November 23, 2022

Move over, Tall Bones, and make room for an animatronic, subliminally sexy, 9-foot-tall howler who has marked his territory on America’s front lawns.

Jill Houser’s Halloween display in Pittsburgh features a giant animatronic werewolf.
Jill Houser’s Halloween display in Pittsburgh features a giant animatronic werewolf. (Jeff Swensen for The Washington Post)

Comment

Angela Rush already has the 12-foot Home Depot skeleton, and a whole bunch of regular-size ones, too. She has a nearly full-size hearse carriage drawn by skeleton horses, a massive tarantula, a 12-foot pumpkin-headed “inferno” skeleton, a dragon and numerous light up pumpkins. She has so many Halloween decorations that she has to rent a storage unit, and each year she must hire a moving truck to bring them all to her home. She didn’t need anything else.

“My Halloween decorating has gotten so kind of out of hand that I’m like, I’m not doing it anymore,” says Rush, 51, who lives in Augusta, Ga. She resolved not to be tempted by any other plastic ghouls or goblins. Even if they were on sale.

That was until she found out about the Home Depot’s new 9½-foot animatronic werewolf. “I was like, ‘Hold on. Halloween’s back on.’”

She saw him and she had to buy him: A beefy, sinewy wolfman with massive hands (paws?), glowing eyes and, under his shredded buffalo-check shirt, six-pack abs. Best of all, and unlike his skeletal brethren, he talks and moves: With a growl, he opens his mouth to reveal a row of sharp fangs, tilts his head back and … aroooooooooo!

Rush bought the $399 werewolf on “Orange Friday,” which is what the most dedicated of Halloween decorators call the day Home Depot makes its Halloween decorations available online for purchase. This year, that day was July 15, when normal people are, well, what’s normal anymore?

“I was so excited when I got him that I set him up in my house,” says Rush, which was almost a problem when the werewolf couldn’t fit through the door, and had to be disassembled again. But she loves him. Her teenage son loves him. Everybody loves him, except her two huskies, who regard him with suspicion.

“They just stare at it,” says Rush. “And it’s funny, ’cause they howl like he does.”

Two years ago, Home Depot made a skeleton taller than God and changed Halloween forever. How do you follow that up? Not with a talking skeleton (too predictable) or a taller skeleton (may topple in high winds), but by expanding into an entire multiverse of giant spooky creatures: There is now a witch who appears to fly on a 12-foot broomstick, and a 15-foot phantom. But it’s the werewolf who seems to have become the breakout hit.

“People are used to the skeletons now. They’ve seen all of that. And this is something different,” says Jill Houser, 48, who has an elaborate werewolf campsite complete with a tent and body parts set up in her Pittsburgh front yard.

Jennifer Corcoran, 44, of Nashville, is the moderator of several Facebook groups dedicated to large-scale holiday decorating, including a 50,000-member, 12-foot skeleton group. Rumors began bubbling up that the werewolf would be part of the store’s Halloween lineup, but it was a tightly guarded secret.

Until some photos from a Home Depot conference leaked last spring. Right as Corcoran was at the hospital being prepped to go under anesthesia for back surgery.

“I sent it over to Lance” — that would be Lance Allen, the director at Home Depot responsible for the brand’s pantheon of giants, with who she is now on a first-name basis — “and was like, is this legit?” says Corcoran. It was, he confirmed. A nurse came to take her phone and wheel her into surgery.

“I remember the nurse’s face,” says Corcoran. “I was like, ‘No there’s a werewolf coming! I have to post this.’ ”

“We all were like rabid fiends trying to get it,” says Holly Agouridis, 50, of her fellow Facebook group haunters. “I do kind of a cornfield-type scene on one of my [yard] sections, and I was like, ‘He’s definitely going to go there.’ ” The kids in her Silver Spring neighborhood have named him “Howie the Howler.”

Gregory McAdams, 48, is a big werewolf guy — “I actually just had a werewolf tattoo put on my arm Wednesday” — who counts “The Wolfman” among his favorite movies. So the prospect of a werewolf joining his 12-foot skeleton was pretty thrilling. He posed his in front of his Nashua, N.H., home holding two halves of a (normal-size) skeleton — the head in torso in one paw, the pelvis and legs in another — as if to denote the new hierarchy of Halloween. The werewolf had surpassed what was formerly his favorite decoration. “He’s my number one now,” says McAdams.

Over in Waltham, Mass., Billy Gridley, 47, ordered one online, and then ordered a backup wolf to be shipped to the store, just in case something went wrong.

“It was such a big deal that I was kind of nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to get ahold of one,” he says. But the first one arrived safe and sound, so he canceled his second order.

“We got it all set up and everything worked great, except it had two left hands, he says. “I was like, you have to be kidding me.”

So he made a trek to another Home Depot to pick up what would be his third wolf order, “And lo and behold, that one had two right hands,” says Gridley, now the owner of a complete werewolf (he swapped the hands and returned one).

Other werewolf mishaps did not end quite as harmoniously. Unfortunately for Jim Nelson and his 6-year-old-daughter Evelyn, the werewolf (named “Mr. Howly”) arrived broken, with his jaw detached from his head. Not to worry: “I made a muzzle for him,” says Nelson, 41, of Erie, Pa. “I cut up an old leather belt and then just kind of glued it on his head.”

