Wheaton Halloween tradition hanging up the haunts
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Hunka's Hideous House of Halloween Horrors is taking a hiatus. Say that 10 times fast.
Wheaton resident "Scary" Larry Hunka says he and his family have realized a haunted garage minus the ghouls quickly becomes just another garage. So after Thursday night, the haunted house they have created in their garage for the past 13 years will come to an end.
Every Halloween night since the family moved to Wheaton in 2000, Larry, his wife, Liz, and their son, Jeremy, have led as many as 200 trick-or-treaters through a six-room spook house, complete with fog machines, strobe lights and bizarre scenarios in the family's two-car garage.
But Jeremy and his friends, who played the ghouls, are all off to college next year and Larry said, "the creativity well has run a little dry."
"We did zombies three years ago and scarecrows four years ago and I don't want to keep reinventing the wheel," he said. "I'm also losing the excuse that I do this to bond with my son. Once he goes to school, I become nothing more than a creepy old guy who likes to scare people in his garage."
Hunka's always enjoyed Halloween, but his excitement about putting a mild fright in his neighbors was sparked on a family trip to Disneyland when he was 10 years old.
"That trip to Disney, right when the Haunted Mansion opened, blew my mind," Hunka said. "I was totally inspired by the way they used the technology and creativity to create a scare that didn't leave guests in tears but gave them something to ponder."
For years after that trip, he ran a small haunted house out of his family's Cicero basement for friends and neighbors. Eventually his Catholic school got wind of Hunka's haunts and asked him to move it into that building as a fundraiser.
"It was a great success, and I've always been proud of my creativity and never relying on gore or a butcher shop or a chain saw," he said. "I can be scary enough with portraits that change or someone stuck in a huge spider web begging for help."
After high school, Hunka put his props away, went to college and "grew up." But his secret was revealed shortly after college graduation when he married Liz.
"When we're packing and moving and she's seeing boxes marked 'Scary Larry's monster laboratory' and 'Scary Larry's bats, wolves and snakes,' the jig was up," he said. "I had to spill my sordid past but, thankfully, (Liz) was totally into it."
At their first home in Glen Ellyn, the Hunkas created a scary walkway for trick-or-treaters to traverse to earn their candy. But when they moved to Wheaton in 2000, all of "Scary Larry's" props were brought out of retirement and brought to life in the garage.
Every Halloween since, Hunka has led as many as 200 trick-or-treaters in groups of four through the haunted garage.
"I'm the tour guide and I weave a story of each of the six rooms while my son and friends inhabit rooms and control the sound effects and lights," Hunka said. "And we adjust the fear factor to the comfort of our guests. If we have to, we'll dial down the fear factor so we don't have any wet pants or lawsuits."
The Hunkas also host a preview party the weekend before Halloween for neighbors and family members so they, too, can get in on the scares. In all the years, he's only heard one complaint from neighbors.
"They complain that they have to buy more candy because they're getting the residual effect of everyone coming to my house," he said.
The haunts have always been free but in recent years Larry's put a box out front to collect for Alzheimer's research in honor of Liz's mother, who suffered from the disease.
Word has spread about this year being the last and Hunka said he's already heard from disappointed regulars. He's not ruling out a return in the future but said that's up to his children.
"Perhaps one day I'll have grandchildren who will hear stories about what grampa and their dad used to do and I'll have to share the lore," he said. "Who knows? Scary Larry's boxes might have to come down one more time."
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