Who mauled Kelly Belcher? Gory scars deform her face. Bruises fill her neck, chest and arm. The worst is her left abdomen. Her belly button and ribs are torn out.
Ah, but it’s all in good fun. Halloween has come to Salem.
Belcher throws a satisfied look at Dave Choquette, who busies himself making her friend into another zombie.
The skillful hands of monster makers like Choquette and his friend, Tobias Allendorph are an indispensable part of Halloween celebrations in Salem.
Their white tent in front of Museum Place Mall on Essex Street, or “Halloween Street” as it’s known this time of year, features two barber chairs and draws crazy Halloween fans from across New England.
“I don’t want to be cute this Halloween,” says Belcher, an Ayer resident who is wearing the first gory Halloween makeup in her life. “I want to be scary and disgusting. So it’s exactly what it is.”
On the Friday afternoon before Halloween, Essex Street is boisterous. Haunted houses echoe with screams. Witch trial actors shout out as they walk and run about. A burly man disguised as Kurt Barlow, a fictional character in Stephen King's 1975 horror novel “Salem's Lot,” scares passing kids. Salem trolleys make their way through the crowds. Tourists shop brim over with Halloween costumes and knickknacks.
Still the noise can’t distract Choquette. He is now building a zombie face for Alex Citrone, a pedicab driver from Boston.
“My job is to make people look like monsters. I make them bloody,” says the artist, clad in a Halloween black T-shirt, a white butcher’s apron tainted with bloody colors and washed-out jeans ripped at the knees.
There is a price list for zombies: $100 for a whole head, $50 for a full face, $25 for a half face, and $15 for a quarter face. A vampire bite? $10. And for a mere slash, $5.
Choquette’s passion for horror makeup began 14 years ago when he was 15. The Rhode Island native taught himself by watching movies and experimenting on his own face.
Choquette, with shaved-head and bushy-bearded, likes to make his faces scary.
Next to him is his fellow monster-maker Allendorph, who looks a bit creepy with a bleeding bullet hole in the middle of his forehead and two fangs in upper jaw.
“I like it. Oh my god!” she says, looking into the mirror handed by Allendorph.
“You look like you ate somebody’s heart,” says her friend Teresa Mandra, who asks him to make her into a twin zombie.
This Halloween is the second season Choquette and Allendorph have worked for Salem’s Nightmare Factory, a company that claims to have the best haunted house in the very scary city of Salem.
The two zombie makers are different by their styles. Choquette focuses on special effect buildups using latex, cotton and an airbrush. It usually takes him 20 minutes to build a zombie face.
His 41-year-old colleague zeroes in on face painting – everything from bullet holes to broken noses, slashes or to pumpkins. This usually takes but 5 minutes.
“I like to do smaller things to please as many customers as I can,” says Allendorph, who with Choquette does makeup for Nightmare Factory’s cast and crew every morning. “The faster I do, the more people I can take care of.”
Both enjoy making a “full zombie” the most, but they say they can do anything people request.
“A pregnant girl asked me to make it look like her baby was coming out of her belly,” Choquette recalls. He pulls out his phone showing a woman with a full baby coming through a zipper. It took him two hours and cost his overjoyed customer $150, he says.
“It’s her last baby and she wants to do something special,” said Choquette.
So does Kelly Belcher. She says she doesn’t mind paying him $200 today because it’s worth it. (Choquette has needed 30 minutes to complete her gruesome look.)
“It’s something that people won’t be able to do in their life. So why don’t you experience it when you can?” says the slender girl who hopes to find a costume contest to compete in. “I value it and I like it.”
As twilight approaches, the crowd grows and more people wait for their turn at the Nightmare Factory’s makeup shop.
“I look forward to this month every year,” says Allendorph who like Choquette, dreams of being in a movie. “October is my favorite time.”
Beware of the Zombies tonight.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.