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Eleven months of the year, the one-story home blends in with other homes lining the same quiet, suburban street in west Napa. And then comes October.

A patch of grass mutates a graveyard planted with markers memorializing Edgar Allan Poe, Bela Lugosi and even fictional characters like Westley from the movie “The Princess Bride” (“mostly dead since 1987,” his headstone proclaims). Enormous cobwebs cut from sheets of beef netting shroud the front of the house, bearing fist-size spider props – with more arachnids in a porch recast as a fluorescently painted “spider nest.”

A visitor strolling the grounds must brave a a wired-up coffin with a constantly banging lid – and then a zombie seemingly clawing its way madly out of the ground, growling at the unwary.

For more than five years, the imagination and stagecraft of Nicole Montroy have transformed a suburban front yard and porch into Evil Vines Cemetery, one of the haunted houses that dots Napa neighborhoods each Halloween season. Wood, foam, colored lights and smoke machines suffused with ghostly blue light populate the pocket-size haunt with bug-eyed zombies, menacing spiders and grinning skeletons to create an attraction for families across Napa – one that also helps raise funds for a local nonprofit pursuing an animal sanctuary and hospital in the area.

“I start thinking about Halloween on Nov. 1, but I don’t start putting things out until Oct. 1,” Montroy said with a laugh about Evil Vines, which she has staged for seven years in the 2100 block of Euclid Avenue. The latest version of her Halloween haunt debuted Saturday night and will be open to visitors on the night of the holiday, 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday.

A native of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Montroy – a former engineer who now volunteers for JARR and Collabria Care – described Evil Vines as her homage to the holiday and season that were closest to her heart from childhood.

“Fall is always my favorite season – I love the smell of leaves, the chill in the air, the changing colors,” she said last week while spraying filaments of hot glue into “cobwebs” shrouding the front-yard scenery. “What probably drives this is that I miss that Michigan fall.”

“I thought this was a fun neighborhood, so why not try it here? There’s something fun about getting scared that we all enjoy, even when we’re little.”

A trained aerospace engineer, Montroy spends most of October applying her ingenuity to the scare-raising contraptions that make up Evil Vines. “This lets me be an engineer,” she said. “I’ve got stuff wired up; I’ve got pneumatic props. Things will be moving.”

Before braving the ghouls and ghosts at Evil Vines, visitors at the free event also can made donations for living creatures – the animals that stand to be served by JARR’s future ranch, for which the group this spring purchased four acres off Cuttings Wharf Road in the Carneros area west of the city.

“Anytime you have something that brings the community together and there are animals involved, it puts people in a good spirit to give,” JARR’s manager of community outreach Brenda Burke said as the first few families strolled into Evil Vines at nightfall Saturday. The nonprofit collected about $700 during last year’s edition of Montroy’s haunted house, she said.

As the Saturday night sky segued from pink-dotted blue to inky black, costumed children, their parents and grandparents – and some grown-ups as well – began arriving at Evil Vines, some from down the street and others from across Napa. Some younger ones teared up or snuggled into their mothers after emerging from the haunted yard; others were all smiles as they posed for snapshots afterward on a throne-like chair near the entrance.

“The first time you go through, it can be scary,” admitted 10-year-old Laila Yob of Sebastopol. “The second time, it’s not so scary, but I think it’s pretty cool. I got scared by the coffin – everyone seems to get scared by that.”

A half hour later, Evil Vines became a stop for 11 more visitors on an unusual girls’ night out – of haunted houses.

“We had wine at a friend’s house, jumped into a car and went various houses I heard of from last year – this one has a reputation,” quipped Tara Jantzen, who had attired herself for the occasion with a black dress, black lipstick and a gothic-looking black hat. “Thought this was really cute; they went above and beyond with the Halloween elements.”

“And then to get scared and scream?” added Jeannie Whitt, another woman in the group, laughing. “A bunch of grown women screaming?”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.