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Holly Zell's Hollyween props include
Holly Zell's Hollyween props include "Mistress of the Dungeon," left, and "Bones on the Barbie," foreground. (By C. Woodrow Irvin -- The Washington Post)
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

When store-bought decorations won't cut it for Halloween, enthusiasts can find more tricks and treats at two places in Fairfax County.

Hollyween and Creepy Nights on Calamo are two of Northern Virginia's "yard haunts" -- houses whose owners go over the top with elaborate Halloween decor and use Web sites to lure visitors to tour the macabre displays.

Such exhibitions have been multiplying across the country in recent years. An entire industry catering to amateur haunters and commercial attractions has sprung up to capitalize on the desire to scare and be scared. According a National Retail Federation survey, Americans planned to spend $5.77 billion on Halloween this year.

Since 2005, the husband-and-wife team of Chris and Catherine Bartram has spent a lot more than the average to accumulate all the items that haunt their Springfield yard each October for Creepy Nights on Calamo. With some of the most sophisticated ready-made mechanical props costing thousands of dollars, they have increasingly relied on skills they developed as computer professionals to build their many decorations in their workshop.

"Almost all of [our props] are microprocessor controlled," Chris Bartram said.

Effective scares can be built on a budget, if you know what you are doing, Catherine Bartram said. "You use anything from wire hangers to packaging tape. We do buy things at the store, but . . . you can't always afford what they charge," she said.

For this Halloween, "we actually considered just doing a light show; not doing very much until we started getting fan e-mails and people coming up and asking if we would be doing the walk-through. That's what changed our minds," she said.

Her fans have helped Holly Zell, a NASA Web designer who maintains a Web site cataloging tacky local Christmas displays, keep going for 14 years with her haunt, Hollyween.

"I had a woman come last year from South Carolina who had seen the Web site," Zell said. "People who have seen the Web site . . . come in here asking, 'Where is this prop? Where is that prop?' "

Zell likens her haunt to a sort of performance art. Describing her display from her yard into her house, she said, "This isn't a bloody haunt. This is a spooky haunt. This is skeletons and ghosts. Inside, I set up like a funeral parlor, and that's where I have the coffin. And the treats are in the coffin, and the kids have to reach in the coffin to get them."

Chris Bartram and Zell both declare a particular love of Halloween going back to childhood. Zell said her display has become a part of her identity.

"This is my thing. This is what I do. I am Hollyween."

-- C. WOODROW IRVIN

Hollyween is at 3006 Rosemoor Lane, Fairfax. Creepy Nights on Calamo is at 7104 Calamo St., Springfield. Both haunts will offer treats to children who visit on Halloween night. Neither haunt charges admission; visitors to Creepy Nights are asked to bring a can of food, which the Bartrams will donate to a food bank. For information, visithttp://www.hollyween.netandhttp://www.creepynights.org.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company