It's almost Halloween, and part of the fun is being scared silly. Erecting a life-sized model of the creepy It clown in your own yard, however, takes a serious sense of merriment.
Tony Giles' elaborate, eccentric, Hollywood-ready yard display is back for one final year, and its hoard of pop culture villains includes Jason, Freddy and a few lesser-known bad guys that horror film fanatics will appreciate. Take, for instance, Creeper from Jeepers Creepers hoisted on a bloodcurdling crucifix and the scraggly haired Crypt Keeper from the darkly funny Tales from the Crypt TV series, sure to resonate with fans of a certain age.
The Pine Lakes Halloween Home Haunt has been a staple of the neighborhood since 2011, and each year the Giles family has sought to outdo previous years' displays. But, aiming high presents a whole new set of challenges.
On Halloween night last year, things got a little out of hand with an hours-long wait in line and an eventual shutdown by Plano PD.
Don't let that deter you from swinging by this year, though.
Giles is nothing if not meticulous; he's got a plan, and it's a thorough one.
"The HOA didn't tell me that I couldn't do it again," he says. "But, they came to me and basically asked what they could do to help us go out with a big grand finale."
The timing was right. Having one of the best Halloween displays in the country -- one that's been featured on HGTV and in numerous local news stories -- can be "exhausting," he says. Not to mention expensive. Still, Giles loves it. A personal trainer, he's also a film buff and amateur craftsman with energy to spare. "I'll always decorate, always do something for my favorite holiday," he says. "But, not to this level."
Looking back, Giles says he's proud of the fun he's been able to provide for neighborhood families over the years. What kind of fun?
A full-blown trick-or-treating experience beyond the traditional knock, shout and candy grab.
Each September, 705 Pine Lakes Drive in Plano's Chase Oaks neighborhood transforms from a quiet, well-manicured suburban home, decked out with skulls, spooky scenes, carefully-placed special effects lighting and even skeletons scaling the sides of the two-story house. While the full display is visual just in October, a few of the skeletons cling to Giles' walls most of the time as a year-round testament to Giles' favorite holiday.
Earliest preparations begin in August, and Giles aims to have the display mostly complete by the first weekend in October, when fellow enthusiasts begin stopping by for viewing and photo-ops. Enlisting his brothers, Giles puts up a fence to enclose the yard, for most of the month. On Halloween night, its gate is open to trick-or-treaters who can step through a home-constructed tunnel that leads to the stoop where candy awaits.
Like the tunnel, the Giles family builds much of the display themselves, working ceaselessly after normal workday hours. In years past, the Haunt House went through several iterations -- for instance, in 2012, Giles created a "Haunted Carnival" from scratch -- but, in 2015 Giles finally reached his thematic apex: TV and film villains portrayed through actual movie-grade props sourced from a friend in California.
This year, he's tweaked that theme, creating new homemade props to flesh out scary vignettes.
In other words, the Pine Lakes Halloween Haunt House goes big. Bigger than big.
It's great to impress -- that's the point, after all -- but popularity comes at a price. While the original plan was to keep trick-or-treating until 10 p.m. last year, it became clear that Giles had created a monster with a seemingly endless line and traffic obstructions on his otherwise sleepy suburban street.
"We were still good to go with candy and were planning to keep going, but it got to the point where there was no way they could get an EMS vehicle down the street in case of emergency," Giles says. "The cops said, 'Look, let us be the bad guys,' and close it down 45 minutes early."
It was disappointing. He thought he'd done due diligence by hiring an off-duty police officer and enlisting his entire family to help with logistics. But, it was also instructive. Chase Oaks Housing Authority president Eric Chamberlain said the organization worked with Giles and the police department to "secure a safer street experience in the neighborhood," and to make sure neighbors are "thoroughly informed" with advance notification.
Those provisions include four off-duty Plano police officers will be on hand to back up organizing volunteers, and Giles plans to rent crowd barriers to help ensure a more orderly single-file line. As of Monday, he's secured a permit to close down the street entirely on Halloween night, which he says will create almost a "mini block party" feel.
As far as parking goes, organizers recommend parking in the lot at Chase Oak Church's Legacy Campus. Chamberlain notes that it is about a half-mile walk from the church to Giles' home, but those with older children (and comfy shoes) can stop along the route to trick-or-treat nearby neighbors, Giles says.
To combat issues that arose from long lines, Giles is considering -- but hasn't yet committed to -- a ticket system to ensure that there is no cutting and that each trick-or-treater goes through only once so that as many as possible have a chance. There will also likely be an official cut-off time, after which newcomers will not receive a ticket or be allowed in the queue. Though he's still working through the logistics on those fronts, it will always be entirely free to attend and walk through the tunnel.
Oct. 31 falls on a Monday this year, unlike Saturday like 2015, so Giles knows that a dip in overall Halloween night attendance is possible. That doesn't seem likely, though, judging by the enthusiam among the 3,400-plus followers on his official Facebook page. Giles' social media savvy has included this year a series of online challenges for prizes, games played in the style of Saw's evil puzzle master Jig Saw.
Those unable to make it out on a weekday are welcome to drive by and pose for photos outside the fence anytime, particularly on weekends, when family members are often working in the yard and eager to chat with friendly viewers, Giles says. In fact, you can grab a glimpse of just that via a Facebook Live video Giles posted during this year's set up.