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Farewell to the Hallowed Haunting Grounds: Gary Corb Interview

NoteIn conjunction with bestowing our Halloween Haunt Award for Lifetime Achievement on the Hallowed Haunting Grounds, we are posting this article we wrote in 2005 upon the occasion of the haunt’s Final Manifestation, along with our video of the event.

Within these hollow grounds the anguished souls immortal
Of the spiritless shall dwell, eternal without Portal.

hhg-invoking-spiritsThat’s the inscription on a stone tablet outside the Hallowed Haunting Grounds, an elaborate amateur yard haunt that has been delighting Studio City trick-or-treaters—and their parents—every Halloween for more than three decades. Alas, even eternity must come to an end: this year will be the “Final Manifestation” of the Haunting Grounds, which will finally close its portal and send its “anguished souls” forever into the Great Beyond.

If you’ve never visited the Haunting Grounds, you might not understand why this feels like the passing of a beloved local tradition. Over the last ten years, “yard haunts” (basically, elaborately decorated private residences) have become a dime a dozen, yet the Haunting Grounds has them all beat. It’s an eerie, almost ethereal presentation, with moving tombstones, floating lanterns, transparent spirits rising from the ground—not to mention the ghostly musicians glimpsed through the front window of the house. The operators estimate that they get several thousand visitors on the few nights they are open each year, many of them drawn by the reputation the Haunting Grounds has developed over the years.

So, why is the Haunting Grounds shuffling off its mortal coil? Gary Corb, who lives in the house on Babcock Avenue where the haunt manifests itself, puts it very succinctly: “Because we’re thirty-three years older than when we started!”

Hallowed Haunting Grounds
Hallowed Haunting Grounds

Corb was inspired by a visit to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion as a ten-year-old. With help from his parents, he started in 1973 with just a few gravestones and a haunted statue. The Haunting Grounds has grown increasingly elaborate since then, and because it features homemade props and effects, it is a tremendous drain on Corb’s time.

“We work all year long,” he says of his crew, which includes Mark Phillips, Steve Mann, Tim Doggett, and Nathan Hamilton. “Forget November 1st! While the show’s still running, we’re planning for the following year, because we’re seeing and particularly what we ran out of time to do—that’s what we do for the next year! So it takes up an awful lot of time.”

Gary Corb
Gary Corb

The alternative to quitting would be to scale back. But “if we do that, then people are going to compare it to previous years. I’d rather have it just remembered for what it was. I don’t want anyone to ever say it’s not as good as it used to be. I’d like to go out on top, while the show is still good—like THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.”

“There’s more to the year than just Halloween!” adds Corb, who has a degree in film and has worked as an editor and a set designer. “And I have other ideas, other plans, other shows I’d like to do. When I’m actually having to turn down real work in order to work on this, then something’s out of balance. I’m writing plays and musicals, and I have some people interested in producing them. I’d like to be able to devote full time to that. So people will be hearing from me again.”

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski. This article originally appeared in the Studio City Sun

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.