A life-size animatronic Grim Reaper swinging its scythe is the newest addition to Boca's annual over-the-top neighborhood Halloween display — a spectacle made possible only by cheating the Reaper himself.
Just after setting up last year's Halloween display on his front lawn at 699 NW Ninth Ave., lighting and sound wizard Richard Newman was felled by an aortic aneurysm. Doctors gave him frightening odds for survival, he said.
"I'm lucky to be here," said Newman, who now has a row of headstones on his front lawn that appear and disappear with the strobe light pulse he's got synchronized to the beat of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" tunes.
"All the doctors are still amazed that I'm alive."
A year since that Sept. 28, 2012 episode, he is still feeling the effects — and taking heavy medication to keep his heart pumping. But, this year's sixth annual Halloween show is expected to be bigger than ever — with even more characters supporting Newman, who has been stage manager for acts such as Milton Berle and Jerry Lewis and the Fifth Dimensions.
Dracula on a Segway, a contortionist and jugglers are going to be part of the scene for Halloween night, he said. Also, new this year, Newman has a sponsor for the 250 pounds of candy he'll be handing out to the masses he's expecting.
Joey "Jet" Tiratilli of Deerfield Beach, turns up often in full Dracula regalia, including cape and red necktie, to add to the ambience of the show, which starts at sundown every night in October.
"Good evening, nice to see you," he said, nodding to the small crowd that gathered on a recent evening.
Four-year-old Adriana DeMichele's eyes just got wider.
Her mother, Cindy DeMichele of Deerfield Beach, turned to her, "Kind of spooky, huh?"
In 2011, some neighbors found one of Newman's Halloween spectacles alarming enough that Boca's code enforcement stepped in and stopped the performance of dancers dressed up as zombies. The ensuing brouhaha went viral, featured on CNN and MSNBC.
This year is going to be a little more low-key than that, with a number of circus performers mingling among the gawkers, Newman said.
Working at a slower pace this year, Newman said it took a few extra weeks to set it all up for maximum delight and fright. The payoff, for him, is the astonishment he sees in the faces of little ones. Appreciation for his efforts is collected in donations to the Make-A-Wish-Foundation, which makes dreams of sick children come true.
"I watch these little kids coming up here and it's great that they are going to think of my house as the 'Halloween house," he said.