Tales from the cryptic yard

Times Staff Writer

Thirty years ago on Halloween, a Studio City boy crafted a homemade graveyard from scavenged cardboard and thrift-store lights. This week, Gary Corb’s “Hallowed Haunting Grounds” opens for its 31st edition, entertaining an expected 5,000 visitors in that same frontyard.

Corb, now 44, attributes the show’s enduring popularity to its rejection of explicit images in favor of a more cryptic, enigmatic approach.

“It is not a blood and guts type of show. It’s not a chainsaw thing,” Corb said, standing amid partially assembled foam-rubber graves and coils of electrical wiring in his frontyard one afternoon last week. “It’s more ethereal; it’s more mystery.”

The haunting grounds recall an age when showmen performed their tricks not with expensive animatronics or computer effects, but with imagination applied to the detritus of everyday life. A murmur shifting from one hidden speaker to another suggests an apparition. A shadow cast upon a wall creates a similar, visual effect. Corb recalls where he improvised a scrim effect by projecting an image from a Super 8 camera onto a dining room curtain.


“This really is a lesson on how to put on a haunted house with things you have lying around the house,” he said. “You really don’t need a budget if you have ideas. I was in Rite Aid one May and I saw these pool toys, water noodle things, and I thought, ‘Of course -- gothic arches.’ Doesn’t everyone see that?

“So I bought them, bundled six of them together, bent them, painted them gray and now we have -- chapel ruins.”

Music helps complete the scene, bringing this collection of mundane props to chilling life. Corb’s late father, Morty, was a jazz musician, and Corb composed all the music for the haunting grounds show.

“Most haunted houses don’t utilize music to its full potential,” Corb said. “They have some preexisting recording of Toccata and Fugue that you hear everywhere and it doesn’t really serve their atmosphere. We have a scene in the nursery, with a music box playing in three-quarter [time] and the other music around it seems to be in different time signatures, and yet it is all in sync ... which lends itself to mysterious, creepy feeling.”

Corb’s original music, the dramatic lighting and the props blend together to suggest a narrative contrasting the turmoil of lost souls with the redemptive power of the sacred. Visitors approach the Corb home from a graveyard laid out along the sidewalk, turning onto the property under those chapel arches. By the end of the tour, visitors have left the world of the profane and entered a redemptive scene, complete with a most un-Halloween symbol: a rainbow.

“Most Halloween shows don’t really try to tell a story,” Corb said. “You go from the laboratory to the spaceship to the morgue. We don’t want to have the miniature golf course approach to this. We have a cohesive story or a cohesive feel to the scenes.”

“We don’t hit you over the head. You can enjoy it on the level of ‘Wow, look at that. Isn’t that cool?’ and if you think about it, it all ties to together in a cohesive message as well.”



Local haunts

Hallowed Haunting Grounds

4343 Babcock Ave., Studio City. Tonight-Saturday,

7 p.m.-midnight. Free.



Fright Fest

Six Flags Magic Mountain,

26101 Magic Mountain Parkway, Valencia. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. $44.99. Info: (661) 255-4111


The Fright Gallery

Media Center Mall, 201 E. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank. Tonight, 6-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 6-11 p.m. $15. Info: (818) 840-0408 or Not for children younger than 12.

Knott’s Halloween Haunt

Knott’s Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park. Tonight,


7 p.m.-1 a.m.; Friday-Saturday,

7 p.m.-2 a.m. $45 or $40 in advance. Not for 13 and younger. Info: 714-220-5200

Queen Mary’s Shipwreck

1126 Queens Highway, Long Beach. Today-Saturday,


6:30 p.m.-midnight. $26.

Not for children younger than 12.

Info: (562) 435-3511

Spooky House


6260 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills. Tonight, sunset-

10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, sunset to midnight. $12.50-$18.50. Not for very young children.


Robert Niles can be contacted at