WALLINGFORD – Julio Rodriguez’ nightmares don’t live in his head anymore. Instead, he spends a lot of his spare time making nightmares for other people come to life through terrifying masks and bloody scenes at the Wallingford Trail of Terror.
Rodriguez has been volunteering at the trail for about five years. He started making masks in late 2020 when he had to shut down his tattoo business because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He started layering latex on a dummy in what he called a papier maché style, just for something to do.
“I’ve always loved horror since childhood,” he said. “I couldn’t tattoo and I’ve always loved Halloween, so it was two months of just making stuff.”
Unlike many artists who create art that is meant to be neat and pretty, much of Rodriguez’ artwork is gory and textured. At the trail, Rodriguez has made scenes inspired by “Terrifier,” “Friday the 13th” and Freddy Krueger. One scene for this year’s trail is inspired by the yellow bedroom scene from “Terrifier 3” – recreated with meticulous detail, down to the hanging canopy bed and blood-stained walls that read “Art.”
Scarer-in-chief Wayne Barneschi from the Trail of Terror praised Rodriguez’ art scenes and his ability to make comfortable masks for trail characters.
Everything at the haunt is run by volunteers and Barneschi explained that Rodriguez was one of three volunteer mask-makers working to create faces for the trail’s 160-180 characters. He estimated Rodriguez made between 25 and 30 custom masks. He added that masks are a central part of the experience, especially since face paint is not quite as scary.
“He's just so talented that he just gets it. He gets everything about it,” Barneschi said. “There's a lot of masks you wear that you can't wear because they're really giant and your head spins inside of it. He [Rodriguez] knows how to fit them so they're comfortable to wear.”
Rodriguez’ pandemic hobby has now turned into a side-hustle. Rodriguez is selling masks and several large art pieces this weekend at CT Horror fest at the XL center in Hartford. He uses unconventional objects for his masks and sculptures, many of them from Home Depot.
For example, he salvaged a coffee table, added a rubber shark mask and lots and lots of fake blood to make a varnished sculpture inspired by “Jaws.” His wife found a blue phone at a flea market to which he added painted modeling clay to make the iconic blue tongue phone from “A Nightmare on Elm Street”
”This is like a big playground for me,” he said. “As a tattoo artist, you have to do what the client wants, but I get to do what I want with this,” he said, gesturing to a spider mask he was working on for the trail.
Rodriguez said he has always been drawn both to art and horror. He learned how to paint from watching “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross on Public Access TV. Even though Rodriguez’ art style is far from Ross' happy little trees, he explained that Ross’ techniques and speed helped him develop his own technical skills. Because of this, Rodriguez keeps a life-size cutout of Ross in his tattoo shop, on which Rodriguez has pinned several of the Trail of Terror buttons.
Rodriguez started tattooing at Meriden’s Turnpike Tattoo over 20 years ago and has not stopped since. He gained skills in different kinds of tattoos with Hope Gallery Tattoo in New Haven, Darkside Tattoo in East Haven and has run his own tattoo shop for six years. Playfully named Tattoolios Tattoo Emporium, the shop at Yale Plaza at 950 Yale Ave. in Wallingford is full of Rodriguez’ own artwork with bold colors and thick, graphic lines.
“I just wanted to focus on the art and the clients,” he said.
Latino Communities Reporter Lau Guzmán is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.