Feb. 15, 2013 at 7:52 AM ET
When Lexi Friberg saw her baby for the first time, it was love at first sight.
“The eyes, glowing and without a pupil, really captured that vacant, infected feel for me. But the happy, smiling face juxtaposed with the black sludge coming from her mouth is what really stole my heart.”
Not exactly the words you’d expect to hear from a doting new mother. But we’re not exactly talking about normal babies.
Remember reborn babies? These shockingly realistic-looking baby dolls have captured the hearts of grown women, men and doll aficionados alike, even at a cost of up to $5,000 apiece. Add glowing eyes, teeny-tiny vampire fangs and a healthy dose of dark humor, and you're entering a whole new territory of the dark side.
Bean Shanine, owner of The Twisted Beanstalk Nursery in Bellingham, Wash., is one of several independent artists helping to fuel this new wave of zombie and vampire reborns. A former hairdresser, Bean never got into the reborn craze or even the vampire and zombie obsession fed by “Twilight” and “The Walking Dead.”
Her entry into the underworld came while searching for the perfect Christmas gift for a friend whom Bean describes as “a bit darker.” She stumbled across a reborn kit. With a little creativity, Bean turned a normal reborn baby into a zombie baby. What better way to celebrate the season, right?
“I never in a million years thought I would be making reborns, and especially monster reborns. I don’t even LIKE monster things!” says Bean, who is surprisingly bubbly for someone who spends her day recreating undead babies. “After I made my friend her doll, I decided to make another with zombie eyes, just for fun. I listed it on eBay for $125 and it sold within 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe it.”
That was a little over a year ago, and now Bean’s business is booming. “Last year I made 50 dolls, and sold them for $650 and up. My Claudia doll inspired from the movie ‘Interview with the Vampire’ sold for $2,500.”
Lexi Friberg, a 35-year old psychology student from Dallas, Texas, is one of Bean’s best customers and has three of her dolls. “Bean has a talent for making monster babies that are subtle, not shocking or scary. She strikes a perfect balance between creepy and cute.”
Easy for Lexi to say: the self-described horror movie buff is rarely scared by zombies, monsters and the like. “If you’re a person that’s squeamish, it’s scary. To me, it’s cute! If I could adopt a real vampire child I would!”
Lexi has 20 reborn dolls, all of whom are monster babies. Unlike many collectors of realistic looking reborns, Lexi does not treat these dolls like they are real children. “I don’t have time to care for them like they’re real babies.”
Like Lexi, the average customer of a monster reborn isn’t trying to fill a void, such as the loss of a child or an empty nest. In fact, Shanine shies away from this type of customer and tailors her creations to collectors seeking an artistic, albeit gory twist to their innocent-looking dolls.
“People who have realistic reborns buy them for all different reasons. But the ones seeking to fill a void are not my customers, and that’s the misconception. I recently had someone ask me to make them a normal-looking reborn to replicate a baby they lost. I always wonder if that’s healthy and if I’m really helping them to grieve. I have to be very careful and almost always say no.”
That doesn’t mean collecting vampire or zombie dolls comes without judgment. Bean is known as “Monster Girl,” which makes her laugh. And she has definitely fielded her fair share of angry emails.
“Your dolls are so creepy and disturbing. Such a waste of talent!” one dissatisfied non-customer wrote to her. “Why don't you put it towards something good and useful like painting prosthetic limbs?"
Lexi also understands the social stigma attached to having monster reborns, so she chooses to keep her babies indoors.
“Men are allowed to collect cars or model trains, but when an adult woman collects dolls, there’s this attitude of ‘you’re too old to be doing that.’ And when you add to it the fact that your doll is a monster, it’s way too weird. I’ve seen some comments and not everybody gets it. You have to be into the horror genre or else you won’t feel comfortable having a baby vampire at home sitting in the chair next to you.”
For collectors around the world, the reborn craze seems to be lurching steadily along. Bean is currently working on five custom orders, with one customer as far away as Latvia.
Whatever the reason for collecting and no matter the artistry involved, it’s important to remember that these really are just dolls. For instance, please don’t try to nurse your monster baby. Those fangs could really hurt.
Morgan Brasfield is a freelance television producer and writer. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Tyler, 1-year old son Ben, and furry-child Cooper.