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HAUNTED HOME

It was a dark and scary night in Woodland Hills

A couple rigs their house as the setting for an ornate murder mystery.

October 31, 2009

Think of it as a fright night with less bite.

With Halloween celebrations so often a bath of blood and guts these days, Matt Ford and Lori Merkle Ford have organized a viscera-free, retro-flavored display and show at their Woodland Hills house. Ford, an Emmy-winning lighting designer whose credits include Academy Award shows, "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" and "Last Comic Standing," and Merkle Ford, a lyric soprano and voice-over actress, spent the last month setting their scene. Hologram-type effects and computer-controlled moving figures follow an original score with narration by voice-over actor Corey Burton, who also has narrated a Halloween scene for Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.

Apparitions appear in windows, characters rise from tombstones and other effects animate the yard and house, but Ford said the 11-minute show is really driven by the story: A 1930 actress marries a shady screenwriter whose previous wife and daughter died under suspicious circumstances. On Halloween night, the dead return as ghosts, and then . . .

You'll have to see the show to find out. It will repeat every 15 minutes from 7 p.m. to midnight on Saltillo Street, which is closed off between Canoga Avenue and Rios Street. Ford suggested parking by the golf course on Canoga. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to defray the cost of storing the sets, lighting and other rigging.

Last year more than 2,000 people turned out, and though the cost of staging the show still exceeds donations, Ford said the effort and expense are worthwhile.

"When I was a kid growing up in Texas, we went trick-or-treating everywhere, kids were running up and down the street in their costumes," Ford said. "It was a more innocent time. Parents didn't have to worry about knocking on the wrong door. We wanted to bring that magic back into Halloween for kids, or even adults, for that matter."

He declined to disclose how some effects are generated, other than to say the show is run by computer from the garage. Actors tape their bits in advance and appear in the show using old magicians' tricks, one dating to the 1890s, Ford said.

More information: www.houseathauntedhill.com.

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