Advertisement

Going for the Gore : Halloween: Valley residents add graveyards, a guillotine and headless bodies to cast a gruesome pall over their earthly haunts.

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

There must be a dark and disturbing force at work.

What else would explain why Gary Farajian and his friend, Dave Cash, two apparently ordinary guys, rented a backhoe and dug two waist-deep graves in Farajian’s front yard in Granada Hills?

They can’t explain it themselves. It started out three years ago as a plan to decorate the house for a Halloween party.

“Then,” Farajian said, “it manifested itself as, ‘Who cares about the party? Let’s do the house!’ ”

Advertisement

When thousands of people came to see, Cash said, “We realized we had a show that had potential.”

This year, they just went a little crazy.

On one side of the walkway leading up to Farajian’s peeling and lawnless house on Devonshire Street is a killing field equipped with guillotine, hangman’s post and beheading ax. The executioner’s handiwork is strewed about: six decapitated and dismembered mannequins, with gory entrails dangling out and implements such as meat hooks and scissor blades puncturing the skulls.

The piece de resistance is the graveyard on the other side of the walkway. It has two open graves and half a dozen headstones. In the corner, Lucifer’s grave ignites in flame when anyone approaches.

*

Actually, the two friends didn’t dig just the two graves. To build an underground tunnel system, they unearthed most of Farajian’s yard, then laid 26-inch air-conditioning duct before filling in around the graves. Tonight, the two of them will alternately be killed and thrown in the grave, only to exit through the tunnel and sneak up behind their unsuspecting audience.

The gags were inspired by their work as employees of the Farajian family’s air-conditioning business. Besides making tunnels of air-conditioning duct, they fashioned oozing guts from expanding foam sealant. The flame on Lucifer’s grave is fashioned from an old heating burner.

But, why do they do it again and again? They have no real reason.

“We get a line of kids that never ends,” Cash said. “You don’t want to let people down.”

As surely as Halloween causes air-conditioning installers to cast off the shackles of humdrum identity, it lures scholars into learned explanations for the inexplicable.

Advertisement

This year, we offer the thoughts of Alexander Moore, professor of anthropology at USC.

“Halloween and Thanksgiving are preparatory rites for the big one, the winter solstice--Christmas,” Moore said.

And like the big one, Halloween, in its own irreverent way, answers a need for communal expression.

“Halloween pulls people together,” Moore said. “Neighborhoods are now fragile things, and there has been a slow decline of kids trick or treating. “

Ergo , fanciful decorations extend welcome and good cheer--regardless of how times and the city have changed.

And regardless, it must be added, that the good cheer comes in imagery of ritual death and supernatural terror.

The Halloween artists themselves seem more willing to admit that there is no explanation.

“That’s the big question,” said 34-year-old Gary Corb, as he came down off the roof to explain his plans for the 21st Hallowed Haunting Ground at his parents’ home on Babcock Street in Studio City. “I really have no idea. It’s a calling.”

Advertisement

Like Farajian and Cash, the unemployed film editor uses the tools of his trade--lighting, sophisticated sound and trick projection techniques--to transform the yard into an animated dance of spirits.

It all started in 1972 with one light, one ghost and one speaker to distract kids walking up to the door for candy.

Now Corb has 40 speaker channels, permanent underground tubing for the wiring, and motorized balance beams that whisk spirits between the statues and headstones.

Corb controls everything, from the peels of thunder that crash down over the whole block to the ghostly harpist and the phantom organist--all from his parents’ bedroom, from which they have been excluded for most of October.

“My parents are very patient,” Corb said.

Over the years, the show has developed a story line, beginning with the graveyard of the desolated spirits, whose torment is expressed in the sounds of dry winds and bleating voices, and ending in the ground of the hallowed spirits, where crickets chirp and water murmurs.

“The mythology deals with spirits and the afterlife more than with the corpse,” Corb said. “If it’s scary, it’s the mood and atmosphere.”

Advertisement

That’s the how of it. But why?

“It’s big, and I don’t know why,” Corb said. “As long as there’s a Halloween, there will be Hallowed Haunting Ground.”

Times staff writer Shawn Hubler contributed to this article.

Advertisement