Have you been to your local Big Lots recently? How about that bastion of lost last hope for all your retail needs - aka Wal-Mart? In either case, as schools are gearing up to open their doors and prepare for the annual ritual known as "Who the Hell Wants to Go Back to Class?" these and other stores are clearing their shelves faster than Oprah cleans a plate of mashed potatoes and, in place of said educational supplies mandated by your local school district, it's time for HALLOWEEN! Yes, we know, it's more than two months before the yearly festival of tricking and/or treating makes your life a living Hell, but why not strike while no one is paying attention to the iron. Maybe they can get you to impulse by that full sized animatronic corpse with realistic blood wound action, or that magical mirror which transforms anyone who looks into it into the spitting image of Marty Feldman.
Oddly enough, there will be people poised to purchase the latest (and in their mind, greatest) item from the endless supply of Gothic and macabre inspired items. These people spend all year focusing on Halloween and, for them, it's never too early to think about yard displays, garage-based haunted houses, and perhaps, taking their own private scare shows public via partnering up with a name attraction in the area. These are the makers of homemade haunts, and the documentary about them entitled Halloween Home Haunts does a decent job of explaining their passion, their obsessions, and the end result of the previous 364 days of deliberation. We start off with those who merely decorate their own yards and home fronts before meeting those who take the paranormal party inside. After the makers of these amateur haunted houses (and in one case, a dark ride), we meet people who have turned professional, each one offering their seasoned scare skills to consumers while holding onto the secrets that will help popularize their more recent fledgling frightmares.
For some, the process is simple: head on down to your local party emporium, stock up on all the gravestones, bats, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, masked killers, killer masks, fog machines, fake spider webs, and Spencer's Gifts style lighting kits as your credit card can carry, arrange them in a way that makes the kiddies wet their pants as they pass through on their way to, hopefully, a regular sized Kit Kat bar (screw those miserable mini version of the standard sweet treat) and, then, safe passage home. For others, this is a starting off point. Eventually, they take these trinkets inside, devising ways to make their garage, carport, or backyard into a veritable fortress of fear. They hire locals to "act" as monsters and maniacs, they create fake walls and other Fun House traps. They even go so far as to build themes scenarios, utilizing the standard genre cliches (abandoned hospital, abandoned asylum, abandoned sanitarium) to draw in the crowds.
Some go even a bit further, crafting their own creatures and experimenting with store bought F/X to make their own magic combos. After a while, Halloween Home Haunts makes it clear that, for many, frightening people is a fetish, a sense of accomplishment that only a few in filmmaking or fiction writing ever really experience. Yet those who gone pro, who've taken their talents and turned them into a (slightly) profitable sideline are indeed the most mundane. They've reduced the passion they once felt into a paycheck, recognizing that they have to "up the ante" every year or be tossed aside for the next big thing coming down the path. Overall, the movie is marred by a sense of repetition. After all, if you've seen one rumpus room decked out with fake dead bodies and teenagers costumed ala Leatherface, you've seen them all. Similarly, no one offers an explanation about this behavior or a refutation of its benefits to the world. Like the individual who goes gonzo over their Christmas light displays, these Halloween displays often push the limits. One has to wonder what their neighbors feel.