Frank and Michele Amoruso, both 55, of Island Park, decorating their house and front yard on Halloween with scary characters from such horror movies as "Halloween," "Friday the 13th" and "Psycho." They greet trick or treaters, hand out candy and toys and collect charitable donations. Credit: Howard Simmons

On a moonlit evening a few weeks before Halloween, Frank and Michele Amoruso’s Island Park property looks like a scene from a horror movie — "I Know What You Did Last Autumn," say, or "A Nightmare on Traymore Boulevard."

Every October for the past two decades, the Amorusos’ yard and front porch have been decorated with horror-movie icons. This year there is Jason from "Friday the 13th," Freddy Krueger from "A Nightmare on Elm Street" and — sporting a tailor-made tuxedo and squatting on a tricycle — the "Saw" horror franchise’s pale-faced Jigsaw. Visible through a second-story window: Norman Bates brandishing a dagger in a spine-tingling recreation of the iconic shower scene in "Psycho."

All of the figures in this horror tableau — including the recently updated creepy Pennywise clown from "It" — were created by the lone flesh-and-blood figure in the yard tonight: Frank Amoruso, 55, an Oceanside sanitation worker who revels in making people jump, scream and run like rabbits during Halloween season.

"He really scares them," his wife, Michele, also 55, tells a visitor as Frank previews his own garish get-up for this year. He pulls a hideous rubber two-faced mask over his head to match his basic-black Frankenstein suit with the hunched shoulders, then lopes down the front steps swinging a menacing prop — what he says is "a real ax handle with a plastic blade mounted on it."

"I love horror films. I always was a monster buff," says Frank, who creates his life-size monsters from two-by-fours in his basement workshop and a gruesome mask archive from his childhood Halloween haunts in (no kidding) Gravesend, Brooklyn.

The ghouls gallery was born on a Halloween 20 years ago, when his then 5-year-old daughter asked him to make a "Wizard of Oz" scarecrow for the front yard.

For Michele, a nail technician who grew up in Rockville Centre throwing annual Halloween parties, the day is less about scares than the pleasures of living a "fantasy, dressing up, being anybody you want to be for one night."

She creates her own Halloween makeup and costumes and will be outside all day on Halloween with Frank handing out candy and toys to kids and collecting donations for charity. Last year the couple donated $1,150 to the Adelphi NY Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline & Support Program.

Says Frank of this Halloween: "It will be like the good old days."

Frank and Michele Amoruso of Island Park have a long tradition of decorating their house and front yard for Halloween. | Photos by Howard Simmons

Hallowed traditions

For some Long Island grown-ups, the spooky holiday, like the eponymous movie series and Michael Myers, its undead villain, never dies or even gets old. It comes back like the inevitable sequel — a chance to relive childhood masquerades and merriment and share a hallowed tradition with younger folks — kids, grandkids and just kids on the block. Halloween long-haulers plan their ghoulish get-ups weeks in advance of the big day and gladly volunteer to decorate for parties at museums and retirement communities.

In the era of COVID-19, some mature revelers see the fake frights as an escape from real pandemic fears.

Halloween "is definitely something to relieve the COVID tension," said Angela DeFreitas, who is over 60 and lives in Oakdale. DeFreitas, who works with developmentally disabled adults and performs in community theater, was moonlighting this October as a paid, fright-wigged banshee at Goatman’s Haunted Farm in Brookhaven.

"People think I’m one of the animatronics until I move, and that usually freaks them out," she says.

DeFreitas relished dressing up as a witch or a ghost on Halloweens of yore in Rockville Centre, but nowadays she sees the holiday in a more serious light. She said it’s when "the veil is lifted between the two dimensions of life and death" and "the dead can communicate with the living in a good way."

Her friend, Angela Rosati, 56, of Lindenhurst, a retired aesthetician who also performs at Goatman’s, said that when she was growing up in Lindenhurst her family "treated Halloween as if it was a holiday just like Christmas and Thanksgiving."

Rosati, who will also be playing a ghost in this year’s Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson, said that to this day, "to me Halloween is freedom. I get to be whoever I want, and so does everyone else."

Above, Halloween supermom Michele Coll-Carlin holds homemade cupcakes outside her home in Bellmore. Top right, she gives her son a hand with his costume, Tomura Shigaraki, the villain from “My Hero Academia.” | Newsday Photos / Steve Pfost

Michele Coll-Carlin, 45, of Bellmore, said she can recall skipping the holiday only once — the Halloween that her daughter, Kayleigh, was born.

