Dwayne Boulter’s chain saw was in the shop last week. He had to take it in because the starter rope snapped.
Was the guide bar still matted, his daughter asked Thursday, with all that dried blood and bits of hair and flesh?
“Yeah, they looked at me like, ‘What the hell?’ ” Boulter replied.
The chain saw, sans chain, is a prop Boulter fires up for Halloween night, when he also dons a hockey mask and wig to welcome the brave of heart to his front-yard nightmare. At 6-foot-6, the brick wall of a man can really pull off the whole Freddy-meets-Leatherface thing. And, yes, he now has his saw back and in fine working order, thank you very much.
To be clear, the blood, flesh and hair on the saw all are props, too, just a small part of all the work the 48-year-old Raley’s employee puts in to make Halloween a real scream at the Pradera Drive home he shares with wife Darcie and daughter Jessica, a student at Modesto Junior College.
Boulter has been building his tableau of terror for at least 16 or 17 years, he figures. “I do Christmas, too, but not to this extreme.” Halloween has always been a favorite holiday of his – the scary movies, the creepy costumes. He began decorating for it all those years ago because “no one was doing this.” But recent years have seen Halloween grow in popularity, making it the second most commercially successful holiday behind Christmas. People spend billions now on costumes, candy and holiday paraphernalia.
Boulter, though, would frequently pass a house in Manteca, one of the first he saw doing elaborate displays, and was inspired to try it himself.
Boulter has made much of the display from scratch, frequently repurposing items that otherwise might end up at a dump. He uses scrap wood, fence boards, garden stakes and plywood. He built the pillars that support the cemetery arch at the front of his walkway. The arch itself he fashioned from wire mesh that was being pulled from a Raley’s dairy case.
Styrofoam heads, the kind on which wigs are displayed, have fallen victim to his mad-scientist ways. With blades, wood stains and varnishes, latex carpet glue, wig hair and other tools, he’s shaped several into the creatures of dark dreams, such asthe villain Jigsaw from the “Saw” movies.
He’s made his own tombstones by pouring concrete into shallow rectangular boxes and painting epitaphs and names on them: “U.R. Next,” “Al B. Back” and the like.
A handcrafted dummy is sentenced to life in an electric chair, a drill motor inside the body making it shake when it’s turned on.
And he occasionally lucks into items that seem perfect for his yard, such as two faux stone columns from a Beringer wine display once used at Raley’s. He topped them with a couple of creepy busts, and voila!
How did he learn what he has? Surfing DIY websites, picking up a tip here, a trick there, coming up with some of his own.
“Everyone tells me I should be working at Disneyland,” Boulter said.
“Not Disneyland,” Jessica added, looking up at her dad, knowing his creations might be too dark for even Jack Skellington.
“Maybe Universal,” he concedes, “or Knott’s Berry Farm.”
He changes the layout a bit every Halloween, and has “a lot” more than he can put out any one year. His horrors fill a 4-by-8-foot backyard shed, as well as attic space over the garage. Plus, there’s a coffin he made that also stores props.
Jessica remembers that when she was young, she was afraid of the decorated yard at night, and even as a teen arriving home late some nights, she found it “a little creepy.”
But Boulter remembers her always being enthusiastic about the return of the season, and eager to help start decorating. “She’d say, ‘Dad, can we open the coffin yet?’ ”
Jessica clearly takes some pride in what her father has wrought. As they’ve grown up, her friends always have loved coming to see the house at Halloween. And with Salida being a small town, she said she hears a lot of “Oh, that’s your house? We go there every year.”
Jessica said she’s usually home for Halloween, but doesn’t care to scare the hundreds of trick-or-treaters who come knocking. She’s the pretty face, the reassuring voice, the kind hand that gives the children candy. Nieces and nephews, though, do help haunt the yard, Boulter said. “They look forward to it all year.”
So does he. He really gets into it on Halloween night, donning the hockey mask, the wig and a torn gore-stained shirt, firing up the chain saw and giving visitors a good scare. Three times over the years, he said, people who got a little too freaked out have called the police. “But they say as long as there’s no chain on the saw, it’s OK.”
“The ones who get scared the most – it’s the guys, the high school guys,” he added. “It’s funny, they get scared more than the girls.”