Things get pretty creepy around Tony Buttino’s house this time of year.
While most people have Fords and Toyotas parked in their garages, Buttino has zombies and werewolves.
“The first time I made one of them, I was putting the finishing touches on it ... and I stowed it in a corner. Next thing I knew, I heard my wife screaming: ‘There’s a man in our garage!’ It was just one of these,” Buttino said, pointing to a mutant zombie in his Green Valley home.
Another monster mannequin almost turned away a repairman.
“It scared the heck out of him,” Buttino said.
Buttino's creations used to be far more inviting.
A retired Army veteran who worked in radar installations, Buttino began creating simple home and yard displays decades ago to fulfill the wishes of his daughter, then 7, who wanted a Christmas display. The extent of his work involved tracing, cutting and painting plywood boards.
He got good at the hobby and progressed into more complicated decorations, wreaths and signs. His subjects often were cute animals that would feel at home in a country farmhouse.
That changed when Buttino upgraded to 3-D. He was motivated by the poor craftsmanship he saw in stores, particularly around Halloween.
The decorations “were made of plastic, were all flimsy and wobbled all over the place," Buttino said. "I knew I could do better.”
Buttino's first efforts were simple: basic plywood boxes shaped like coffins.
Then through trial and error, he worked up to building life-size dead ringers of Dracula, the Mummy and Frankenstein’s monster. He made sturdy frames from PVC pipe and insulation with flat steel bases to keep them upright in the wind and worked with a seamstress to develop costumes.
Buttino now has gone digital, wiring creatures with light-up eyes and voices.
“We could be blood brothers!” one of his Draculas says.
In 40 years of making lawn ornaments and monsters, Buttino has created hundreds of displays. He lost count of how many he has built but has two thick-bound notebooks filled with pictures of every creation he has made.
Which is his favorite?
That’s like asking a father to choose his favorite child.
“Hmm, I don’t know … I guess I kind of like Freddie,” Buttino said.
That would be Freddie Krueger, the disfigured, fedora-wearing, razor-blade fingered murderer from “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”
Buttino sold his last Freddie this year. Next Halloween, he plans to make a few more, in addition to likenesses of Michael Myers, the slasher from “Halloween.”
Buttino sells his monsters twice a week at Henderson farmers markets, Thursdays at the downtown events plaza and Fridays at the pavilion on Green Valley Parkway. His most elaborate creations go for about $100 apiece.