Denver’s best Halloween attraction is a free show in a Mar Lee front yard

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

KEVIN-lighter

The most ostentatious Halloween show in Mar Lee, and maybe the city, is back after taking the year off.

Wires, threaded through pulleys, criss-cross above Johnny Sandoval’s front yard. Each is attached to a grotesque, handmade ghoul that dances when Sandoval or one of his three assistants pulls on the other end. For a week, every night through Halloween, the freakish marionettes will come to life and delight hoards of kids and adults passing by.

Sandoval has been the architect of this experience for 18 years. He’s only missed two years, most recently last year after his brother passed away just a few weeks before Halloween.

Taking the year off did not sit well with him.

“I didn’t like it. It’s like missing out on something big,” he said. “What bothers me most is these people come driving by wondering what happened to me.”

Johnny Lee Sandoval celebrates his 16th year of DIY Halloween horror in 18 years at his Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval celebrates his 16th year of DIY Halloween horror in 18 years. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Last year, he tried to avoid seeing advertisements or haunted houses around town. Halloween reminders just made him sad. Now that he’s back in action, he and his audience are both glad that his yard is once again filled with horror.

“Everywhere I go, they’re over there thanking me,” he said.

Sandoval has a few new faces in his undead crowd this year, including a postal carrier inspired by a neighbor who donated her USPS uniform.

“She’s been after me to make one for about three years,” he said.

On Saturday, well before the first show kicked off that evening, Daisy Zamora and her family came by to see what Sandoval was up to. They used to live in the neighborhood, and they’ve been missing the fright show since they moved to Aurora.

“We wanted to come and see what’s new,” she said. “The kids, they like seeing all of that.”

Sandoval gets to work around June each year building new ghouls. Many of his new additions are based on horror movies that come out each year. It’s not just his painstaking detail and craft that brings people back.

“This is not just a display, it’s a show,” he said. “Everyone expects a show.”

Johnny Lee Sandoval's grandson, Elijah (6), makes a DIY Michael Jackson puppet dance, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval's grandson, Elijah (6), makes a DIY Michael Jackson puppet dance. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

He and his three assistants, his granddaughter’s friends, have been working out the kinks in their performance to get ready for the big week. They’ve been at it about two and a half weeks.

People always ask, “Where do you start?”

“Well,” he always answers, “one string at a time.”

Johnny Lee Sandoval's maniacal Halloween puppet show in front of his Mar Lee home, Oct. 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval's maniacal Halloween puppet show in front of his Mar Lee home, Oct. 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval pulls strings during his maniacal Halloween puppet show at his Mar Lee home, Oct. 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval pulls puppet strings from his porch. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval speaks to his audience during a short break from his maniacal Halloween puppet show, Oct. 31, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval speaks to his audience during a short break. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A homemade guillotine and victim in the front yard at Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A homemade guillotine and victim in the front yard at Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A homemade DIY Davey Jones wiggles in Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee yard, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A homemade DIY Davey Jones wiggles in Johnny Lee Sandoval's yard. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval fashioned this DIY Halloween ghoul using a postal service outfit given to him by a fan and neighbor, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval fashioned this DIY Halloween ghoul using a postal service outfit given to him by a fan and neighbor. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval's DIY Halloween horror yard is controlled by an intricate series of pulleys and wires, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval's DIY Halloween horror yard is controlled by an intricate series of pulleys and wires. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Flores family peers into Johnny Lee Sandoval's horrific front yard in Mar Lee, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Flores family peers into Johnny Lee Sandoval's horrific front yard. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval celebrates his 16th year of DIY Halloween horror in 18 years at his Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval celebrates his 16th year of DIY Halloween horror in 18 years. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny "the Puppetmaster" Sandoval (right) and "my momma" in his man cave behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; mar lee; halloween; odd spots; haunted house;

Johnny "the Puppetmaster" Sandoval (right) and "my momma" in his man cave behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny "the Puppetmaster" Sandoval's workshop behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; mar lee; halloween; odd spots; haunted house;

Johnny Lee Sandoval's workshop behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Homemade ghouls in front of Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Johnny Lee Sandoval's Mar Lee home, Oct. 27, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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halloween