By now, many neighborhoods have homes that set the bar pretty high for Halloween decorations.

With pop-up stores specializing in all things Halloween, the supply of scary stuff is aiding in increasingly sophisticated set-ups, including "animatronics" or robotic devices that bring life-like characteristics to otherwise inanimate objects.

This year is on pace for a spending record for Halloween, according to the National Retail Federation.

In a survey of more than 7,000 people, the federation says Americans are expected to spend $9.1 billion on Halloween, including $2.7 billion on decorations.

But decorating a yard for a holiday that used to be only about children going door to door for treats goes beyond an adult fascination with the macabre.

It often starts as a collaboration between parent and child, fusing art, design and now technology, and continues as a way to break down walls with both neighbors and strangers.

A creative spooky yard, ranging from a traditional one with graves and ghosts to one weaving in current events or specific themes, invites all to stop, look and interact — the old-fashioned way, face to face.

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From Carolina Forest near Myrtle Beach and The Marsh Walk in Murrell's Inlet, to Old Woodlands and The Old Woodlands in Columbia, and Riverland Terrace in Charleston, yards are starting to take shape.

Avid decorators spend hours, even days, getting their houses ready but often don't put the finishing touches on their creations until a day or so before Oct. 31.

Regardless, homeowners still have more than a week to go.

Columbia resident Brian Binette says he spends about eight hours a week for a couple of weeks starting at the beginning of the month to start converting his yard into a "swamp graveyard" in The Old Woodlands.

"I tend to put things in the yard that won't get ruined in rain or by the wind, or might get stolen," says the 51-year-old Binette, who is the vice president of marketing for Sports Systems.

Like many, Binette started small when his three sons were young and has grown into a sophisticated system, which he keeps organized with a diagram and numbering cords and outlets. In more recent years, Binette has added animatronics to his yard.

He even helps the store Spirit Halloween assemble the robotic devices in exchange for getting one after each season is over. Among them are "the hounds of hell," which growl and break through a fence when people walk by.

One feature he waits until Halloween night to include is fog. He bought two fog machines and funnels it through dryer hose and over ice, the wet variety, to give the fog a chill.

"I love fog," says Binette. "It adds to the overall scariness."

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On Sullivan's Island, one yard that has become a must-see over the past decade is that of Vince Musi and Callie Shell, and their son, Hunter. They live in a historic house on Middle Street that already had a reputation on the island for being haunted.

Like Binette, it started when Hunter was young and wanted to bring trick-or-treaters to their house.

Musi and Shell, both professional photographers whose work has appeared, respectively, in National Geographic and Time, collaborate with Hunter every year on a creative display that started in 2008 when they featured a debate between "Mitt Frankenromney and Barack Ozombie."

In 2015, not thinking that Donald Trump would get the Republican nomination, they featured him as "Forrest Trump on a park bench with a box of chocolates." Last year featured a boxing match between zombified versions of Trump and Hillary Clinton.

This year, the family took a break from politics and drew inspiration from paintings of early surgical practices to create a scene of zombies operating on an alien. Vince and Hunter created "skin" on the alien by using a heat gun to melt bubble wrap over framework.

Vince says the family budget for Halloween decorations, for the most part, has been $100 a year, but they went over budget this year, spending about $300 by adding an animatronic clown to the surgical staff.

For weeks before Halloween, neighbors start asking the family about their display plans. Once up, a steady stream of people stop, take photos and selfies, and even "interact" with the display. As a kid, Hunter caught a group of older women strangling Ozombie and asked them to stop.

For the most part, though, the display encourages people to pause and talk.

"It's fun to hear what people say," says Callie. "I think people like it, especially if they don't have to do the decorating. "

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Like the Shell-Musi family, Phillip Hyman either reuses materials or reuses discarded wood, cardboard or glass for displays in two yards of family homes in the Park Circle neighborhood of North Charleston.

Hyman and his daughter, Zoe, are "born artists," who have no other choice but paint and create. Phillip, who is 59, is a well-known local muralist. Zoe, a junior at the Charleston County School of the Arts, has already proven herself as a make-up artist.

Both get together in late summer and early fall to make cut out characters by hand and that are spotlighted for Halloween.

And while both have a penchant for re-creating Tim Burton movie characters, including the "Nightmare before Christmas," ''Frankenweenie," and "Beetlejuice," scenes for Halloween don't always fit the ghoulish theme.

This year, for example, they have made characters from Cartoon Network's "Adult Swim" programming, notably "Rick and Morty."

Coming up with the idea was an example of how their process works.

"We were kicking around ideas and it was leaning toward Edward Scissorhands," recalls Phillip. "Then when we were in the Spirit Halloween store, we saw something about Rick and Morty, and we both said it at the same time, 'Rick and Morty!'"

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Mimi Shogry-Dorman, and to a lesser degree, husband Matt Dorman, have been building their Halloween yard in the Ocean Neighbors subdivision on James Island for eight years, starting when their children were young.

Matt usually limits Mimi to buying one new Halloween item, after the holiday season is over, but last year they scored a major addition to their collection.

Friends who had decided to stop decorating gave them a hand-made, wooden coffin and tombstones.

The coffin will end up helping their youngest son, 14-year-old Max Dorman, transition this year from trick or treating to just hanging out.

He plans to replace the skeleton that is now in the coffin on Halloween and scare appropriately aged people as they approach it.

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Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com