More than 1,000 trick-or-treaters in search of thrills and chills annually trek into a little cul de sac in Hixson's Laurel Cove subdivision on Halloween night.
They're on the trail of The Beast of Locksley -- a walking, talking, 8-foot-tall monster who hands out candy to trick-or-treaters brave enough to ring the doorbell at 6809 Autumn Lake Trail, home of David and Kathy Leff.
The beast -- who returns to his human form of Rocky Evans, the Leffs' son-in-law, for the remainder of the year -- first made his appearance more than 20 years ago when the Leffs lived on Locksley Lane in the Murray Hills subdivision off Highway 58. Each year after that debut, the Leffs added to their Halloween show with wooden showrooms they built and positioned on their lawn. They filled each new room with life-sized mannequins engaged in a variety of scary Halloween scenes.
When the Leffs moved to Hixson nine years ago, so did the beast. But instead of staging the spine-tingling vignettes on their lawn, the Leffs moved one scene into each of seven windows across the front of their home, where they are backlit or spotlit for optimum effect.
"Kids will come to the house, and we'll hear them say, 'This year, I'm going on the porch' or 'This year, I'll talk to the monster," David Leff says in gleeful delight.
They've been at this so long, he adds, they are now scaring a second generation of trick-or-treaters, the children from their original fans in Murray Hills as well as their own 8-year-old grandson.
The Leffs' Halloween drama in Laurel Cove was repeatedly named by Times Free Press readers as their favorite place to haunt on Halloween night. When readers were asked where they went for extreme Halloween yard decorations, their answers ranged from Brainerd to
Hixson to Ider, Ala.
These ghostly apparitions only materialize once a year, so make plans to drive by before they vanish.
6809 AUTUMN LAKE TRAIL
Location: Laurel Cove subdivision in Hixson.
Owners: David and Kathy Leff.
Started: 24 years ago.
Claim to fame: The Beast of Locksley answers the front door to trick-or-treaters brave enough to ring the bell from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The home's seven front windows are outlined in orange lights. Inside each is a scary scene featuring life-size mannequins.
Why they love it: "It's all about fun. It's like trick or treating at any other house -- we just do it to an obnoxious degree. We videotape the night and then go back and watch it to enjoy the fun again and see what went on." -- David Leff
125 ROLLING HILLS DRIVE
Location: Valleybrook subdivision in Hixson.
Owners: Edith Wilson and daughters Darlene and Barbara Wilson.
Started: Barbara Wilson says she and her sister decorate the inside and outside of their home to continue a tradition begun by their parents "when we were young -- and we're both in our 60s now."
Claim to fame: Six large inflatables across the front lawn that include a 15-foot pumpkin carriage driven by a ghoul, an 8-foot spider and a 10-foot haunted tree. Ghouls, spiders and witches wait on the porch near a large, inflatable skull. The sisters lay a mulch trail which winds around the yard through the inflatables to the porch.
"I used to have a haunted house on Lee Highway for many years," says Barbara, "and a lot of the things we use I brought from there and added to mother's decorations."
Why they love it: "It's the only day you can legitimately be someone else. You can have fun with the day and nobody thinks you are an idiot. My mother is 93 and last year she sat at the base of the stairs in our split foyer and handed out the candy. If her health is up to it, she will again this year" -- Barbara Wilson
8287 STILLWATER CIRCLE
Location: Off Old Lee Highway in Ooltewah, about a half-mile on the left past Couch's Barbecue.
Owners: Wendy Boren and Jerry Jarnagin.
Started: Three years ago, when the couple moved into this house. The past two years their decorations have won the neighborhood Yard of the Month for October.
Claim to fame: A sensory explosion of sound, sight and touch as you walk to the front door. A tape plays shrieks, moans and groans.The front yard is cordoned off in fake barbed wire. Eight shrunken heads on posts are spaced around the front sidewalk, behind which is a graveyard of skulls and tombstones. Behind the graveyard is a man in an electric chair with a fog machine under the chair, churning out white mist. To the side of the chair is a large, inflatable Frankenstein.
The entire front exterior of the home is smeared in spider webs. Large skulls fill two second-floor windows. Motion-activated skulls groan as trick-or-treaters (200 to 300 is the average) pass by on the front sidewalk. An inflatable black widow spider dangles over the front door. Strands of fishing line cut at varying lengths dangle above the walkway, which can't be seen in the dark, so visitors feel as though they are moving through spider webs as they approach the house. The entire scene is lit by a green floodlight, spotlights and laser lights.
Why the love it: "We've always enjoyed haunted houses. We have friends over each year for a big Halloween party. This is our three months of the year. We decorate like this for Christmas and, in November, we put a turkey in the yard that says 'Please eat beef.'" -- Jerry Jarnagin.
OTHER READER CHOICES
• 1607 S. Smith Road, East Ridge.
• 513 Lullwater Road, Red Bank.
• Corner of Talley and Shallowford roads, Brainerd.
• Corner of Igou Gap and Jenkins roads, East Brainerd.
• 6100 Highway 75, Ider, Ala.