One scary neighbor

As far as neighbors go, Art Cutting ranks somewhere between The Addams Family and The Munsters — at least for one day each year.

For the other 364 days of the year, the 45-year-old Cutting is a mild-mannered electronics instructor at Bates Technical College. But when the calendar rings up Oct. 31, Cutting transforms his yard into a spooky surreal scene, right in the center of Grouse Point Estates.

“You can’t help but notice it,” said Paul Gering, Cutting’s neighbor for the past six years. “It’s pretty awesome. He sets it up all in one day. It’s all transformed into a graveyard and haunted mansion for Halloween night. Then the next morning, it’s gone, like it was never there.”

Cutting uses his electronic skills to make ordinary junk come alive. For Halloween he fills his lawn with home-made animatronic figures, creating a twisted theme park that looks as if Walt Disney had partnered with Edgar Allen Poe.

“The first year I did the fire-breathing dragon, my wife was concerned about burning up some kids,” Cutting said. “So it was just breathing smoke. That night the Federal Way Fire Department came by to visit and they told me to go for the fire. It’s funny how fireman like playing with fire.”

Trick-or-treaters slow their frantic candy-gathering pace as they cautiously approach Cutting’s house.

“Last year a little girl came up as far as she could,” Gering said. “Then the terror took over and she went screaming down the sidewalk.”

It’s easy to understand why.

“The guillotine cycles through every eight minutes and drops on the guy’s head,” Cutting said, describing his front year. “A skeleton is cooking another guy’s head on a barbeque. There’s a monster in a dog house chewing on a bone. There are some faces that move and arms are coming out of the ground.”

The grisly scene started five years ago, when Cutting visited a music shop in north Seattle. He saw a fog machine for sale.

“I bought it, thinking it would be cool for Halloween,” Cutting said. “It just kind of snowballed from there.”

His yard glows an eerie green and red, thanks to special florescent lighting powder. An 8-foot spider offsets Frankenstein sitting in an electric chair — a home decorating scheme that would make Martha Stewart cringe.

But Cutting doesn’t make the display for arrogant designers.

“I have four grandkids and they really enjoy it,” Cutting said. “The kids in the neighborhood ask me about it all year long.”

He stores the figures in his attic — “I have a big attic” — then puts them together in his garage two months before the big night. He doesn’t put the display outside until Halloween day.

“A lot of the stuff I’ve made, with broken kids oys and stuff,” Cutting said.

A motor from a broken microwave gives life to a spider. An old turntable spins

Every year he adds something new. This year’s is still a surprise. Next year he plans to install a computerized control system.

“We’re going to kick it up a notch next year,” he said. “Rather than the simple Mickey Mouse stuff I have now.”

Speaking of Mickey Mouse, Cutting has visited the animatronic displays at Disneyland and said he would like to work there.

“That’d be the dream job,” he said.

But for now, he is happy with coming up with stuff on his own. Bringing common objects to life with electricity.

For Christmas, surprisingly, Cutting practically ignores his own yard.

“It’s pretty sad,” Cutting said. “I put up two lights and that’s it.”

Instead, he and his Bates students set up Fantasy Lights — a drive-through holiday lights display — at Sprinker Recreation Center in Spanaway.

“Using electronics know-how to build animated and lighted displays helps students understand many of the elements of sequencing, wiring and other program competencies,” Cutting said.

Bates students design and build the electrical circuit boards that are essential to the displays at Fantasy Lights. The circuit boards are timed to make the displays come alive with thousands of sequencing lights.

New pieces are added to the Christmas display each year, although none of them breathe fire.

“Halloween was always special to me when I was a kid,” Cutting said. “It can’t get commercialized, because that’s what it already is.”

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