Haunted in Hawaii with Ismael Cantu

Sinister sweets and more tricks than treats are at the Cantu house every Halloween on Kauai, and if you dared to enter during the 2017 exhibit, you might have caught a glimpse into your future.

The Kapahi house was playing host to “Carnevil” — a haunted fair strewn with homicidal clowns and bloodied booths vending poisoned treats.

Live actors were strewn intermittent throughout the yard, which was picturesquely situated  between palm trees at the end of a cul-de-sac, on the westernmost of Hawaii’s main islands.

Ismael Cantu with one of the pirates he created for the 2017 Cantu Haunted Yard in Kapaa, Hawaii.

It was the 33rd year the family has hosted a haunted yard at their own home. They do it every year for the love of Halloween.

“We’re just getting the last-minute, final touches on everything,” said Stacie Cantu, who heads up the annual family project with her husband, Ismael.

The entire family was pitching in on the haunted yard on the day before the big event, and through all the painting, sweeping, hammering and rearranging; the scenes of the yard were coming together.

“We like to have themes,” Stacie Cantu said. “This year it’s Pirates of the Caribbean, Star Wars and then the haunted carnival.”

Captain Jack Sparrow greeted guests entering the Cantu’s haunted yard on top of the hill in Kapaa, along with a fleet of skeletons and a recreation of the popular jail scene.

After mingling with the pirates, the family had a tribute to Carrie Fisher as Princess Leah, with other scenes from Star Wars.

Characters like Leah and Jack are scavenged mannequins with new faces, handmade by Ismael Cantu.

It can take months for Cantu to finish one mannequin and the faces are made with a multi-step process that uses clay, plaster of Paris, and latex.

“We start planning the theme a year ahead,” Ismael Cantu said, “but how long it takes for each mannequin, that depends on what I’m making.”

After a mini-tour of the Star Wars galaxy, guests at the Cantu backyard met the family — all costumed in a land that was home to the Minions, some of the cast from the movie Frozen, as well as characters from Snow White and Beauty and the Beast.

Before entering the haunted carnival, guests had a conversation with the Evil Queen’s magic mirror — if they can could past her first.

“The whole family really is involved,” said Annette Hashimoto, who was playing the Evil Queen. “Bryn (Hashimoto), she’s Belle and she has the gown and everything.”

A palm reader waited to tell futures at the “Carnevil” in Kapaa, Hawaii, during the Cantu Haunted House, Halloween 2017.











Days before Halloween, dozens of mannequin parts littered the Cantu’s backyard, which is became home to a palm reader, a blood sales booth, and a killing booth.

Vendors along the edge of the yard sold poisoned apples and “eyes” cream.

It’s a one-night event that the family has hosted in their yard for the last three decades years, starting with Stacie Cantu’s mother.

“My mom was really big into Halloween and Christmas, and so am I,” Cantu said. “So, we ‘ve been doing this with her for years. When she couldn’t do it anymore, we took over.”

The haunted yard has been in Kapahi for the last three years, and before that it was across the valley, in the Wailua Homesteads.

“We had it at my mom’s house for years, but when we moved into this house (the Ioana Street house), we moved it here,” Cantu said. “We’ve never charged for this. We do it because we love it. It’s for the community.”

“I have to say a big thank you to our neighbors for putting up with the noise and everything,” Cantu said. “They’re always so great.”

Cantu’s rendition of the jail scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean”.

Written for The Garden Island Newspaper. Published Oct. 31, 2017. Photos by Jessica Else.

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Author and award-winning journalist Jessica Else has recently switched to freelance journalism after working as the environment reporter on the island of Kauai and working as editor of The Garden Island Newspaper. Jessica enjoys writing about sustainability projects, endangered animals, health and wellness, festivals and food, and outdoor adventuring.

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