This story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
With Halloween offering the perfect excuse to exercise their talents, Tinseltown's creatives, from lighting designers to actors, unleash their bag of tricks on their own homes. Reaching far beyond store-bought decorations -- costs run from $7,000 to $30,000 (sometimes offset by donations and contributions) -- they're treating their neighbors to elaborate Halloween haunts featuring dancing skeletons, eerie lighting and ghostly tableaus. From Santa Monica to the Valley, here are some of the best.
4602 Morse Ave., Sherman Oaks
THE PRO: Former Simpsons animation producer Rick Polizzi
CONCEPT: When he couldn't find Halloween entertainment suitable for his two young daughters, Polizzi, the producer and author with Fred Schaefer of Spin Again: Board Games From the Fifties and Sixties, created Boney Island in his front yard. Inspired by New York's Coney Island, it originally was conceived as an amusement park. In the 16 years since, the annual display has morphed into what he describes as a "magical water story" with a cast of animated skeletons who perform magic tricks, dance and sing. And with each year, the cost has grown. "Some people might think I'm crazy, but I've gotten so much goodwill from it and made so many contacts."
WHEN: On Oct. 24, the lights to this free display will switch on and will fire up at 6 each night through Halloween. Details: boneyisland.com
THE HOUSE AT HAUNTED HILL
4400 Saltillo St., Woodland Hills
THE PROS: Emmy-winning lighting designer Matt Ford; his wife, actress Lori Merkle Ford; voice actor Corey Burton; How I Met Your Mother's Neil Patrick Harris; Emmy-winning writer Ed Valentine; Emmy-nominated composer Christopher Hoag; actors Heather Marie Marsden and Todd Fournier
CONCEPT: Although the Fords created the show at their house in 2000 as an homage to Disney's Haunted House ride, it long since has left that inspiration in the dust. The 12-minute show, mounted by an all-volunteer cast and crew, uses holograms, projections, animatronics and lighting effects to recount the tale of a starlet's marriage to a screenwriter whose wife and daughter mysteriously have disappeared. Harris cameos as reporter Snapper Bixby, a part written for him after he caught wind of the show and asked to be included.
WHEN: Oct. 30 through Nov. 3. The free show runs every 15 minutes from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., except on Friday and Saturday, when it goes until midnight. The Fords have the city close the street. Details, parking information: houseathauntedhill.com
THE GOREY HOUSE
4408 Mariota Ave., Toluca Lake
THE PROS: Emmy-winning production designer and former president of the Art Directors Guild Thomas Walsh (Desperate Housewives, In Plain Sight, Client List and John Carpenter's Vampires) and his wife, costume designer Merrily Murray-Walsh
CONCEPT: The Walshes have been decorating their front yard for about two decades. The decor has changed over the years: They started out with a simple graveyard constructed from cardboard, then pirate ships took over the lawn while Pirates of the Caribbean was doing the same at the box office. In 2008, Murray-Walsh put together a collage of author and illustrator Edward Gorey's The Evil Garden, and her husband got out the power tools and paint and created the current look.
WHEN: The Gorey House is up and running through Nov. 3. According to Walsh, who hands out pretzels to visitors and usually turns on the lights around 5:30 p.m., Toluca Lake takes its Halloween very seriously: "There might be 1,400 trick-or-treaters on a weeknight."