The Last Hallowed Haunting

When Gary Corb was 12, he fell in love with Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. In his front yard that Halloween, he set up a cardboard tombstone, a plastic rat, a severed hand and a Styrofoam head used for displaying wigs. When he was done, Corb called his dad to bear witness to his monstrous creation. Mark Phillips, a neighborhood kid, walked by and was drawn to the sound of Gary Corb “whoooo whoooo-ing” into a tape recorder.“What’s that?” asked young Phillips.“Something scary,” said Corb’s dad.Thirty-three Halloweens later, Gary Corb is still at it. Only now the display at his Studio City home has an official name — the Hallowed Haunting Grounds — and involves more than 50 hidden speakers and dozens of spooky installations such as the Crypt Ghost, the Wandering Spirit, the Phantom Organist, the Undulating Earth and Floating Lantern. It takes up his entire front yard, parts of the house, the driveway and the narrow path leading into the back yard. Ghouls don’t jump out and grab you at the Hallowed Haunting Grounds. It’s just kind of moody and creepy and atmospheric.“We’ve developed quite a following over the years,” Corb says. In person, Corb bears a striking resemblance to actor Paul Giamatti, who is known for playing downbeat, Everyman types, like the young Harvey Pekar in American Splendor. It’s something about the voice, nasal and apologetic. In the paunchy tummy beneath the old Hawaiian shirt. The black flashlight that never leaves his hand.Corb tries to make each Halloween a little spookier than the last, and is constantly looking for things to add. For example, he’ll be driving along and see a discarded waterbed mattress frame on the side of the road that he can use, perhaps, as a Gothic archway. One new thing this year is a small woodsy plaque tucked into a bush that reads: “Thank you for visiting the final manifestation of the Hallowed Haunting Grounds.”After three decades, this year’s haunting will be the last. “It’s just time,” says Corb. “I want to know what else there is to do in the month of October.”On preview night, the Thursday before Halloween, Corb and his crew of five are testing out the installations. “Last year we had 7,000 people visit. And you’d be surprised what they notice. People are a lot more subtle than we give them credit for.” They notice, for instance, that the ground in the freshly dug grave beneath the floating lantern breathes. It moves up and down, oh so lightly, as if someone were rolling around under the dirt. They notice that the eyes of the angel statue out by the gate actually blink. One year, a professional harpist came by and pointed out that just the D-E-A-D strings on the Skeletal Harp were missing, which pleased Corb immensely. It may be too subtle, but Corb is hoping that visitors this year notice the scent of pine and lavender oil he sprinkled onto the light bulbs for “extra ambiance.”Setupstarts in early September. Each year, he and his helpers drag out the banshees, coffins, skulls, skeletons, crypts and other props stashed in Corb’s back yard. And each year, round about Halloween, it rains, and the Styrofoam tombs get a little bit mushier. It seems like a pain, I say, to haul everything out time after time. Why not just leave it up permanently?“I’ve thought about that,” he says, waving his flashlight absently as the Bride hovers nearby in her ghostly lace dress made out of a shower curtain. “But that would be tacky.” A bedraggled guy in paint-splattered jeans and satin baseball jacket scurries by. His hands are grubby with bits of moss and dead leaves.“That’s Steve,” Corb says, “He’s our greensman.”Mark Phillips, the neighbor kid who Gary drafted into service decades ago, squints at a line of fake bats wired onto the branch of a tree. “This stuff is so old, it’s more like termites holding hands. The bats came onboard in 1982,” he says, then spots something in the distance and scratches his chin. “I think there’s something wrong with bat number three. His eyes aren’t right.”At half-past five, the howling starts. In addition to wrangling the moss and scattering dead leaves everywhere, Steve Mann is responsible for the sound. Wind blows. An organ trills. In an alleyway that has been turned into a graveyard, there is a low-level muttering. Near the “phantots” area, where tiny eyes peer out of the growing dark, the sound of... chirping? “Sounds like critters, don’t it?” Mann says. “It’s a recording of rusty pipes.”“The owners probably go to a hotel at night because their house is taken over by ghosts,” a boy nearby explains to his mom.“I’d stay in a hotel, with all these people traipsing through my yard. Ooh! Look, hon,” says mom, pointing to a hooded figure crouched over a well. “They’re raising the dead.”“Oh my god, that’s so scary,” says a young girl named Cassidy, whose family, the Lehrmans, moved here from Colorado a few months ago after Cassidy scored a role in The Santa Clause 3. She grabs my arm. We listen as a talking statue invokes the spirit realm.Inside the house, I find Gary Corb behind a black curtain in the bedroom, manning a modest bank of sound and light boards and a computer that says “Hallowed Haunting Grounds Master Controls.”Well this is a far cry from a plastic rat and a wig head, I say.“I suppose so,” Corb considers. Then he taps the spot on his chest where his bloody, beating, red heart would be. “But the rat and the wig head will always be right here.”