back in the early days. I have a photo of a little five-year-old boy holding the decapitated head of his mum, which proved to be hugely controversial. The photo is pretty grim but the experience of shooting it was so silly and they just kept laughing all the way through it. By whatever series of events, the photo ended up being scrutinised by the Netmums. I didn’t go looking for their outrage, they just seemed to find it during an online discussion about children in Halloween photos, and, wow, did they react! Their reactions began as “is this appropriate for a child?” to “that mother is so irresponsible” and eventually “ the photographer should be reported to the police” and “he needs to have his hard drive checked for kiddie photos”. This went on for about three days and those fuckers were absolutely relentless. The lady in the photo, Alison, and her son, Daniel, thought the Netmums reaction was pathetic. Which it was. I think many of the judgemental mums jumped on a bullying bandwagon because they thought they were being somehow righteous and moral. Actually they were just being trolls, plain and simple.
Another time, a fellow photographer made his views on my work very public and compared me to ISIS, the terrorist group that we always hear about in the news. I’ve had many people call my work “disgusting” and “vile” and so on, and I always understood these criticisms. After all, some people do find horror unpalatable and react strongly. It’s not for everyone, I get it. But being compared to ISIS? I didn’t get that at all, so I actually asked the guy what he meant. “You make sick, disgusting gory images and post them online to shock and offend people, which is exactly what ISIS do!” was his reply. I did remind him that the victims in ISIS videos don’t generally go home having had a fun day out, which they do at my studio, but I don’t think he was convinced.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
That is very difficult to answer, as there have been so many. Having Clive Barker call my Bride of Pinhead “glorious” is way up there. But, really, the whole experience of Horrify Me is endlessly rewarding. I get to meet so many amazing people all the time, I’ve met some of my favorite horror legends from the movies, made new friends, and of course created some very cool images which I love.
Can you share any future goals or projects?
Well, it may surprise you to learn that I have absolutely no interest in working in films. People often say I should, but I love doing what I do and I don’t feel the need to expand it into film. I suppose my long term goal is to just keep creating cool horror photos and hopefully one day compile them into an art book.
I do have some interesting projects looming, but I tend to keep very quiet about them until they are done. However, I can tell you that I have just completed making Silent Hill nurse faces for a shoot coming up soon, and I am also making a huge pair of devil horns.
What do you charge?
My prices vary depending on the theme of the shoot but on average the fee is £180 for a person, or £255 for two people, and a set of prints is included in the price.
What is your favorite horror film?
Damn, I just KNEW you’d ask that one. It’s so hard to say just one but I love the original 1933 King Kong (probably my favourite movie of all time), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Alien (1979), The Fly (1986), and pretty much anything with Tom Savini gore in it.
What is your definition of horror?
Hmmm. Personally, I think horror should be “horrific”. It should be challenging to watch, confrontational, difficult to deal with, and explicit with its ideas. Modern horror is quite tame, with a seemingly endless desire to make an audience jump rather than get under their skin or make them think. I seriously cannot remember the last time the cinema screened a hard 18-rated horror film! They all seem to be 12-rated nonsense these days. Horror movies of the 1970’s such as The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw, Dawn of the Dead, I Spit on your Grave, etc were truly horrific and unsettling when they first came out. Texas Chainsaw in particular was more like an endurance test, a fine study in madness than a piece of entertainment. During the 1980s horror had a strong focus on characters, such as Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers, and Pinhead, but the stories were still pretty scary and the ideas were strong. I think the Vietnam generation of film makers crafted some of the finest horror films of all time, channeling the social and political traumas of their youth into their horror films, and modern horror has lost that quality. I did expect a post 9/11 generation of film makers to emerge with some truly shocking horror, but instead we appear to be in an era of commercial nervousness driven by playing safe to sell the maximum amount of tickets and not being too offensive in an obsessive PC age. There is a growing market for scare attractions these days in which people can wander around dark mazes, having the shit scared out of them by scare actors. While this is safe and fun, it is a more confrontational type of horror entertainment than watching whatever supernatural doll movie is out this week. Horror movies just don’t cut it any more, which is why the young generation still love the 1970’s and 1980’s era and why there is a huge explosion in physical horror attractions.
Where can we find you?
Horrify Me is all over social media but our website is the ultimate place to go for all the galleries and info.
Thank you for your dark insight. Now time for me to go find my next kill.
Send me photos of your next kill and I’ll see if you can do it as nasty as I can :)
Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me xxx