R.I.P.: Locals get in the Halloween mood with their own home haunts

Oct 21 2012 - 8:01am

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ROBBY LLOYD/Special to the Standard-Examiner Skeleton pall bearers frighten onlookers in the yard of Joe Marquez’s home.
ROBBY LLOYD/Special to the Standard-Examiner 
Marquez stands in front of his South Ogden home.
ROBBY LLOYD/Special to the Standard-Examiner 
Spooky creatures fill the front yard of Joe Marquez’s home in South Ogden.
Photo courtesy Dee Rice
Dee Rice’s yard celebrates the “Wedding of the Dead.”
ROBBY LLOYD/Special to the Standard-Examiner Skeleton pall bearers frighten onlookers in the yard of Joe Marquez’s home.
ROBBY LLOYD/Special to the Standard-Examiner 
Marquez stands in front of his South Ogden home.
ROBBY LLOYD/Special to the Standard-Examiner 
Spooky creatures fill the front yard of Joe Marquez’s home in South Ogden.
Photo courtesy Dee Rice
Dee Rice’s yard celebrates the “Wedding of the Dead.”

Some of us cringe at the thought of spooks invading our homes.

Not Joe Marquez. He made up a cushy coffin bed in the living room for one wicked monster and helped another fiendish fellow set up a human rotisserie out by the driveway.

And not Dee Rice. She plays hostess for one scary-looking couple's "Wedding of the Dead" on her front lawn, complete with guest seating for all of their creepy friends.

Meet the creators of the Top of Utah's home haunts, the folks who throw out the welcome mat -- blood-splattered though it may be -- for all kinds of ghastly creatures come Halloween.

Bats and cobwebs fill the trees in the haunters' yards, half-dead things crawl across their lawns. When October rolls around, it's time for Marquez, Rice and others to work their magic and turn their seemingly home-sweet-homes into home-haunted-homes.

Here's a look at what awaits -- if you dare to pay a visit.

* South Ogden "spooktacular"

The "Children of the Corn" have taken up residence at Joe Marquez' home haunt in South Ogden.

"I hammered 240 stalks of corn into the front lawn," says Marquez, who then populated the "field" with an assortment of odd characters, including movie villains Jason ("Friday the 13th") and Chucky ("Child's Play").

Lights at night illuminate the figures, and in the adjacent "cemetery," the thunder rumbles and the lightning flashes across the skulls and tombstones.

Marquez says he's always enjoyed making things with his hands and likes the detail work of creating his walk-around home haunt.

"If you count the bats up in the sky, there are 13 of them flying around ... if one person gets it, it's worth it," says the telecommunications engineer who takes off the whole month of October to create and run the displays in his front yard.

This is the third year for the Marquez attraction, which has doubled in size in 2012 from previous Halloweens. One new feature is an "endless well," where folks can peer inside a bottomless pit and get a glimpse of a monster staring back.

A member of the Rocky Mountain Haunters association, Marquez says he thinks there are some advantages of home haunts, which typically don't charge admission fees, over commercial venues.

"I think more is left to the imagination," Marquez says. "If you're going to a haunted house, the fright is forced upon you -- it's pre-determined."

Out here in his yard, you may see some familiar figures, like Samara, the girl from "The Ring," but it's up to you to interpret the scenes, he says.

"The basic story is there and you get to fill in the details," he explains.

Marquez estimates more than 1,000 visitors stopped by his house in 2011; so far this year, about 100 folks per day walk by during the daytime or nighttime to look at the scenes set up behind the low picket fence.

"It allows my artistic side to come out," says the haunter, whose garage is jam-packed with decorations for Halloween.

The South Ogden resident buys a lot of his props, but reconfigures them to suit his needs. He scours junkyards, thrift stores and online retailers to pick up items ranging from stuffed black birds to vintage lanterns.

"As time goes on, I find myself buying less and making more," Marquez says.

This year, he's venturing into animatronics in his displays, like a new scene depicting skeleton pall bearers carrying a coffin out of the cemetery. The lid of the coffin keeps popping up and down -- whoever is inside doesn't want to stay there.

Marquez, whose home is located near two schools, says he enjoys seeing what makes visitors laugh or smile.

"What makes it all worth it is when the kids come by, and the school buses stop in front," he says.

It's a pricey hobby, what with all the props, extension cords, light bulbs and half-a-dozen fog machines. Marquez says his budget for the attraction is about $1,500 per year.

The macabre fun doesn't end at this South Ogden house on Halloween night. Marquez leaves up the basic structure of his haunt to make something new -- a "Nightmare Before Christmas" display for the holiday season.

If you go: The Marquez haunt may be seen daily through Oct. 31 at 5610 S. 700 East, South Ogden. Thunder and lightning run in the evenings until about 10:30 p.m.; extra surprises are added to the attraction on Halloween night.

