Mar Lee’s famous Halloween puppet house to take the year off, but it’s still plenty freaky

A long-loved Halloween house in Mar Lee must take the year off despite its eccentric operator’s love of things spooky.

A cancellation sign in front of Johnny "the Puppetmaster" Sandoval's Mar Lee home a week before Halloween. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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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)

This year, Halloween commercials have got Johnny Lee Sandoval feeling depressed. No, it’s not because he’s afraid. It’s because Sandoval, known as the “Halloween man” and the “puppet master” around these parts, is taking the year off from his annual display of freaky, life-size marionettes that have come to life in his yard for nearly 20 years.

Sandoval’s brother passed away in his back yard just two weeks ago. Though he had already begun to set up the horrific smorgasbord, Sandoval said his wife asked him to take the year off as the family deals with their loss.

This is only the second time since 1999 that Sandoval has had to miss fright night — the first was a few years ago when his mother died.

Just look at this dastardly display from 2012:

The master of puppets told Denverite he’s been making monsters since he was just 10. He rigged a floating ghoul in his childhood clubhouse that would lurch at neighborhood kids as they opened the door. He’d charge them 25 cents to get in, he said.

A Michael Jackson marionette inside Johnny "the Puppetmaster" Sandoval's shed behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; mar lee; halloween; odd spots; haunted house;
A Michael Jackson marionette inside Johnny “the Puppetmaster” Sandoval’s shed behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

As an adult, Sandoval curates his unique brand of horror not for profit, but for his sheer joy of Halloween crafting (we connected because I’ve got that too). He said he started with one, then it was three, now he’s got more than thirty stringed spookers stored on site, more than can fit in his yard at once. Every spring, he says, he gets to work on one or two more in the shed behind his house. That’s where the real beast lives: his boundless creative ambition.

“Once I start something, I can’t sleep ’til I finish it,” he said. Surrounded by monster parts, Elvis memorabilia and pictures of cars and women on the walls, he’s in his own kind of secret lair.

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 “the Puppetmaster” Sandoval’s workshop behind his Mar Lee home. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sandoval posted an apology to his fans in his yard this month when he called off this year’s show. The display has attracted lots of eager oglers over the years. He said some of them left flowers on his porch after he put up the sign.

“It breaks my heart,” he told Denverite. Then again, he said, there’s always next year.

A cancellation sign in front of Johnny "the Puppetmaster" Sandoval's Mar Lee home a week before Halloween. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; mar lee; halloween; odd spots; haunted house;
A cancellation sign in front of Johnny “the Puppetmaster” Sandoval’s Mar Lee home a week before Halloween. Oct. 24, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Are there any famous Halloween houses that you love? Tell me about them by tweeting at @kevinjbeaty or emailing me at kbeaty@denverite.com.

Kevin Beaty

Author: Kevin Beaty

Kevin Beaty is a media producer with experience in a variety of settings spanning Hollywood film sets to international backpack journalism expeditions. He is on a never-ending quest to meld artful imagery, functional design and intimate storytelling. His biggest struggle in any given moment is whether to shoot stills or video. Find him on Twitter and Instagram at @kevinjbeaty.