This is the first in a two part series. To read the second part about Rick Colerich’s plans to build a haunted house full of animal skeletons, go here.
You sit in a dark theater, watching a horror flick. The guy with the knife jumps out at the protagonist, eliciting a long, high-pitched scream. You fly a few feet in the air and your heart pounds against your rib cage.
The next day, you’re running a few errands in Troy Hill. Suddenly, around the corner, you spot a mountain lion with blood-soaked paws, a filleted alligator skin hanging on a railing and decaying corpses scattered all around. You fly a few feet in the air and your heart pounds against your rib cage yet again.
At least that’s what Rick Colerich hopes you experience when you stumble across his lavishly decorated Halloween wonderland on Niggel Street.
For the past 12 years, Colerich has spent his time building scary, creepy, crawly, big, mechanically functional horror props to decorate his landlord’s house during October.
“He’s really cool to let me hang all this stuff off his house, so how could I leave?” Colerich said.
This year’s spread includes a 6-foot tarantula, a replica of the Bates Motel, several skeletons and rotting corpses, a pendulum with a swinging ax cutting a man in half, a real stuffed mountain lion, a real alligator skin, “pickled” heads and many more props and details.
“I can’t stop building things. If I don’t build them I’m going to explode,” said the horror junky, whose first rated R-movie that he ever saw was “It’s Alive!”
When he’s not busy building Halloween props, Colerich works as an artist for Trader Joe’s in East Liberty. There, among other things, he transformed a bathroom into a submarine and maintains the store’s hand-painted signs.
A few of his props and sculptures, which all light up at night, were inspired by movies but most of them were original ideas. Two of his skeleton sculptures recently won first and second place in the sculpture category at the Kennerdale Music and Arts Festival.
“[The ideas] pretty much just swim around up there [in my head] and I hate to think what would happen if I left them up there,” he said, laughing.
Although Colerich has had many a pumpkin smashed, no one has ever stolen more than a tiny rat, bug or pair of goggles. “The neighborhood is what keeps it safe. At night time when it lights up there’s always someone around.”
And Colerich doesn’t stop at building scary props. On Halloween night he and a few friends, including his landlord, host a public block party. They get a permit to close the street and show movies against the side of an abandoned house.
Tom Auchter, the landlord, gets friends to donate over 600 hotdogs, buns and Eat ‘n’ Park Smiley Cookies for the kids — and grown up kids — that pass through. Anyone can find a seat and watch movies, which Colerich keeps kid-friendly during Trick-or-Treat hours.
He estimates that 1,000 people passed through last year, and expects a similar outcome this year.
After Trick-or-Treat, he switches to cult classics like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” until about midnight, when the party moves inside so as not to disturb the neighbors.
Colerich spends 2-3 months fixing up props and getting them ready for his month-long display, but it only takes about two days to bring everything in. He likes to get things out in the beginning of October and leaves the display up for a week or so afterwards.
Many of the props live in his attic, but others, like his award-winning skeleton sculptures, spend the year in his living room and studio.
“I don’t mind being surrounded by monsters all year round,” he said.
Next year, Colerich would like to bring a few props out for “Halfoween” — a holiday he’d like to start — in April. “The people who like it, we just can’t wait until Halloween,” he said.
Originally, Colerich wanted to work in movie special effects, and earned a degree from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. About the time he graduated, he said, computers were taking over most special effects. Now he’d like to open a haunted house.
“This is what I would call my amateur set,” he said, looking over his myriad props, “and I’d like to move on to the professional.”