It's almost Halloween, and that means Bob and Monica McCarey's backyard and garage are slowly transforming into a Haunted House extraordinaire.
"A lot of junk, eh?" Bob smiled, busy unpacking totes and boxes during the first full setup day at their Third Concession Road home Saturday afternoon.
"A lot of stuff," Monica nodded, "and we've got more stuff this year – I think we've got seven or eight smoke machines this year for ground fog."
Joining the McCareys for their 17th annual Haunted House in Tillsonburg are a crew of students who volunteer for setup, wear costumes during nine Haunted House nights, and post-Halloween takedown.
"We're still looking for volunteers, too, if any kids need community service hours," Monica noted. "Some can't make it on weekends, but I would say we're probably going to have about 10 kids (actors in costume) every night. That's what we're hoping for."
Opening night is set for Wednesday, Oct. 23, and continues 7-9 p.m. each night through to Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31. Admission is a donation to the local food bank. The McCareys are located on Third Concession Road North (between Simcoe Street and Mall Road).
"Our goal every year is to get a thousand pounds of food."
Last year more than 500 people visited the Haunted House, donating more than 1,300 pounds of food (or cash donations used to purchase food) to the Helping Hand Food Bank, pushing the 16-year total well over 16,000 pounds of food.
"We had a really good turnout last year."
Haunted House actors are in costume, but the McCareys have a policy that if somebody does not want to be scared, the actors won't try to scare them.
"We will cater to anyone who wants to come. Some people get halfway through and sort of change their minds. Some people are afraid of clowns, so we hid them around a corner."
The Haunted House includes a tunnel, bottomless pit, graveyard, guillotine, funeral parlor, and traditional old-time favourites like the Butcher Shop, Lost Souls Tavern, and torture chambers.
And new attractions to help keep things fresh.
"The tunnel's a little different this year," Bob noted.
"How so?" Monica asked.
"The floor..." said Bob.
"The clowns are new this year, and we're going to have a child daycare centre," said Monica, pausing in her description. "Well... it's... Gruesome Granny and her zombie babies, they're new."
"Yeah, she's just sitting over there for now," said Bob, pointing to the work-in-progress garage/funeral parlor. "We also have Ma and Pa walking the dog."
"Yeah, the skeletons over there – we've got a new dog skeleton."
A tradition the McCareys started as entertainment for their own children continues 17 years later primarily for children and youth of the community. Their own children have grown up and moved out, but Halloween is still about kids have fun.
"Watching kids have fun and giving back to the community," said Monica. "Giving students a chance to get community service hours. As long as we get kids to help, we'll keep running it. Because it's not something the two of us can do ourselves."
The McCareys also host group parties during the Halloween season.
"We have a couple Girl Guide groups having Halloween parties here, and I think there's a Scouting group coming. One year we had a bunch of six-year-olds having a birthday party – they had a blast. So if anyone wants to do a group tour or have a party, give us a call (842-3384)."