by Alejandro Magallanes
Halloween has changed for me over the years. As a child, I loved dressing up as my favorite horror movie monsters. In my twenties, Halloween became an excuse for me to party my ass off. Now, as a father of two little boys, my Halloween is swamped with cute costumes, cartoons and my boys’ insatiable desire to “win” more, and more, and more CANDY.
Two years ago on Halloween night, my wife, my two boys and I were making our way down Oswego Street to Sunland Neighborhood Church’s “Trunk or Treat.” We were at the corner when I ran into a fellow daddy. We greeted each other. I told his 5-yearold that he looked awesome in his Indiana Jones costume. The boy looked at me, eyes wide open, and warned, “Don’t go in there! There’s a little girl cut in half!” He was pointing to a huge tarp covered structure at the corner house of Oswego and Oro Vista. His dad explained to me how his son really wanted to go inside, so they stepped in and upon seeing this residence’s version of Halloween, they immediately walked out. I thanked them for the warning and told them I would meet up with them at the Trunk or Treat. I turned to my wife: “Babe. Watch the kids. I’m going inside.”
I walked through their maze. Yes, there was a young girl who looked like she had been cut in half, and she was grabbing her own “intestines.” I won’t tell you what else I saw that night, but I will tell you that I was thrilled. I loved it! For a daddy like me who will probably not be going to amusement park haunts until my sons are in their teens, I completely enjoyed this experience. They brought the haunt to me, and I was grateful.
Two years later, I was working an event at Sunland Elementary, where daddy volunteers are in short supply. My friend Kristie greeted me and saw that I needed help. “Richard can help,” she told me. She sends over her husband, this tattooed dude who’s twice my size. He kindly helped me set up my “cross-fit” workout station. After setting up, he helped me guide the kids through their workout. I immediately noticed he was a great helping-hand and he was great with kids.
After the event, Richard helped me take down my workout station. We needed some tools that the school could not supply. He offered, “I’ll get them from my house.” “Isn’t that too far?” I asked. He replied, “No. I live right there.” He pointed to the corner house on Oswego and Oro Vista. I shouted, “You’re the Halloween guy!” He grinned, nodding yes. I was so excited that as soon as I arrived home from the event, I proudly announced to my wife, “I worked with the Halloween guy from Oswego Street!” She lit up, immediately asking, “Who are the kids that help him?” I realized we both had plenty of questions. Fortunately, Richard was willing to answer.
Richard’s Halloween antics started six years ago on Oswego Street. The original “haunt team” was him, his brother-inlaw, Greg, and his mother-inlaw, Diane. That crew has since extended to cousins, nephews and nieces. Richard let his nephew, Samuel, and his niece, Sophia, do the scaring one year and it worked beautifully. The following year he had them step away from the haunt, not wanting to take time away from their “trick or treating.” The kids promptly discovered that getting free candy was boring in comparison to having the opportunity to scare the bejeezus out of adults on Halloween night. They returned to the haunt and have been helping out since. When I saw her cut in half, with her guts spilling out, Sophia was 11. Samuel was 8, chasing people with a huge pig mask.
The material structure of their haunt has grown too. “We started with a strobe light, a hockey mask and a chainsaw,” Richard explains. Greg laughs, reminding him, “An electric chainsaw.” These were humble beginnings for a haunt that has since grown into wood structures, mazes, fog machines, black lights, gas powered chainsaws and anything else they can mutate into a twisted nightmare.
“It’s pretty complex now,” Richard continues. “We have to do a mini mock-up. Test everything ahead of time.” It’s great that they do. They seldom come across any problems. (I can see Richard knocking on wood.) Of course,they have had their share of minor mishaps and setbacks over the years. There was the year it rained and part of the tarp collapsed, getting everything wet and forcing them to close early. There was an adult who was frightened and slapped one of the kids. They’ve had a few run-ins with inebriated guests who fall down, knock things over or “bully” their way though the path. But other than those small issues, their haunt has primarily served our community as a delightfully frightening experience. And did I mention well-attended? Hundreds of people line up to enter their haunt.
“It’s where we’re located,” Richard said. “Because we’re across the street from the Trunk or Treat, we get a lot of foot traffic.” And that’s true. That’s exactly how I found out about his haunt. But what I find most amusing is that the church who supplies his “foot traffic” is also an establishment who has asked him not to celebrate Halloween. Richard receives letters and flyers from local churches on the days leading up to his haunt, pleading with him not to celebrate the holiday. Churches send these letters, explaining that Halloween is “the devil’s holiday” and that Jesus loves Richard, so there is no need for him to participate in the sins of Halloween.
“I don’t understand them. I wouldn’t ask them to stop celebrating Christmas. This is all for fun. It’s for the community.” Indeed, it is for our Sunland-Tujunga community, and many in our community have reciprocated Richard’s altruistic Halloween spirit. Richard and Greg have told me that people will drive by and simply give them props and lights. One year, when it was “crunch-time,” and they were down to their last box of screws, and they were running low on funds, a person drove by and gave them money, thanking them for their hard work. Indeed, they have experienced their fair share of “drive-by donations.” But it is not just the materials and the supplies. It is also the love. While I was working with Richard on his front lawn this year, a mom drove by, shouting from her family van, “You guys are great! We love what you do! Every year! Thank you!”
Last Monday was Halloween haunt number seven. I’m still waiting to see if they’ve topped their number of guests from last year: 794. And if you wonder what happens after all the lights go down, the last fogger is out of juice, and the chainsaws are out of gas…let me tell you. It’s kind of like the ending of “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!” where Charlie Brown and Linus are sitting at the wall, discussing their past Halloween experience. Only it’s Richard and Greg, sitting together, exhausted, discussing their past Halloween haunt, and promising, “You just wait till next year! Next year will be better! We’ll be back, and we’ll scare the crap out of everyone who dares to enter!”
To learn more about the haunt on Oswego, visit Dr. Phobias nightmare on Facebook.