Visitors to Las Vegas are probably accustomed to gambling, but if you drive to a quiet, small town just 45 minutes away from the Strip, you'll find yourself faced with another risky venture: the Monster Museum.
"It's an art gallery, a wax museum, an informational museum," Tom Devlin, founder of Tom Devlin's Monster Museum — which opened in July 2017 in Boulder City, Nevada — explains as he attempts to encapsulate the museum's unique appeal.
Devlin is a veteran special effects makeup artist who appeared on the first season of SYFY's Face Off and spent 15 years working in Hollywood on major productions such as Red Dragon, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, and the final two seasons of the initial run of The X-Files. But his true passion lies with the low-budget, slightly disreputable productions from companies such as Troma, Full Moon, and The Asylum, whose work is prominently displayed in the Monster Museum alongside horror icons such as Frankenstein's monster, Freddy Krueger, and Leatherface.
"It's film history, but also art," Devlin says of the museum displays, which are a mix of Devlin's own creations for movies like Full Moon's Puppet Master X: Axis Rising and Troma's Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, as well as original takes on classic horror and sci-fi characters.
"Everything within the museum is a custom one-of-a-kind work of art," he says. This includes the full-size monster statues, the Myers family's front porch from Halloween, and the animatronic Regan from The Exorcist (complete with spinning head). The workshop for Devlin's special effects makeup company 1313FX is directly attached to the museum, and he and his team split their time between working on movie projects (he's currently busy prepping the Full Moon film Halloweed Night: Meet the Weedjies) and building new museum attractions.
Growing up in the small town of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, Devlin dreamed of moving to Hollywood to work on the movies he loved watching. Right after high school, he followed through on that dream, packing up his belongings and heading to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at the renowned Joe Blasco Makeup School and landed a full-time job with special-effects company W.M. Creations while he was still a student. "I never understood what a big opportunity it was," he says. "I moved to L.A., dropped my bags, worked on The X-Files."
But after 15 years in the industry, Devlin was burned out, and he left Los Angeles first for Florida, where he worked at a motorcycle shop, and then for a teaching gig at the L Makeup Institute in Las Vegas. He discovered Boulder City while cheering his daughter on at a BMX race and immediately fell in love. "I love that Boulder City is Stars Hollow or Mayberry," he says of the town that serves as a gateway to the Hoover Dam and is one of only two municipalities in Nevada where gambling is illegal. "My kids can ride their bikes outside, and they walk to the park. It's not backward, it's just preserved. And then for us to open such a kooky, weird business here — nobody had a problem with it. Nobody thought this was a bad idea."
Devlin has become a bit of a local celebrity, and the Monster Museum has been garnering international attention, much to Devlin's amazement. "We get people that come from Scotland, and I say, 'What brings you here?' and they're like, 'I wanted to see the Gingerdead Man,'" he marvels.
The museum is designed to be immersive and interactive, with people taking pictures with their arm around Freddy Krueger or fleeing from the animatronic zombies from The Return of the Living Dead. "I had somebody propose to his wife on the step of the Myers house, which was really cool," Devlin says.
In less than two years, the Monster Museum has grown significantly, and Devlin recently opened a second attraction across the street, the kid-focused Tom Devlin's Dinosaur Adventure. In a setup just begging for its own reality show, Devlin's wife and father both work with him at the Monster Museum, even though they may not share his obsession with movie monsters. "I have crazy, zany ideas, and she never says no," Devlin says of his wife Lola.
Many of those crazy, zany ideas will soon be on display at the Monster Museum. Devlin is working on four new rooms, including one that will showcase creatures from silent films such as Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. He recently purchased an old animatronic band from a closed ShowBiz Pizza Place location and plans to revamp them as Frankie Stein and His Fiendish Friends to perform spooky songs in the lobby. He's also putting together a two-year anniversary party in July that will include appearances from actor R.A. Mihailoff (who played Leatherface in the third Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie) and the possessed car from Christine.
Everything in the museum reflects Devlin's love and reverence for makeup and practical effects in movies, and he pays as much homage to pioneering effects artists such as Jack Pierce, Milicent Patrick, and John Chambers as he does to George Romero and Wes Craven. As amazing as the displays are to witness, possibly the best attraction at the museum is Devlin himself, who is a boundless source of movie knowledge and enthusiasm. "For a horror fan that comes in here, if they start asking me questions," he says, "I can keep them here for days."