Many people moving from the city to the suburbs do so to spread out a bit — a larger home, a backyard and quieter surroundings.
But for Rick and Raphael Mastroianni, the move from Chicago to the 4200 block of Maple Avenue in Brookfield has allowed them to do something else they always wanted to do — finally go all out with elaborate Halloween decorations.
Though the move meant a chance to explore Brookfield and meet new neighbors, the Mastroiannis, who are self-avowed Halloween enthusiasts, knew they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to turn their new digs into the new spooky — but friendly — neighborhood haunted house.
“We are totally Halloween people, and we both have creative backgrounds as well, so we use those skills we used before with film and photography and we put those ideas that we had to life,” Rick Mastroianni said about the inspiration behind decorating.
Both Rick, who previously worked in film in New York City, and Raphael have prior experience in media and art positions.
Shortly after settling in their Brookfield home last year, the couple got quick to work, brainstorming how they would make their home come to life at Halloween, creating spooky set designs, outfitting animatronics ghosts and demons, purchasing elaborate props and installing movie set-style lights displays for a “Poltergeist on Maple Avenue” themed setup.
Over the course of the season, the Mastroiannis noticed that aside from neighbors, pedestrians and passersby, people from outside Brookfield began to see what the buzz was all about.
“We loved it, and had a lot of people who came by and loved it too, so we decided to keep it going,” he said.
So, right after they packed away their decorations when Halloween ended last year, the couple was back at it, drawing up plans and gathering supplies to outfit their front yard for Halloween 2021.
This year’s display, titled “Alive Inside,” is a fully immersive, zombie apocalypse-themed set which depicts a shelter during an outbreak that’s been penetrated by zombies. As visitors pass by, they are greeted — or scared — by life-sized figurines in the front yard, custom audio of a news broadcast detailing the zombie outbreak, a faux chain link fence, fog machines and flashing lights to complete the creepy, ominous vibe.
And, in the few days leading up to Halloween, they’re planning on including a live actor or two to bring the scene to life even more.
Thanks to the combination word of mouth, social media and Facebook Live video shares, Rick says each night, their home has been getting up to 150 visitors — not including vehicle traffic — with a mix of people coming not just from Brookfield and the surrounding suburbs, but from Chicago and locations up to an hour away.
In addition, their home made MyKidList.com’s annual Best Decorated Halloween Houses list, helping draw attention from across Chicagoland.
Most nights, the Mastroiannis step outside their home for a while and chat with the people who come to see their setup.
“We’ve had a lot of people come who say, ‘Hey, my mother, my sister, my aunt was here last weekend and they told me to come.’” Rick said. “We were shocked that people were driving 45 minutes to come out here. On average, we’ve had between 60 to 150 visitors a night, which is pretty wild. We thought it was just a really good idea to bring the neighborhood together, and now it’s surpassed our neighborhood.”
Rick explains how the process truly is a year-round ordeal, and includes careful maintenance, even after it’s all set up.
“We redo our animatronic props with new makeup and clothing changes each year, and are able to get the supplies we need through shopping at yard sales and thrift stores,” Rick said. “When it rains, we have to take contractor bags and cover everything because there’s a lot of electronics and heavy duty equipment. We also have to take things in every night.”
The Mastroinannis are happy to see what appears to be a “return of Halloween to Brookfield,” noting their next door neighbors’ spooky decor at 4204 Maple Ave. and those at 3211 Harrison Ave. (skeletons/cemetery-theme) and 4412 Elm Ave. (“Pirates on Elm”).
In a sense, the elaborate decorations are a nod to the village’s history as a Halloween destination for the haunted house at Ehlert Park, which was hosted by the Brookfield Jaycees from 1976 to 2012. The event, which in its heyday would draw upwards of 12,000 people a season, perennially won awards from the state Jaycees organization for its ability to terrify and amuse patrons.
“A lot of people said they’ve been coming this way and checking out other decorated homes in Brookfield, which is just so awesome that Brookfield is this Halloween destination that we didn’t know when we first moved here,” Rick said.
In addition to giving visitors a friendly fright, Rick said they also want to do something special to give back to the Brookfield community. Through Halloween, their house will include a box that says “supplies” on it — albeit zombie-themed — requesting canned food and nonperishable food donations from visitors, which they plan on donating to food pantries in the village.
Overall, Rick says he is happy his family can provide a fun and free event for all ages to enjoy during the fall.
“I think in these times, it’s important for people to have something that they can walk down the block or drive to that they can just have a couple of minutes and have that experience and forget about all of the craziness going on and not have to worry about it,” he said.
“Alive Inside,” 4208 Maple Ave., welcomes visitors (weather permitting) every night from 6 to 10 p.m.