A killer new breed of action figures: Interview with Neal DeConte, president of DeConte Figures and Collectibles

Neal DeConte's workspace is littered with body parts. A self-taught practitioner of his grisly art, DeConte had long been fascinated with grafting together disembodied limbs and torsos, but now it's a full-time occupation for him. He blames it on the Pit Witch from Army of Darkness, he states in this interview in From Dusk 'Til Con. For years -- since childhood -- he'd contented himself by playing Frankenstein with pieces he'd purchased from others (making his own surgical modifications along the way, of course), but the Pit Witch was his breaking point. He'd picked her up a few years back; and as he started assembling her, she didn't look right -- not grotesque enough, perhaps? DeConte attacked the witch with his implements, until at last his creation satisfied him. As he would later confess, "By the time I was done, I ended up using [just] the head ... the hands and the feet." Something in him had snapped. And with that, Horror Idols was born.

It was this disappointing experience with the Army of Darkness figure-building kit -- and many other lackluster model kits before that -- that inspired DeConte to start his own business: in 2006, he launched his Rhode Island-based company Horror Idols, which specialized in ¼ scale, 14-inch figures based on horror-movie characters.

I first met DeConte at the 2009 Rock & Shock horror convention in Worcester, MA. His work immediately blew me away.  I'm a horror-movie nut, and I have a numerous shelves full of monsters, killers, and victims; but I had never seen anything like the figures at Horror Idols.  Each one had an absolutely sick level of detail that required hundreds of man-hours to complete, and cost an average of $1,500 to $1,800 -- but man, they were worth every penny. A Horror Idol figure is the closest you'd get to actually having a life-size movie maniac like Hatchet's deformed, belt-sander-wielding killer Victor Crowley (from Hatchet) in your living room. Safer, too.

But after a few years of painstakingly sculpting his luxe Crowleys, Creepers, and Leatherfaces, in 2011, DeConte decided he wanted to go in a "more affordable, more mainstream" direction. He closed up shop at Horror Idols, but a new company arose from Horror Idols' gory grave: DeConte Figures and Collectibles, which makes "mass-produced, more reasonably priced figures and collectibles for the market."

For the new endeavor's debut action figure, DeConte chose Leslie Vernon, the titular masked scythe-wielding killer from director Scott Glosserman's cult hit Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  

Why Behind the Mask? "It's what we're all about," says DeConte.  "It's something that was based on a movie that was not mainstream, kind of obscure, and that's what we love to do, stuff like that. Stuff that you won't see from your normal, average toy companies."

With regards to the Leslie action figure, I'm pleased to say that it has the same insane level of detail and passion that I've come to expect from DeConte.  "I've always been anal over details, it's just how I am, and it's something that we want to convey into the pieces that we work on," he says.  For him, each figure is a work of passion. "It's something that's close to us [in some way] or another, and I think that adds to the detail that we put into it... I think that we get a lot more than other toy companies that are out there into the product."

Case in point: When DeConte showed a sculpt of the Leslie Vernon action figure to Nathan Baesel (the actor who portrays Leslie Vernon), Baesel noticed that there was something wrong with the figure's feet -- Baesel's pinkie toe curls under his other toes, and the Leslie figure's toes were straight.  Now most people would leave the feet as is and move on, but DeConte wanted the figure to be perfect and he re-sculpted the toes. "Nobody will ever notice it, but it's something that we did and that's the kind of detail that I put into these pieces." (Read our interview with Nathan Baesel here.)

DeConte Figures and Collectibles also made limited-edition Leslie Vernon masks, molded from the last surviving mask that Leslie wore in the film while spilling blood, as well as a scythes replicated from the one Leslie used to cut and slash in the movie. They only made 100 of each, and each comes with a certificate of authenticity, finished hardwood display case, and a plaque signed by Baesel and director Glosserman. Their prices are closer to those at Horror Idols - $600 for the mask and $400 for the scythe - but I've seen them in person, and I can vouch for their excellence. What's more, a percentage of all sales from the masks, scythes, and Leslie action figures will fund the Behind the Mask sequel: Before the Mask: The Return of Leslie Vernon.

Soon, DeConte Figures and Collectibles will launch their Cinematic Heroes line, which features horror actors, directors, and special-effects artists as themselves, tapping into the fandom's adoration of the people who bring their favorite flicks to life. The first will be stuntman extraordinaire Kane Hodder, the man who played Jason in numerous Friday the 13th movies -- and Victor Crowley in Hatchet.

In 2013, they're also branching out into music, with their Articulated Audio Artists line. Their first figure is Spider, lead singer of the Boston-spawned nu-metal band Powerman 5000 (and brother of Rob Zombie). DeConte's a huge fan: "I've listened to them since the beginning when they started out. ... To be able to work with Spider on that, that's been a dream come true."

The next band to get DeConte's miniature-plastic-doppelganger treatment will be Finnish metal band Lordi, which DeConte describes as "a cross between Kiss and GWAR. Big into the costumes and prosthetics, and it's a pretty wild-looking band. I met them in 2006 at [Rock & Shock] and I got to see them live.  And they're a great band, have a really good sound."  

I'm really excited for DeConte and his crew. I've always admired DeConte's love for the horror genre -- it's been apparent from the second I saw his work.  The immense amount of time and passion they put into their sculptures is second-to-none in the horror world.My Leslie Vernon action figure is going to have a permanent residence on my shelf in between Leatherface and Candyman, and I can't wait to add more DeConte Figures and Collectibles in the future.

Buy your own Leslie Vernon action figure or limited-edition replica mask or scythe (and help fund the Leslie Vernon sequel) at, or  check ‘em out on Facebook.

Michael Neel is the co-creator of anthology-horror-film Drive-In Horrorshow and animated web series Infinite Santa 8000.

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