Four Weeks of Fright: El Dorado Hills garage goes from housing cars to lost souls

By: Brad Smith Telegraph Correspondent
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Joe DeCelle loves scaring people. “So, it’s only natural that I love Halloween,” DeCelle said. “I only wish Halloween was more than one day.” DeCelle loves scaring people so much that he spends his Halloween giving folks the fright of their lives. “I’ve spent some Halloween seasons working with friends of mine who run some haunted house attractions in Citrus Heights,” DeCelle said. “That was a lot of fun. You know, working at big major haunted attraction is a dream of mine. But, for now, I’m thinking small-scale.” DeCelle said he grew up loving Halloween. “For me, it was a time for a lot of fun,” he said. “I loved making my own costumes and dressing up. Halloween was the time of year when I could be someone — or something — else.” DeCelle said Halloween became a passion of his and he shared that passion with everyone he met. Including his wife, Kari. “I knew Joe loved Halloween,” she said. “He talked about dressing elaborately for Halloween but I didn’t know how elaborate until he explained it to me.” DeCelle soon found himself working with friends on their haunted attractions and enjoying it. He enjoyed every aspect of it, from working on the sets and props to putting on makeup and a costume. “It was a blast working on those attractions,” DeCelle said. “After awhile, I thought that I’d try something on my own.” Three years ago, DeCelle put together a costume and set outside the Folsom home he shared with Kari. Many people thought he was some sort of animatronic puppet. “It was fun to watch people walk up and poke at Joe, thinking he was a big prop or something,” Kari said. “They would poke him, move his arms and stuff like that. The minute they let down their guard, Joe would jump at them and the screams and laughter ensued.” DeCelle was pleased with that initial Halloween outing. “I thought to myself, ‘Let’s take it up to the next level,’” he said. The following Halloween, the DeCelles turned part of their garage into a haunted attraction. The couple came up with some ideas and sketched out places. Joe’s mother, Denise DeCelle helped out with the costumes. Joe and Kari promoted the event with fliers, posting information on Halloween-themed web sites. “We also used our families for ‘word-of-mouth’ advertising,” Kari said. That Halloween night, the DeCelles had between 200 to 300 people show up at their attraction. Kari’s father, Jeff Heard, was dressed as a pirate and recorded the event with a digital camcorder. Some of the video footage can be found on YouTube. “We were floored by the response,” DeCelle said. “Kari and I had expected dozens of people to maybe more than 100 showing up. Having all of those folks show up was a blast. I told Kari I was ready to do another show.” The DeCelles moved to a new home in Eldorado Hills and Joe was happy with the location. He was sizing up the home’s garage for what he called “The Forest of Lost Souls.” “We did something really incredible with a small amount of space last year,” DeCelle said. “The new place offered us a chance to do some new things.” For example, DeCelle is using a maze and different rooms. He and Kari, along with some family and friends, have worked on new special effects and props. As he stands in the middle of the still-under-construction Forest of Lost Souls, DeCelle is very excited about this Halloween. “Well, let’s say I’m excited more than usual,” he said. “Kari and I have been doing a lot of promotion, like we did last year. I’ve been handing out fliers to family, friends and people I work with. I really hit the Web hard too, promoting it on every Halloween or haunt attraction site I could find. It’s going to be great.” The Forest of Lost Souls will be held Oct. 30 and on Halloween itself, at 485 Platt Circle in Eldorado Hills. DeCelle said there will be two shows each night, one at 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the other 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The first hour is a “scare-free” tour of the Forest for young trick-or-treaters. Kari said it’s a “kid-friendly” version. “The other is a free-for-all screamfest,” DeCelle said. He said some people have a primal urge to be scared. “When you get scared, you have all of this adrenaline and endorphins pumping though you,” he said. “It’s a high or a rush people get from being scared and they like it.” The DeCelles are already looking forward to the next Halloween as well — for a very special reason. “We’re expecting our first son to be born in January,” he said. “So, I’m already looking forward to getting his first costume and taking him out trick-or-treating. It’s going to be great.” Kari said they might include their son into next year’s Halloween event. “Joe and I joke around that the baby might be our newest prop,” she said. “In the DeCelle house, Halloween is a big family event. Might as well break him in early.” * * * KNOW AND GO What: The Forest of Lost Souls When: 5 to 6 p.m. for younger children, 6 to 10 p.m. for adults and teens, Oct. 30-31 Where: 485 Platt Circle in El Dorado Hills.