Go ask Alice: Chris Birkett is the closest thing to Jack Skellington the Valley will ever see.
Don't worry, the 29-year-old mobile DJ and wedding entertainer isn't kidnapping Sandy Claws any time soon, but he is possessed by the same sort of macabre childlike madness for Halloween that the Pumpkin King from The Nightmare Before Christmas has.
Whereas a certain aging shock-rocker will build bigger and bloodier creep shows every year, that particular fear factory lacks the pure yet perverse simplistic spirit that haunts Halloween Town, the frightening-but-fun gigantic lawn display and attraction, open through Sunday, October 31.
Far from a half-assed collection of Styrofoam and plastic you'd buy at Wal-Mart, Birkett's doomed DIY digs are an impressive combination of haunted house and ghastly graveyard, encompassing his front yard, garage and porch, which he spends three months out of the year building, proving you don't need to be chased by a chain-saw-wielding psychopath for Halloween high jinks.
"We want to send chills down the spines of all the mortals who pass through," says the boyish-looking Birkett. "There's no blood or guts here, but we have a special good-natured eeriness."
And pure doesn't necessarily mean puritanical, since your average grade school haunted house doesn't have rotting corpses popping out from behind tombstones, or a demonic-looking sea serpent spitting a stream of water into the glowing green pool. A menagerie of monsters -- looking like they came straight from the mind of artist Edward Gorey -- resides amidst freakishly proportioned tombstones and edifices, all set aglow by dark lights.
Even characters from Tim Burton's Halloween classic are included, like the large effigy of Skellington that watches over an army of skeletons, a frightful patch of fiendishly grinning pumpkins, and a full-size casket, complete with bony occupant.
A creepy soundtrack of organ music wafts through the chilly night air filled with fog and shrouded by the dark cover of night; you don't notice that some of the freakish displays are merely plywood façades, but the whole package is so artfully done, you won't be accusing Birkett of Ed Wood-style production values. Especially with three eerie illusions he's put together, such as the mournful ghoulish green-tinted bride who disappears at the end of a hallway.
Despite losing money on the attraction (which is his defense should Disney lawyers darken his doorstep) every year since he and family members built their first "Haunted Graveyard" in 1986, Birkett will continue with the annual attraction, especially because of its popularity.
Both families and freaks alike flock to the fete, numbering more than 6,000 on Allhallows Eve 2003, but it's the latter that Birkett and his wife, Sarah, get the biggest kick out of. Friends volunteer to play costumed characters, but anonymous souls also drift in every year, never revealing their identities (like one kooky cat who comes as Michael Myers). Visitors are sometimes followed, but just like any other fear factory, there's no touching involved.
"You don't have to sneak up on people anymore or even try to touch anybody. They move away as soon as we get close," says Birkett, who's dressing as Darth Vader this year. "All those other haunted houses out there have done half the work for me." -- By Benjamin Leatherman
Halloween Town, 8208 East Montebello in Scottsdale, terrorizes the Valley from 6:30 to 10 every night through Sunday, October 31. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Call 480-607-6422 or see www.birkettentertainment.com/hauntedgraveyard.
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