BRAWLEY — Sergio Bastidas is Halloween all year long.
With his long black hair and his often-black clothes, no matter the time of year or temperature, this 32-year-old Brawley resident and professional photographer lives for the macabre.
He spends much of the year thinking about and planning for that narrow window in time in which tombstones on the lawn are acceptable, a severed head is a thing to be admired and everything comes up pumpkins.
“I love Halloween. It’s the one time of the year I feel normal. All through the year I watch horror movies, and my friends tell me, ‘why don’t you watch something else?’” Bastidas said. “I’m spooky 24/7, 365 days a year.”
On Oct. 1, Bastidas’ home at 976 Eucalyptus Ave. in Brawley (he lives in a garage studio he rents from his mom and dad, who share the main house) started its annual resurrection as a shrine to all things scary, with nearly as many tombstones as a cemetery, a mausoleum, a life-sized coffin, and a set-sized replica of the scarecrow from the film, “Sleepy Hollow.”
Already impressive, on Halloween night, Saturday, Oct. 31, Bastidas will take the décor and experience up a notch, adding some of his most-prized and safeguarded pieces, like an animatronic “Sam,” a central character from the horror film “Trick ‘r Treat,” between 15 and 20 hand-carved pumpkins, and a full-blown show of strobe lights, scary music and fog machines, to name just a few featured haunts.
And speaking of haunts, it should be said that Bastidas isn’t the only one in the Valley going all-out.
While he holds down the north end of the county as the perhaps the undisputed King of Halloween, the folks behind Mil Uno Haunts in Calexico are ruling the underworld — the decorated homes under (south) of Interstate 8, that is.
Since the beginning of the month, Mil Uno Haunts (check them out on Instagram @milunohaunts) has been staging its COVID-compliant Halloween show at 1001 Desert View Ave., where lights and projected images and synchronized music that can be picked up on motorists’ car radios on 101.5 FM have been thrilling those in vehicles or on foot.
The show has run nightly from 7 to 10 p.m. (with the exception of an exceptionally windy day earlier this week) all October and will continue through early November.
Although Mil Uno Haunts’ creators weren’t immediately available to talk (something about conflicting schedules while communing with the dead), according to their IG page, they are sticklers about adhering to the rules of decorum amid the pandemic. They ask that visitors please wear masks and practice social distancing when viewing the show.
Meanwhile, COVID has also changed how Bastidas is operating this year. While most everything about his display is business as usual, there are a few exceptions.
First, he won’t be posing for photos with passersby and trick-or-treaters, and, second, the very act of handing out candy — if that even happens — will be “hand”-less.
Photos have been a big deal for Bastidas in the past, because he is quite serious about his Halloween night costumes, and onlookers have reveled in having their picture taken with him.
In the past he’s dressed as Papa Emeritus from the Swedish metal band, Ghost B.C., which is like an un-dead Pope. He’s gone as “Bloody Face,” a serial killer from the television series, “American Horror Story.” He’s even spent $500 on a custom mask and outfit for Pennywise from “It,” the Tim Curry-version.
But Bastidas said due to COVID photos are out this year.
As far as trick-or-treaters, he’s not sure how many will even show up. In year’s past he’s had as many as 1,000 kids come by and he doesn’t stop handing out candy until past midnight.
The state and the local public health departments are recommending that residents find alternatives to trick-or-treating, but if they do show up, Bastidas will take necessary precautions.
This year, he and his sister are constructing a “candy shute,” in which they hope to send treats down a spiral slide, through the mouth of a pumpkin, and into the bag of a waiting child.
While most see COVID as putting a damper on just about every situation in 2020, Bastidas sees it as pretty fitting during Halloween. “With COVID, it’s almost the perfect holiday with everyone wearing masks.”
This story is featured in the Oct. 29, 2020 e-Edition.