"I laid in the bed watching ‘The Osbornes’ and they had a really amazing Halloween special, and one of the nurses was dressed as a Geisha," Coll-Carlin said recently. "It was worth missing Halloween for," she laughed.

For years, Kayleigh’s birthday was celebrated with a Halloween party. For Kayleigh’s "all-out horror Sweet 16," Coll-Carlin appeared as Morticia from "The Addams Family," her husband was the hockey-masked movie slasher Jason Vorhees.

"But she outgrew it," Coll-Carlin said of Kayleigh, now 18. Nowadays Coll-Carlin bakes cakes and cupcakes in the shape of witches caldrons and vampire bats, cooks up spooky displays for her parents’ porch, and concocts intricate costumes for her son, Logan, 14, whose own birthday happens to be — not Halloween, but Valentine’s Day.

This Halloween Logan is going as Tomura Shigaraki, the villain from "My Hero Academia," a Manga book and animated series he and his mom watch together. The Shigaraki character, Michele said, is surrounded by "the hands of deceased family members that he accidentally killed before he knew what his power was."

She doesn’t have to sew anything on one of her four sewing machines — but does need to assemble a trench coat, a harness and eight mannequin hands.

"I ordered the hands today," she said in mid-October, when her Halloween to-do list also included decorating the front window to top last year’s eerie effort: a silhouette of a decapitated woman holding her own head.

Patricia Boone prepares for Halloween at the Jefferson's Ferry Life Plan Community...

Patricia Boone prepares for Halloween at the Jefferson's Ferry Life Plan Community in South Setauket. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

All about the kids

Other older Halloween devotees go all out volunteering on the big day for other people’s kids.

Suanne Hatton, 75, of Farmingdale, makes the holiday special by putting up haunted-house decorations at American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, which hosts an annual children’s Halloween party.

Hatton greets visiting youngsters as "a garden-variety witch," she said. "I use my own clothes, and I have a cape and a pointy hat, and somebody paints my face green." She carries a broom and sometimes lets out a wicked — if friendly — cackle.

"The babies look at you like, ‘oh hello,’ they don’t get upset or cry or anything," Hatton said.

Also volunteering in the spirit of Halloween: Patricia Boone, 74, who began celebrating the holiday as a child in North Babylon and kept up the tradition as a young mother with two children in Carle Place. About five years ago, Boone, now a grandmother, moved to the Jefferson’s Ferry Life Plan Community, a retirement community in South Setauket, where, among other to-dos on her busy schedule, she helps to decorate for the community’s annual Halloween party.

"I’m one of those crazy people who still go all out for Halloween," Boone explained. At the 2020 party, Boone was "The Angel of the Notorious RBG," wearing a black robe and a white lace collar with wings in tribute to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a personal hero who died the month before.

This year’s costume is more of a bare-bones affair.

"I’m going as a dancing skeleton, with a tutu," she said, to fit in with the party’s "Addams Family" theme.

On Halloween, Boone says she’ll leave buckets of candy and coins for trick-or-treaters at home and then drive to Bay Shore to celebrate with her grandchildren — she has four.

Whether hanging out with fellow retirees or grandkids, Boone still enjoys the holiday because, she said, "it’s not celebrating anyone or thing, it’s just having fun."

Festival of homage

As the calendar turns to November, there is another festival that celebrates the thin line between the here and the hereafter. El Día de los Muertos — Day of the Dead, to those who don’t speak Spanish — is observed by Long Islanders of all ages, but it’s not a version of Halloween.

By tradition, El Día de los Muertos marks the time when “the portal between the living and the dead opens” and “the disembodied souls return to their homes to visit their families,” said Margarita Espada, director of Teatro Yerbabruja, a Bay Shore-based cultural organization. “Relatives offer them respect and homage with an altar full of food, music, flowers, drinks and everything that the deceased loved in life.”

Espada said the rituals, which “are not dark or create fear,” are celebrated in the United States mainly by Mexican Americans but also by other Latinos for whom the tradition is to light candles to honor their ancestors.

Teatro Yerbabruja (teatroyerbabruja.org) is celebrating The Day of the Dead with a community party on Oct. 30 and 31 and Nov. 1 and 2, at the Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery, 17 Second Ave., Bay Shore. Visitors can bring photos of deceased loved ones, to place on an altar created by Filiberto Perez, a Mexican-born artist who lives in Farmingville.

— Jim Merritt

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