From the age of 13, Leo Loving has been fascinated with things that go bump in the night. His love for horror spawned a career that has pushed the 30-year-old into a top position at Houston’s own Phobia Haunted Houses.
“I was terrified of monsters growing up, and I remember checking under my bed and in the closet before going to sleep,” he recalls.
“I would say watching Goosebumps as a child was where my fascination with monsters began. Before I knew it, I was 15 and my friend and I started a clown-themed haunted house in her garage. Since then, haunted houses have been my whole life. I went from being scared of monsters to becoming one!”
These days, Loving spends his time creating the latest and greatest spooky attractions at Phobia Haunted Houses. As one might expect from the name, Phobia is a “scream park” geared toward scaring patrons of all ages during its annual seven-week run in the fall.
Loving, who is openly gay, started as an actor in 3D Clown Phobia in 2008, and has worked his way up the ladder to become general manager. “I started as an actor when I was 16,” he says. “What really drew me in was that I felt a part of something for the first time. The art director of Phobia, Jimmie Maness, is a very talented queer artist in Houston who has taught me a lot about the haunted-house industry. Together, we have created hundreds of sets, animatronics, and monsters. It’s a truly fantastic experience for guests.”
Working in the horror-based business also inspires Loving to push the envelope with his makeup skills.
“What really got me started was playing with premade latex wounds for a Halloween party,” he notes. “It took me many years of practice to really understand how to utilize them. Working for Phobia Haunted Houses has been great, because I have a plethora of resources at my disposal and an audience to show off all my hard work.”
As his ghoulish characters have gotten more elaborate, so has the makeup and costuming process. Some monster looks take several hours to create. “I frequently spend hours fitting, constructing, gluing, painting, and adorning different pieces of a character,” he says. “When the time comes to get in character, it takes a couple hours of applying prosthetics to the skin, a bald-cap to cover the hair, and then some detailed makeup around the eyes and the prosthetics. Lastly, I pop in contact lenses, effects teeth, and the monster comes alive.”
But Loving also points out that you don’t need to spend a lot of money in order to create a scarier Halloween look. “I suggest going to YouTube. Before you do anything, think about what you want to create and then try to find a tutorial online. I think YouTube is an incredible resource for DIY special-effects makeup tutorials.”
Whether you’re a scary clown, a sexy vampire, or a zombie, any look can be enhanced with Halloween contact lenses and food coloring. “Contact lenses have an immediate and striking effect,” Loving explains. “They’re also inexpensive. And food coloring can change the color of your mouth and add a drastic effect to your Halloween character.”
Stressing and “aging” your costume is also necessary for a fully realized look. “Use acrylic paint mixed with a lot of water,” he says. “Soak the entire costume (or just splatter on the paint/water mixture) and allow it to dry for a stained, aged effect. Rub the fabric with sandpaper, or use tools to create rough patches and holes. The more layers you add, the more elevated your costume will become.”
Lastly, just remember to have fun with whatever you create for Halloween, Loving emphasizes.
“Since coming out and becoming an openly proud, gay male, most of my monsters are pretty androgynous,” he says. “I add false eyelashes, contoured makeup, lots of rhinestones, and glitter to make the character a little more
fun and fabulous.”
Going forward, Loving hopes to improve the atmosphere at Phobia and create more unique attractions to get people coming back again and again. When he thinks about why the Halloween season is so popular, especially within the gay community, the answer is simple: it’s the one time of the year when we can emerge as someone or something that stays hidden all year.
“Halloween is the one night when everyone is allowed to be whoever or whatever they want to be,” he concludes. “Dressing up for Halloween allows us to express ourselves without fear or judgment. Being unrecognizable in a full costume and makeup really is an incredible out-of-body experience.”