And not everyone has been so keen. Melissa Hayden, 52, of Pittsboro, N.C., has a neighbor who complained to her homeowners association about her werewolf, whom she loves.

“They said it was too scary” for their grandchildren,” says Nelson, who was flummoxed. She’s one of those people who keep their 12-foot skeleton up all year round, dressing him up in costumes for every holiday, “in my yard 24/7, 365 days a year.” The neighbors had never complained about that.

Werewolves occupy a particular place in the horror genre, says Bryan Fuller, writer and executive producer of numerous television shows, including “Hannibal” and “Pushing Daisies,” and also a proud Home Depot werewolf owner. They’re a metaphor for there being “something inside of me that I can’t control, i.e. my sexuality. If I let it out, bad things will happen,” says Fuller, whose werewolf was a birthday gift from his partner.

Werewolves “can hide who they are, until they can’t. And so the idea of having this giant werewolf in the middle of a queer person’s yard means a little bit more than just a fuzzy monster from a horror movie,” says Fuller, who is also the producer of the documentary series “Queer for Fear: The History of Queer Horror.” “It has all of this kind of sociopolitical resonance that is important to me.”

Part of the reason the werewolf is a hit also may be that it’s an underrated monster. There aren’t that many werewolf movies — “The Wolfman,” “An American Werewolf in Paris” and “Werewolf of London” — and werewolves are often relegated to supporting characters, as in the “Twilight” movies. Or, they’re written for laughs, like the werewolves of “What We Do in the Shadows” (“We’re werewolves, not swearwolves!”), especially when the werewolf’s transformation is a metaphor for puberty: Think “Teen Wolf,” or “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah,” one of the greatest bits in “30 Rock.”

“The horror of losing control of your body and having it be taken over by your bestial self is something so terrifying,” says Fuller, “It comes full circle around to humor.”

But, well, while we’re on the topic of sexuality: The werewolves seem to have attracted an audience beyond Halloween decorators. You know who else loves the werewolf? Furries. For the uninitiated, furries are a subculture of people who are interested in anthropomorphic animal characters, conceptually and, for some, romantically.

When she saw the 9½-foot werewolf, “I was like, wow, this is really hot,” says a 29-year-old who asked to go by the name of her vTube persona, which is Buffpup, a buxom werewolf. The Home Depot wolf has “a nice butt,” she says, and strong, muscular arms. She jokingly calls him her boyfriend, though she does have a real, human boyfriend. Even though Buffpup knows Home Depot would never admit it, she suspects the werewolf may have been designed with furries in mind.

“I think people realize how much money they can make off of furries because they’re a big-spending type of group,” she says.

And it’s not just the furries! Corcoran, the leader of the Halloween Facebook groups, found herself moderating a discussion about the werewolf’s, ahem, physique, under those shredded pants. Turns out, a lot of people wanted to know what he looked like naked. “We talkin’ Ken doll?” asked one group member. “Would it be inappropriate for me to ask if you can send me some nudes of the werewolf?” another asked Corcoran. (For the record: Ken Doll. With plastic bas-relief hair.)

This summer, Troy Sager found himself “really drooling over that werewolf,” but listen, not in that way. Sager, 54, of Arthur, N.D., wanted to add to his collection of spooky decor, which he enhances with a few DIY elements. Sager took a mannequin half-torso, dressed it with pants, used spray foam to simulate entrails, and covered the whole thing in splattered blood, splaying it out at the wolf’s feet.

“It looks like the werewolf kind of had a little meal,” he says. A day-care center down the street allegedly brought the kids by to check out his display, which also includes a 12-foot skeleton and an Inferno, and he didn’t hear any screaming. “I’m sure a lot of them enjoyed it,” he says.

Houser employed similar techniques for her elaborate werewolf campsite. Branded “Camp Carnage,” her talking wolf holds a battered body and a fistful of foam guts. He’s joined by another, smaller, stationary werewolf and a zombie mannequin that Houser covered in fur, emerging from a tent: “He’s transitioning. He’s still a person but turning into a werewolf,” she says.

Meanwhile, in Rantoul, Ill., Nikia Hults, who had gone to every Home Depot within a 2½-hour radius of her home and crossed state lines to get her wolf (“We just call him Wolfie”), enlisted her mother-in-law to sew him a new outfit. She picked out some neon green fabric — I thought green would kind of set him off and kind of make everything cohesive” — and Wolfie got a brand-new size XXXL shirt.

Other werewolf parents have done creative displays with Three Little Pigs or Little Red Riding Hood themes. Next year, Corcoran thinks even more people will branch out into elaborate werewolf displays: Expect “Thriller” werewolves, Teen Wolves, and, from “30 Rock” fans who want to play to a niche audience, wolves wearing yarmulkes.

Over at Fuller’s house in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the werewolf is situated in a graveyard scene beyond his driveway. He struggled putting his wolf together. For a while, it was just a pair of disembodied legs, which was both spooky and funny in its own way.

But once he was assembled, Fuller has enjoyed returning home from late nights at work to be greeted by the blinking eyes of Kevin. That’s his werewolf’s name. Most of the time, he’s just a regular dude, says Fuller, except when the moon is full. “There’s something funny about calling a werewolf Kevin.”