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Garageland: Brad's Little Shop of Horrors

Claes Andreasson

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Brad Palmer
(Claes Andreasson)
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We continue our "Garageland" series this week, peeking into that space intended to shelter our cars but so often used for other things: art, inventions, terrible rock bands. Today we head to the apartment jungles of South Pasadena, California, and meet Brad Palmer. During the week, Brad's a make-up artist - you might have seen his work on TV shows like "CSI: New York" and "Heroes." On weekends, though, he's in the garage making props. What type of props? Let's just say there's a reason we're airing this story the week of Halloween.

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It looks just like any other suburban back alley, with rows of neatly painted single-car garages. It's peaceful and quiet. Until you stop by Brad Palmer's open garage door.

Blood stains are on the floor, and the shelves are full of body parts. A severed arm here and a hacked-off leg there. And a couple of skulls sitting atop a book case.

This is where Brad makes movie props. As I walk in, he's just finished sawing off the end of a "human leg" made from silicone and foam. And now he's carving it with a sharp chisel.

In order to give the leg a "real life" feel, he hollows out the foam and coats it with silicone to put in anatomical features like muscles and bones. Still, it takes more than just foam and silicone to make a convincing limb.

"Of course, the final dress comes through when you slime it and bloody it up," says Brad. "And that's really what brings it to life."

He puts the leg aside and shows me another project he's working on for a friend's independent movie. On top of a square piece of green foam, he's put a layer of flesh-colored sheet foam and latex. Inside a slit in the foam are hiding what look like vertebrae.

The vertebrae are for a very violent fight scene, Brad explains, where a strong man knocks another guy down, reaches into his back, and rips his spine out. The trick is achieved through a hidden pocket, where Brad's fake spine is inserted with plenty of slime and blood.

"The actor reaches into the back of the guy's shirt, digging into this little canal area," explains Brad. "Then he jerks the spine out free and holds it up for everyone to see."

Brad looks sweet and boyish, but he has a serious taste for the morbid and macabre. It took him a while to acquire that taste, though. Growing up, he says he was afraid of a lot of things.

"I was afraid of the dark, I was afraid of being alone, I was afraid of all kinds of things," he says. "Even horror movies scared the crap out of me."

But one night when he was watching a "Friday the 13th" movie with his older brother and his friends, he noticed everyone was laughing at the gory parts.

"And then it kind of dawned on me," says Brad. "I got the idea that this is a way to get that adrenaline rush and face that little fear thing and laugh about it and enjoy it."

Daytime, as a professional make-up artist, Brad is often busy making healthy people look injured and dead, but it's here in his little Shop of Horrors that his gory imagination roams free.

"Do you ever make anything nice and sweet?" I ask him.

"It's not my style," he says. "I like that kind of stuff on occasion. But, no. I like the gross stuff, I like the monsters and the gore."

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