Every Halloween since 1991, Julie Baas and her family have dressed up almost every inch of their Tarzana front yard as a gothic cemetery for the holiday. They hand-make nearly every prop. Look closely and you might see a few move on their own like magic.
“We do a pretty ambiance, a feeling haunt. No jumpscares, no gore,” explains Baas. “So it's appropriate for all ages. There's a lot of subtle effects, and so it's something that you can spend a long time looking at.”
Baas says she loves decorating for Halloween because she can be as creative as she wants. “I do think some of this stuff is like art, especially the newer tombstones, there's a lot of effort put into that. … I just keep wanting to do it, even though it's getting harder as we get older.”
Their house is included on a website called the SoCal Haunt List. It’s a catalog of hundreds of Halloween home displays the public can visit for free.
Derek Young, who created the list in 2013, has always loved the holiday. His favorite costume is one his dad made for him when he was in fourth grade.
“My father worked in the movie industry so when I said to him, ‘Dad, I want to be a tombstone for Halloween,’ he was like, ‘I got it, no problem,’” Young recalls. “[He] showed up at home the following day with this cardboard box that had been made to look like stone, and it had a hole for my head and arms. It was the most uncomfortable costume ever, but … I love it to this day.”
The first unofficial list Young created only had nine houses, mostly located in the San Fernando Valley. The list got bigger when he shared it with a group of friends who love Halloween as much as he does.
Now, the SoCal Haunt list includes over 200 homes from Santa Clarita to San Diego. Young used to print and hand out the list himself, but now people can add their own haunts to the SoCal Haunt website.
“It's everything from yard displays, walkthroughs, haunted shows, because some people will do a show that repeats multiple times every night, and then we have the occasional paid attraction,” says Young. The graphic designer sets up his own Halloween display every year called “VanOaks Cemetery.”
Over in Woodland Hills, Lori Merkle and Matt Ford transform their home into a haunted theater. The married couple combine moving props, handmade creatures, light projections, and special effects to put on a show. Merkle says she created the storyline in 2007.
“Basically, [a] Hollywood starlet marries a director in the hopes of becoming famous,” she explains. “Turns out the director actually has a past that we don't really know about, and [a] past wife, past daughter, who have disappeared. …Their spirits haunt this house, the House at Haunted Hill.”
“I think what's really fun is you'll see kids watching the show, and they know all of the lines of the show … so seeing people so in love with the show and feeling a connection to it … I think that's really special. And I think for both of us, that really makes it worthwhile,” says Ford.