* Creepy Layton nuptials

"The Wedding of the Dead" began when Dee Rice found scary bride and groom figures in a gift shop some 20 years ago.

Once the couple started taking their vows on her front lawn, a wedding archway and other decorations were added and kept the display expanding, says the Layton resident.

"Now they have guests this year at the wedding," Rice says, noting the mother and father of the bride are among those seated in their very own chairs at the Halloween nuptials.

"After that, they are everything from The Grim Reaper to a pumpkinhead to a mummy guy," she says of the newly created guests. "Then I think the other one is just a pile of bones."

The chairs will be decorated with lighted skulls instead of traditional bows and ribbons, adds Rice, whose walk-by yard attraction is open throughout the month of October. "You've got to go for the whole thing," she quips.

In another spot in the yard, ghosts conduct a seance, and near an upper window of the house, a "Bates Motel" sign blinks "Vacancy."

If she isn't setting up her displays by the beginning of October, the neighborhood children will be at her door, asking when she's getting started, Rice says.

"The kids get such a kick out of it," she says. She adds, "My thing is I love to hear a girl scream come out of a boy -- a preteen. That's always fun."

Rice says she avoids the blood and gore. "Maybe because it's too close to reality -- this is all supposed to be fun."

"And it seems to be an addiction," says the buyer for the Davis School District, whose stash of spooky items is stored in spare bedrooms and her basement fruit room.

"The 7-foot Frankenstein, the mummy and the pirate are all in my guest bedroom upstairs," says Rice. Frankenstein comes out to sit in the window at other times of year, she adds -- he makes a good Cupid, pilgrim or even Santa Claus.

On Halloween night, Rice lights all of the tiki torches and candles in her yard and often dresses up, maybe as a witch or a ghoul, to visit with folks who stop by.

Her October obsession is a departure from this haunter's typically upbeat personality.

"To me, it's the flip side of who I really am," Rice says. "I'm not macabre and depressed and into the dark side. ... But nobody wants to see sunshine and rainbows and bluebirds in a yard -- (even though) that would be more me, that's who I really am."

If you go: New additions are made daily at the free drive-by or walk-by display in Rice's yard, 2270 Oak Lane, Layton. The yard will be decorated through Oct. 31, with extra features -- including a levitating bed from "The Exorcist" -- put in place on Halloween night.

* Horrors in Harrisville

The Jason Room is one of the scariest rooms of the Haunted 1/2 Acre created by teenager Skyler Seat.

Inside the black room the walls are lined with masks -- and lurking behind some of the masks are people dressed in dark clothing, Seat explains. "You're not sure what one's real," and which ones are not.

The element of surprise is key to running a successful scary attraction, says Seat, who, with his younger brothers Stockton, 12, and Sage, 10, have set up this haunt on their half-acre lot for six or seven years now.

The idea began after the brothers and their friends had fun scaring their parents at a Halloween party one year. That spontaneous event has grown to fill the Seats' backyard in Harrisville with a gruesome butcher's shop, a spider's lair, a hillbilly barbecue and other chilling displays.

Oh, and don't forget the chain saw guy, or his pal, the leaf-blower fiend.

"The noise is mostly what gets them," says Skyler.

Like all haunted houses, the Haunted 1/2 Acre also has areas where nothing much is happening so visitors let their guard down before the next thing "just hits them," Skyler explains.

And sometimes, less is more in the walk-through haunt. As an example, Skyler points out an empty doghouse "igloo" that just sits on the ground, with nothing inside.

"It kind of makes them wonder, should I go by that? Should I stay away from it?" he says. The idea of what could be inside scares them just as much as an actor or an animatronic, he says.

Skyler says he will enlist the help of about 18 friends to help run the attraction, which is open for two nights during October and draws 200 to 300 guests. The teen starts laying out the design at the beginning of the month and works on it daily -- after he comes home from school and does his homework.

"I've got to get that done before I can do anything," he says.

The boys have limited funds and make use of things that aren't being used around the house and yard. An old Swiffer mop that was going to be thrown away, for instance, was turned into this year's squirter clown, Skyler says.

Folks like that the haunt is free, Skyler says, and also that kids are staging the event.

Although his parents help out with moving or lifting things, or chipping in to buy a few items, Skyler says he and his brothers do most of the work at the Haunted 1/2 Acre.

"I think it's great; I think it's good for their creativity," says mother Brandy Seat.

The eighth-grader says he has plenty of plans to keep the haunt going in future years: "The day after the haunted house (is over) I'm like, 'Oh dang, that would have been a good idea,' " he says.

If you go: The Haunted 1/2 Acre is open 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Oct. 27 and 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Oct. 31 at 241 W. Independence, Harrisville. Admission is free but donations are accepted to help pay for running the haunt next year.

 

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