For the last 16 years Phil Perry has been scaring people on Halloween.
He’s not sure why. The former Fremont resident – who started out with a spooky scene on his front porch and moved it to Manteca a decade ago – thinks that maybe because he’s a Libra and born in October that he’s inclined to take a liking to All Hallows’ Eve.
But it makes no difference to the nearly 2,000 people that will filter through his home on Sage Sparrow Avenue – roughly one-third of those on Halloween night alone.
They just like to be scared. They just appreciate the work that Perry and his cohorts – his wife Gerry, best friend Don Richmond, family members and nearly 50 volunteers – put into preserving the spirit of the holiday.
And the reception so far this year has been even better than in years past.
Traditionally Perry opens his haunted house – which encompasses 1,500 square-feet and includes 12 rooms – the Friday before the holiday and runs it throughout the weekend prior. Those nights, he says, are the ones that he encourages people to attend because Halloween night often leaves lines that are three hours long and stretch down his residential street. Some people visit every night simply because they appreciate the time, effort and work that goes into pulling off such an endeavor.
“About 80 percent of the people that visit will go through the house, be scared, and that will be the end of their experience,” Perry said. “But there are the people that will come back and go through again and again and notice all of the details that they missed the first time around – whether it’s something mechanical or just a cockroach on a food item that they didn’t see.
“That detail is very important to me because it adds a lot to the experience, and I like it when people notice it.”
While some people go all-out for Christmas – the trees and the lights and the trains and the music and the villages – it’s the fall season that pulls Perry in. The day after Halloween he makes sure to hit all of the stores to buy up anything that he can that may enhance the haunted house the following year, and he’ll hit dozens of garage sales looking for items that can be converted into something scary or demented.
It takes a lot of work to pull off studio-quality scares on a simple budget.
Donations are accepted, but Perry still shells out a pretty penny from his pocket to keep the volunteers fed on the nights that the show goes on and to pay for the construction costs on the ever-growing set.
He has his Halloween favorites. A fan of Dracula and the Wolfman, Perry remembers when he pulled the fur off of a Wolfman mask and tried to stick it to himself with Elmer’s glue. The end result wasn’t pretty, and it didn’t quite work so well.
The costumes and the makeup today are a little bit more authentic. Things are also a little bit more organized, and the success comes from months of planning and application – the group starts thinking about what will work in April, and construction actually begins a full two-months prior to the first guest walking through the freaky rooms that feature every type of scare imaginable.
It’s down to a science, so to speak. And that science is to scare the living daylights out of whoever comes through.
“It’s about having a good time,” Perry said. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, but the end result is always worth it.”
Perry’s Scary Haunted House is located at 1576 Sage Sparrow Avenue, and is open on Halloween from 7 to 10 p.m. To get there, take the Highway 120 Bypass and get off at the Airport Way exit. Head south. Make your first left on Peregrine Street and the road will wrap around to Sage Sparrow Avenue. The house will be on your right.