By Brigid Morrissey

Robert Louis Stevenson was all too familiar with the human psyche. When he wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he captured the concept of the divided self with deadly accuracy, the ability for one person to acquire different and sometimes opposing personas. As a legal secretary at a law firm by day and a macabre artist by night, Kristen Warf accepts each persona with a dignified understanding. Kristen’s day job pays the bills, but her role as mask maker, actor, makeup artist, and general manager of Haunted Hotel in Louisville is where her true passion lies.

Kristen started feeding her alter ego at a young age. “I was an art kid growing up. I was raised in an artistic household. I never thought I could do anything career-oriented with it, but I kept myself doing creative things.” In 2008, an opportunity to nourish her creative side arose when she started working at the King’s Island Haunted House near Cincinnati, but it was completely unleashed when she was hired as an actor and special effects makeup artist at Wolf Creek Haunted Forest in Shepherdsville the next year. “Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I didn’t care for stage acting; I wanted to do improv. With the haunt industry, I had more creative freedom, and it’s good therapy to scare the crap out of people.”

Photos by Sunni Wigginton 

With her willingness and ability to try new things, Kristen was able to perfect her craft and find her niche in the haunted community. She and Kevin Stich, owner of Haunted Hotel, started Sinister FX in 2012 to sell her handmade masks and other retail items such as suits, skins, and blood. “It takes about 10 hours to make each mask. Sometimes real blood, sweat, and tears go into my work, so when I send a mask, there’s a piece of me that I’m sending with it.” Kristen draws inspiration from a wide range of experiences, images formed in her head, and little trinkets she collects in her spare time, like a rusty zipper or a burlap sack from a local feed store. “I grew up on a farm, so I tend to draw from my organic roots.” She even uses her own fears to create her terrifying characters. Her most popular masks, BoStrangles, Gags, and Babbles, for instance, resulted from her fear of clowns.

Kristen says her clown masks are in high demand. 

Each mask is customizable, and Kristen encourages customers to get creative. “I get bored making the same thing over and over again. And since they’re handmade anyway, it doesn’t take long for me to customize it.” She creates roughly 15 new masks a year. Cranking out that many products has spurred Kristen to start seeking additional help.

Kristen is stitching the details into these masks which takes several hours to complete
but adds to their strength and character. 

Her goal is to own her own haunted house one day, and with 250 mask requests each year and plenty of experience in the scare industry, she is well on her way. “I always wanted to come up with a way to be artistic for a living. Don’t stop being creative and find some way to pursue a creative outlet. Keep being creative. Never give up an opportunity because you don’t always know where your passion lies.”

And if you aren’t yet conscious of your passion, start by asking your other self.