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Quite A Trick

In the hands of a director, a Hancock Park home becomes haunted.

October 25, 2008|Barbara Thornburg | Thornburg is a Times staff writer.

Oct. 31 is director Rich Correll's favorite day of the year.

Years ago, while other kids were out gathering treats, 10-year-old Correll was busy creating full-blown Halloween environments in his family's 1937 Paul Williams home: gauzy mazes inhabited by movie monsters, graveyards with zombies, skeletons hanging from trees. Then there was the year he ran a black cable from his house to a neighbor's chimney so a witch could fly between the homes.

You get the picture.

"I used to invite my whole class over and everyone else in the neighborhood," Correll says. "My dad thought I was a bit crazy, but my mom indulged me -- she thought I was being creative."

Today, Correll, who has directed episodes of such TV hits as "Hannah Montana," "The Suite Life of Jack and Cody" and "Cory in the House," continues to create scary Halloween mise-en-scenes. For the last 10 years he's produced Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion party for 1,500 guests, transforming the Holmby Hills pad into "the largest private haunted house in the country" and the surrounding 6 1/2 acres into the land of the walking dead.

But Correll's favorite Halloween event is decorating his own 1926 French Tudor home in Hancock Park that he shares with his first assistant director wife, Beth. "Hugh's party is for adults, ours is devoted to kids and families," Correll says.

And what a party it is. Correll, a noted film historian and collector, uses it to showcase his collection of horror movie artifacts. With more than 1,900 items -- including makeup effects, sci-fi movie memorabilia and 1,700-plus masks and life-cast figures -- he has his very own Halloween prop house from which to select.

"It's the largest grouping of horror movie artifacts in the world," claims Correll, who plans to display his diabolical collection in a new interactive Las Vegas venue, Haunted Hollywood, next summer.

His horror film pieces, valued at $6.5 million, vary in theme from a butler in the guise of Alfred Hitchcock to a T. rex head from "Jurassic Park." Freddy Krueger's hat and prized razor-finger gloves and a full-size Dracula made from a life-cast of Bela Lugosi are among his favorites.

Correll caught the Halloween bug as a child actor. He played Richard Rickover, friend of the Beaver, actor Jerry Mathers, on the popular '50s TV show "Leave it to Beaver." During breaks, show makeup artist Bob Dawn would take Correll and Mathers to Universal's makeup lab, where they watched designers create masks for the horror movies.

"They were just throwing out stuff right and left," recalls Correll, whose first piece in his collection was a Mr. Hyde face from "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" salvaged from a studio trash bin. "That mask worn by Boris Karloff started the whole thing."

Each Halloween, many of Correll's sci-fi creatures and scary masks come alive at his home in the historic 1920s neighborhood known for its two-story, Revivalist residences set on broad, tree-lined streets. Correll and about 50 of his Hollywood pals work on and off for about a month to transform his home into a spooky mansion complete with a haunted graveyard in front.

"The cemetery features lots of dead people who aren't quite dead," says the director with a smile.

Children and adults line up along the brick pathway leading to the house, then peer into ground-floor French windows, each framing a ghoulish scene. The themes change annually, but the late Heath Ledger's evil Joker, accompanied by Batman, and chain saw-wielding Leatherface are three of the characters scheduled to appear this year. The silicone masks appear lifelike, and the window fiends are known to spring to life -- acting out in mock-fashion their heinous deeds to the thrill and screams of children and parents alike.

Periodic air-cannon explosions, as well as the sounds of organ music, rattling chains, tortured groans and ghoulish laughter can be heard by neighbors blocks away. Some years, depending on Correll's schedule, he shows horror-movie clips on the side of the house.

"It gives people something to do while they are waiting to get candy," the director says. "Lines can get pretty long."

Yes, indeedy.

About 7,300 people attended last year's house of horror, with lines snaking for 2 1/2 blocks. Correll was attempting to get into the "Guinness Book of World Records" and had a guy with a metal clicker counting the kids. They didn't make it, but not because of the numbers, he says.

"A city official is suppose to do the head count, but we didn't know anyone at City Hall who was willing to tally several thousand kids on Halloween."

After braving a graveyard filled with zombies and otherworldly creatures, the crowd files into the home's spacious entry hall, outfitted like a creepy mausoleum but with barrels of candy. Correll guesstimates he spends up to $800 on candy.

Lured by a false sense of security -- friendly neighborhood children dole out the treats -- first-time guests are unaware of the creatures lurking in nearby halls waiting to surprise unsuspecting victims.

"Halloween has gotten a lot of bad publicity -- of being dangerous, of people giving out bad candy," Correll says. "I want it to be a celebration. Here, it's all about kids and families having fun."



If you dare . . . more decorating ideas for Halloween and a spine-tingling video

To find additional photos of director Rich Correll's ghoulish collection and of antique dealers Bruce Lash and David Goldsboro's spooky 1887 Queen Anne Victorian, as well as a video tour of their Angelino Heights home, go to

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