Behind the Masks
Aptos Man has Made Millions on Trick or Treating
By Brad Kava
There’s probably no one in Santa Cruz who likes Halloween more than Chris Zephro. A decade ago, he started his mask-making company, Trick or Treat Studios with $250,000 and some designers who knew how to make the creepiest masks.
Today, this lover of all things spooky, sells $20 million worth of masks and collectibles from a Soquel warehouse.
More recently, he branched out from masks to movies, creating the costumes and designs for the likes of Jordan Peale’s Us and Halloween 2020. He’s also worked for rock celebrities including Rob Zombie and AC/DC.
“That’s nothing,” says the man who credits being obsessive with his success. “Mark my words. In the next five years we’ll be doing $300 to $500 million.”
The UCSC math and economics grad got his start when he realized that so many Halloween masks were cheap and flimsy and cost $30, but had no real artistic value. A good mask isn’t reproduced like a T-shirt.
They are handcrafted sculptures and can only be run 20 a time on a production line before the molds wear out. He has hired some of the best artists in the world to create masks like Michael Myers, Pennywise, Chiller and Fester the Zombie. He’s also got the exclusive licensing on Game of Thrones masks.
The detail is what has separated his craft from those of other companies, and the price, which range from $28-$79. Best-Horror Movies.com called them “awesome affordable monster masks.”
He’s broadened out to air fresheners (“fear fresheners”), Valentine’s Day cards, monster jewelry and Christmas ornaments and his licensees include the classic monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula and, more kid-friendly, Scooby Doo.
Zephro has plowed ahead to success when others doubted him. Like his creation of the Chucky doll from Child’s Play. He made the doll extremely life sized and authentic and sold it for $500. People told him no way would that work, so he listed it on Kickstarter. The first month he sold $1.25 million worth of them and went on to sell 30,000 of them. The math gives you chills!
“We made these sales into events,” says Zephro. “Now big companies are following our lead.”
Trick or Treat Studios has 25 fulltime employees and was planning on moving to a 40,000 square foot Watsonville warehouse, but the deal fell through at the last minute. Now, he may move the operation to Austin, TX.
Zephro’s wife, Lauren, has sort of the opposite profession, but it’s still creepy. She works in the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s crime lab, reconstructing dead bodies and crime scenes.
“I make monsters and she deals with putting monsters in jail,” he says.
Even meeting his wife showed he wasn’t afraid to make the big reach.
They met at World Gym, where Zephro, 5 feet 4 inches tall, approached Lauren, who is 6 feet three inches. “I told her that if I were taller, I would marry her,” he said.
They have been together for 27 years and have a daughter at Aptos High.
Their house on Vienna Drive has become a must stop for daring trick or treaters. More than 500 show up to see the stage sets he creates in his “killer” trick or treat area. This year it will have a 1958 Plymouth Fury on display. (Instant Contest: The first two people to tell us what movie that was from win two free Boardwalk passes. Email your answer to [email protected]ingupsc.com)
He got into scary movies as a kid when he saw the first “Halloween” movie and was hooked.
What are his favorite scare fests of all time? The Shining, Halloween and The Exorcist.
Check out Chris’s creations at Trickortreatstudios.com