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Detroit lawn draws onlookers, stops traffic

Tom Nardone wants to bring scary back. The author of "Extreme Pumpkins: Diabolical Do-it-Yourself Designs to Amuse Your Friends and Scare Your Neighbors" (Home Books, $13.95) believes that Halloween and one of its best-known symbols, the jack-o'-lantern, have become too wimpy.

The pumpkins in Nardone's book (and on his Web site) aren't your typical gap-toothed, triangle-eyed specimens — these pumpkins are covered in (fake) blood, drowning in plastic bags, eating other pumpkins and being electrocuted.

"Kids like to be scared," he says. "Once I dressed up in a trash barrel as a Transformer — my wife was giving out candy — and I jumped out at a group of 5-year-olds and said 'Boo!' One kid looked at me and said 'You're not scary — you're a trash can.' I have never been so insulted in my life."

Despite that failure to fright, the Halloween scenes on Nardone's lawn in suburban Detroit typically draw many onlookers — and, in the case of a "mooning" pumpkin he installed on a former neighbor's yard, stop traffic. He constructs his displays with an array of power tools like jig saws and routers; his Web site started as a how-to guide.

Nardone's favorite extreme pumpkin? A creation he calls the "territorial one" — it's a pumpkin snowman, dripping with pulp and seeds, holding the head of another pumpkin aloft in triumph.

New this year, he says, will be a flame cannon built especially for use with pumpkins: "It shoots flames 15 feet into the air." He's also busy thinking up new and different ways to smash pumpkins and thinking about a pumpkin accelerator.

"There's a long tradition of carving jack-o'-lanterns — it was something fun that was done by kids and their parents and it was supposed to be spooky," Nardone says. "It was the one time you got to use a knife AND fire — and it's been co-opted into something cutesy.

"I want to tell the moms and dads out there to take another look at Halloween and to go back and make this a really exciting tradition again."

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