Chris Birkett is used to people driving slowly past his North Scottsdale home around this time of year.
Not only do folks lay off on the gas pedal, they also have a tendency to make hasty U-turns to get another look.
Such driving maneuvers shouldn't come as a surprise, since the front yard and garage is decorated with a massive illuminated Halloween display. Every year, the 36-year-old mobile DJ transforms his five-bedroom residence into a popular attraction called the Haunted Graveyard. It that attracts hundreds of visitors from throughout the Valley and puts other yard displays to shame.
Unlike any of the half-assed collections of Styrofoam and plastic Halloween decorations you might buy at Wal-Mart, Birkett's DIY digs are an impressive combination of a haunted house and ghastly graveyard, encompassing the front yard, garage and other portions of his amply sized five-bedroom residence.
"I like doing things as big as possible, and every year the graveyard gets bigger and bigger," he says. "It's a Disney-esque whirlwind of Halloween fun."
Birkett spends upwards of six months out of the year (and "a bunch" of money) to construct the Haunted Graveyard.
"We like sending chills down the spines of all the mortals who pass through the graveyard," he says. "There's not too much blood or guts here, but we have a special good-natured eeriness."
It's a safe bet that your average neighborhood Halloween display doesn't have the same sort of rotting corpses popping out from behind tombstones, or a demonic-looking creatures haunting the halls. 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 black lights.
Inside the two-car garage, however, Birkett's built a winding maze of rooms that resemble a combination of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion and the dank basements of the Saw franchise. Ghouls and goblins leap out from the darkness as participants creep through claustrophobic hallways.
Meanwhile, a scary 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.
As you can guess, Halloween's been a big influence to Birkett. He's been celebrating the holiday in grand fashion every year since he and family members built their first Haunted Graveyard way back in 1986. (His older brother Steve also hosts a massive Halloween display in the front yard of his nearby home as well). Birkett's efforts aren't just limited to the spooky season, as he constructs a large Christmastime extravaganza called "Winter Wonderland" every December.
And while hundreds of families and fans have visited both of his holiday displays each year over the past couple decades, not everyone's been a fan. Birkett ran afoul of the law back in 2005 when an uppity neighbor near his old home in south Scottsdale filed a disturbing the peace charges against him due to his Halloween and Christmas displays. As a result, he wound up paying a hefty fine and moved his family to their current residence near McDonald and Granite Reef roads.
There's been no drama in his new 'hood, as neighbors not only enjoy Birkett's efforts, but have also created their own large yard displays to join in on the fun.
"My next door neighbor puts up this thing in his garage that's pretty bloody and fun with mannequins and creatures," he says. "It's really cool that I can inspire others to get into the Halloween spirit."
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Chis Birkett's Haunted Graveyard, 8414 East Valley Vista Road in Scottsdale, will be open from 6 to 10 p.m. every night through October 31. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. Click here for more info.