Bringing Halloween fright to his neighborhood since 2005, Joe Buedel almost had to cancel this year's display.
That, apparently, was even scarier to his neighbors than past displays.
"They all came over and rang the doorbell and said, 'You can't do this,' " said Buedel, of Huntley. "They're like, 'We're going to help you.' "
What normally takes Buedel more than a month to create was finished in an 11-hour day with the help of more than 10 neighbors and their children.
As a member of Chicago Haunt Builders, Buedel and other area Halloween fanatics build props year-round for their Halloween displays. Chicago Haunt Builders is dedicated to Halloween prop building, with members regularly sharing ideas.
They do it out of a love of Halloween and entertaining.
"It's just awesome to see everybody," Buedel said. "We have people that literally come by every single day to see things go up."
His Holiday Habits (www.holidayhabits.com/haunt) display can be seen at 10716 Wheatland Way, Huntley.
Others include Halloween Town (www.halloweentownhaunt.com) at 1821 Hartley Drive, Algonquin, and Haunt 31 (haunt31.com) at 340 S. Annandale Drive, Lake in the Hills.
On Algonquin Road, just east of Hilltop Lane near Fox River Grove, Mack Manor (www.mackmanor.com) features a a drive-through haunted driveway with a half-dozen animatronics and live monsters on the weekend.
The free displays draw thousands every season throughout October.
Toby Wrolson, who creates Haunt 31, already has counted more than a thousand visitors so far.
"That's a substantial amount of people coming to my yard in the cold," he said. "About 86 pounds of candy was given out last year to 1,400 kids, or somewhere in that range."
He does it, he said, because building the props is his hobby. He enjoys working with the 81-member Chicago Haunt Builders year-round.
Every year, he said, his display gets "bigger and better."
"There's a whole new walk-through," he said of this year's Haunt 31. "The entire yard is kind of a cemetery. The garage is a little bit of a dungeon."
The homeowners typically start placing props in their yards in August.
But this year, Buedel spent half of the year on a backyard project, adding a pool and deck. Word quickly spread he didn't think he'd have time for Holiday Habits, and that's when his neighbors stepped in.
Along with live actors on Halloween, the display features pneumatic and animated props, fog machines and special effects lighting with theme music playing and sound effects. Projected videos and animated, lit-up ghosts complete the scene.
"Everything that's in my yard, I build," Buedel said.
"It's scary, but not gory. It's a cemetery scene," he said. "The house is more like a spookhouse, with a 16-foot tall Grim Reaper, a scary skeleton and stuff like that."
Buedel counts the number of children that actually make it to the door to trick-or-treat. Last year, he gave treats to 514 childern.
Every 100th child gets a full-size candy bar.
Buedel, who works as a computer center manager during the day, has loved Halloween since childhood. His 25-year-old son, Mike, now helps with the obsession, and his 10-year-old daughter, Nicole, has grown up with it.
His wife, Maggie, "puts up with it," he said with a laugh.
"It's just great entertainment, a lot of fun," he said. "Each year we try to take it to a new level and add new props and excitement."
Looking for a local Halloween display?
A few McHenry County homeowners take Halloween decorating to the extreme, devoting hours and even websites to their efforts. Here's where you can find their displays:
10716 Wheatland Way, Huntley
This Halloween yard haunt display is composed of pneumatic props, animated props, static decorations, fog machines and special effects lighting. Music plays from the animated lighting and DMX system, lighting up the props and tombstones with music and sound effects that can be heard several houses away. Live actors on Halloween.
340 S. Annandale Drive, Lake in the Hills
Decorated for roughly 15 years, it includes animations, a large yard display and the transformation of a garage. Attracts thousands every year. Scrap metal collected to off-set the cost of this display. It's free, but cash donations also are appreciated and can be left in boxes located throughout the haunt or sent via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Halloween Town (formerly The Nightmare Before Halloween)
1821 Hartley Drive, Algonquin
Moved to a new location this year, it all started with a tiny graveyard and a few skeleton lights in 2006. The display grew larger every year with lights, fog, ghouls, zombies, gargoyles, bats and skeletons. Includes characters from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," as well as pneumatic props within the cemetery gates with an inviting graveyard walk-thru.
Algonquin Road, between Fox River Grove and St. John's Cemetery, just east of Hilltop near Fox River Grove
In its third year, features a haunted drive experience with about a half dozen animatronics and live monsters on weekends. Donations accepted by feeding the monster. Open 6 to 9 p.m. nightly through Halloween.By JAMI KUNZER - email@example.com