If you ever placed a cold bowl of cooked spaghetti inside your garage, and cut up some garbage bags for drapery meant to brush against unsuspecting visitors, and hung a few blacklights or strobes, you know the joy and creativity of creating a home haunt.
Home haunts have come a long way from the chilly dish of eyeballs, though -- er, peeled grapes -- and the ol' sound effects album playing in the background. Front yard frights are a full-on industry nowadays, and the people who stage them work all year long for that one October week, or two, when they get to give anyone who stops by a little scare, a little laugh, and a few minutes of seasonal heebie jeebies.
Southern California is fairly flush with yard eeks, from the basic-but-admirable stuff -- a few plastic ghosts in a tree -- to presentations that boast animatronics, costumed actors, and well-planned, single-focus themes. They're very often free, too, or ask for a small fee or donation. If you've done the theme parks, or you're looking for a lower-key, domestic-flavored version of Halloween, make for...
Boney Island: Devised by Rick Polizzi, a producer for "The Simpsons," Boney Island is a Sherman Oaks funhouse of skeletal-sweet proportions. Picture a carnival filled with grinning figures all up to shenanigans or magic tricks or such. It's free, but a trip up into the elaborate treehouse means paying a fee. And you can buy a t-shirt at the end, too, the better to brag that you've been to Boney Island. Be sure to catch the water show before you go, the one hosted by Maestro Maxilla the Great.
The Dark Realm: The Sivley family has become synonymous with home scares around Southern California, thanks to four-plus decades in the Halloween-eek business. The 2015 terror/treat is a medieval castle in Santa Clarita, complete with "three-dimensional ghosts, live scare actors, and a fire-breathing creature." There are less-intense tours for the young'uns as well as the big-uns who like their haunted house experience to include fewer startles.
The Legend of Boot Hill: It's billed as "Orange County's Most ELABORATE Yard Display!" and it contains a whole caboodle of crusty cowboys who look as though they should have wrapped up their riding days long, long ago. You don't need to wear a ten-gallon hat to giddy-up through the ghoulish presentation, but making a donation to the haunt's chosen charity, the Children's Hospital of Orange County, sure would be mighty sweet.
Whatever yard you alight upon, be sure to check times, dates, and so forth. As labors of love, home haunts tend to observe quirkier hours, which befits their quirkier, quaint, but still-scary characters.