'I want to keep outdoing myself,' Huntley Halloween decorator says

Louie and Sherri Molenda like to scare people.

“That's what Halloween means to me: it's scary,” Louie Molenda said. “That's it.”

For their elaborate haunted house setup in Lakemoor, “Scary Sherri's Creepy Carnival,” the couple uses actors — including themselves — hundreds of lights, a 12-foot witch prop and “Rusty the Chainsaw” to create a terrifyingly entertaining walk-through.

The Molendas are part of a community of Halloween enthusiasts in Chicago's northwest suburbs who see the holiday as an opportunity not merely to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters, but to go all-out and create a localized experience.

The Chicago Haunt Builders count more than 250 among their ranks, according to their website.

The builders host an annual workshop; this year's workshop involved making a zombie that can “swing dance,” Molenda said, explaining the components include a PVC pipe, a Styrofoam head and a windshield wiper motor.

Chris Skaja, who creates the “Massacre on McKinley Street” in Lake in the Hills, said he's been building props for more than a decade, starting with a guillotine he used in haunted house scenes.

“Once I found out about the builders network, it took off a bit more,” Skaja said of his setup. “It's cool to go out and see all this other stuff people are doing. People always post cool stuff on Facebook. It's expanded my horizon. This is my hobby, but it's a time when I can really showcase something I'm passionate about.”

Skaja's front lawn includes half a dozen scenes, including a cemetery, circus tent and asylum.

Like the Molendas, Skaja, his wife, Heather Skaja, and three other friends dress up and become part of the show for a night. This year on Oct. 22, Skaja said he's portraying a pumpkin-and-clown hybrid while his wife is a “killer bunny.”

The displays can reflect a wide variety of the creators' tastes or favorite Halloween archetypes.

Chris Kucan, who creates the “Wicked on Welsh” display in Huntley, said he “doesn't do cemetery things” and instead likes to focus on themes like witches, or this year's “Stranger Things”-inspired display.

Last year, Kucan said he put a haunted maze in his three-car garage.

“In 2020, we added more. I want to keep outdoing myself,” Kucan said. “We want to change things up every year. It gets a little crazy and hectic.”

The time it takes to put up these Halloween setups range from one day laying out store-bought props to a weekslong process of building out scenes and cemeteries.

Skaja said last year he took off a week of work so he could build his display. This past weekend, Skaja said he was still building out his “rotten pumpkin patch.”

“Getting spiders up on the roof takes a full day,” Kucan said, adding that he uses about 400 zip ties to anchor down some of his props, including a 12-foot skeleton.

Louie Molenda estimated the amount of Halloween props and scenery they've accumulated totals $25,000 in value, including $5,000 worth of new material for this year alone.

Finding props can also be a challenge.

Rick Brueckmann of Lake in the Hills describes himself as more of a “collector” than a builder. He said he goes hunting at local garage sales for potential props.

Brueckmann said he's a fan of older, light-up figures, such as a wisecracking jack-o'-lantern that he places outside the front door on Halloween night.

Brueckmann wasn't sure about putting up a display this year, he said, but his kids “got all crazy and said I have to” when he suggested taking a year off.

“Even kids I don't know from the neighborhood will ask me, if I'm outside, 'When are you putting up your Halloween stuff?'” Brueckmann said.

Several of the scene builders indicated that this would be their biggest year ever and they've had a steadily growing number of neighbors and out-of-towners visit their displays.

“We have people taking photos of our setup all the time,” Kucan said. “Just seeing the smiles on the kids faces, telling parents to drive by after school, it makes us want to do it more and more.”

Kucan's wife, Jennifer Kucan, said she also loves seeing how the kids interact with the display.

“The little kids come here, they stomp on the fake spiders on the driveway or dance with the skeletons on the projector,” she said. “This is what makes it so much fun.”

For his house on McKinley Street, Skaja said he added a “rotting pumpkin guy” and new corpse skeletons, including a motorized model that is hammering a stake into its chest.

“I don't think I ever expected it to be this big,” Skaja said. “It's definitely very enjoyable. It makes it even better when people come out.”

A scene from Chris Skaja's "Massacre on McKinley" Halloween display at his home, 4 McKinley St., Lake in the Hills. Gregory Shaver - Shaver for Shaw Media
A scene from Chris Skaja's "Massacre on McKinley" Halloween display at his Lake in the Hills home. Skaja's front lawn includes half a dozen scenes, including a cemetery, circus tent and asylum. Gregory Shaver - Shaver for Shaw Media

If you go

• Massacre on McKinley Street

Where: 4 McKinley St., Lake in the Hills


• Scary Sherri's Creepy Carnival

Where: 415 Eastview Ave., Lakemoor


• Wicked on Welsh

Where: 9491 Welsh Lane, Huntley


• Rick Brueckmann's Haunted House

Where: 1128 Heavens Gate, Lake in the Hills

Admission: None of these displays have admission fees, but those who visit “Wicked on Welsh” can use a QR code to donate to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital this year.

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