Waterford man scaring up some Halloween fright along the trail

Buy Photo Sean D. Elliot/The Day Monica Harsmanka, left, and Joe Harcut Jr. hang a Halloween decoration from a porch railing Monday as they help Joe Harcut Sr. set up his annual Trail of Horror in and around his Quaker Hill home. Harcut opens his personal scare-fest Friday night and asks that visitors bring a nonperishable food item to be donated to the Waterford Food Bank or monetary donations to benefit the Waterford Animal Shelter.

Waterford - Joe Harcut Sr. says nothing scares him. He's unfazed by the demented clowns in his garage or the dismembered body parts floating in his koi pond. Instead, Harcut likes to scare others by inviting them to his Trail of Horror, a fright-filled walk through his Quaker Hill property.

"A lot of people like Halloween, a lot more people than when I was a kid," Harcut said. "I don't remember adults doing stuff like this, going crazy like this when I was a kid."

Harcut's house and backyard have been transformed into a Trail of Horror, which runs Friday and Saturday. Temporary walls divide his garage into four rooms, each one with a different theme and surprise. His shed serves as a bloody butcher's shop and what was once a garden is a haunted burial ground.

"We've grown quite a bit from the first year when we had about eight exhibits. Now we have 12 or 13," Harcut said.

In total, Harcut said about 25 people - including his wife, son, granddaughter, co-workers and neighbors - contribute their ideas and efforts to building the exhibits. Then, when guests arrive to walk the Trail of Horror, many of the same people assume roles as guides, ghouls or goblins.

"I met the group of people I hang out with, and we all have this in common," he said. "It's a lot of work to build and to put together, but we have fun and everybody likes it." Harcut got the idea for the trail two years ago when he and his wife, Dawn, were out to dinner with another couple. They talked a lot about Halloween and learned that the other couple had a small house on their property that was about to face the wrecking ball. Within a matter of days, Harcut was hard at work preparing for the first Trail of Horror.

"They had a small house, and they were tearing it apart, so we decided to use their house for a gig before they tore it down," he said. "Then we started this here last year because I have a pretty big yard."

A guide leads guests through several spooky stations, many of which are modeled on scenes from classic horror movies like "The Exorcist," "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Friday the 13th."

"I love horror movies," Harcut said. "A lot of guys will sit around and watch basketball or college football. ... I love sports, but I really love to watch horror movies."

The inspiration for the frightening scenes comes from those horror movies, other Halloween-themed trails and spooky props Harcut finds at stores like Spirit Halloween in New London and Waterford.

"I go to theme parks and I bring sketch pads to write things down," he said. "I ask my daughter to bring a camera and take pictures of things for me."

And even as Harcut works to perfect this year's Trail of Horror, he is starting to plan for next Halloween.

"I already have a few ideas for what I want to do next year. I'm not going to give it away now, but it's going to involve more building," he said. "My favorite movie of all time is 'Houdini' with Tony Curtis, and like he always said, 'I gotta do something next that will bring the people back.'"

c.young@theday.com

If you go

What: Trail of Horror
When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday and 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: 2 Old Barry Road, Quaker Hill
Admission: Free, but visitors are asked to bring a nonperishable food item to be donated to the Waterford Food Bank. Any cash donations will go to the Waterford/East Lyme Animal Shelter.

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