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Funeral Classics has fans of the macabre screaming with delight

Robert Thorn with Frankenstein prop head

Robert Thorn, owner of Funeral Classics in Fountain Valley, hols a Frankenstein prop head that he believes was used as a model by famed makeup artist Jack Pierce for the 1931 film.

(Scott Smeltzer / Huntington Beach Independent)

For Robert Thorn, Halloween doesn’t come just once a year. The spooky holiday is essentially his entire life.

“My first memory was really just watching TV shows like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and movies like ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula,’ ” said the 48-year-old Huntington Beach resident. “I would stay up by myself and watch this stuff. I was always that little kid who was up until midnight and into rock ‘n’ roll and monsters.”

Thorn, who has a penchant for tattoos and dark clothing, often drives to his Fountain Valley horror-themed shop, Funeral Classics, in true macabre style — a hearse.

The vehicle — a black 1964 Cadillac with leopard-printed seat covers that he found 23 years ago in Auto Trader magazine — is the first thing visitors see before entering Funeral Classics.

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Once inside, they become immersed in the horror world. The front part of the shop is filled with T-shirts that Thorn designed for his clothing brand, also called Funeral Classics. It serves men, women and children.

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Funeral Classics toys

A collection of ghoulish toys and figuries at Funeral Classics in Fountain Valley.

(Scott Smeltzer / Huntington Beach Independent)

The back of the store is a nostalgia fest of classic horror films and other media from the genre, plus retro action figures. Jack Skellington of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Freddy Krueger of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and Jason of “Friday the 13th” line the walls. The toys are for sale.

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Thorn also sells other themed merchandise, such as DVDs, videotapes, vinyl records, comic books and magazines.

But Thorn considers one of his latest finds the best of all.

He believes a Frankenstein prop head, which has been in his family for generations, is the one that famed makeup artist Jack Pierce used as a model for the 1931 film.

The bust, which his grandfather found at a Hollywood garage sale and bought for his grandmother, looks eerily similar to the ones in behind-the-scenes photographs from the film, Thorn said.

“Back then, Universal [Studios] would throw tons of stuff out,” he said, noting that his uncle used to try to scare him with the head when he was a child.

“I believe this is the real deal.... As a child, I was so stoked that the monster was coming to visit me. Fast forward about 45 years later, it actually ended up being Pierce’s Frankenstein bust that he used while filming the film. It was a big full-circle thing. I think something with that much energy to it, there had to be something there.”

Fans at horror conventions have also told Thorn that they see a striking resemblance between his prop and the one in the photos.

Thorn said he was encouraged by an auction house to sell it but declined. The store owner said he isn’t immediately planning on selling the figure, unless it’s to the right buyer.

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Ideally, he’d like to sell it to a museum or someone who would make it available to horror lovers.

“Any collector in the world could start with this and end with this,” Thorn said. “I have the numbers in my head that I would personally let it go for, but I’d only want it to go somewhere it can be displayed and shared.”

Robert Thorn with his Cadillac hearse

Robert Thorn, the owner of Funeral Classics in Fountain Valley, with his 1964 Cadillac hearse.

(Scott Smeltzer / Huntington Beach Independent)

His other treasures at Funeral Classics, like the figurines and treasure trove of rock records that includes Iron Maiden imports and rare Judas Priest recordings, would make any fan scream — with delight.

Thorn said he came up with the idea for the brand, which he started in 2005, more than 20 years ago, but touring with various punk bands as a drummer kept him busy.

Other events, he said, like his wife’s death 13 years ago, which left him to care for their young son, also prevented him from moving forward with the idea.

Two years after his wife died, a bedroom mirror fell on one of his legs, necessitating surgery and a break from touring. He embraced the situation by starting Funeral Classics.

At first, the brand was sold locally in stores like the now-defunct downtown Huntington Beach punk shop Electric Chair and nationwide in outlets like Hot Topic, Thorn said.

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He opened his own store in Fountain Valley, at 8574 Warner Ave., where he added the collectibles to his repertoire, in late 2013. The location is next to the hair salon that his mother owns.

“Fountain Death Valley,” as he likes to call the city, is an ideal spot for a shop like his, he said, which caters to all kinds of customers, not just the goths and punks. It is also popular year-round, but September through December — what he likes to call “Falloween” — is the busiest time.

“That’s the cool thing about Funeral Classics,” he said. “Maybe once every five months, someone will come in and call us a goth shop. We’re not. It’s life and death. The biggest thing is honoring the living and respecting the dead.

“This is nostalgic for many people, and people of all ages dig it. It’s that middle ground where a lot of people in their 40s or so will come in and remember watching these movies and playing with these toys. And the younger people will say, ‘I’ve heard of that.’ It’s just really cool.”

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Brittany Woolsey, brittany.woolsey@latimes.com

Twitter: @BrittanyWoolsey

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