JACKSON TWP. As the sun set, Rivercrest Street grew increasingly darker.
There were no streetlights, only lamps to illuminate this quiet, laid-back subdivision.
This night was like any other night at the Harrison residence.
Four boys tossed beanbags at small ramps. A group of girls chatted about this or that, while the boys played.
A fire burned brightly in a homemade pit in the backyard, where Jeffrey Harrison and his wife, Dorene, kicked back with Gracie, their Chihuahua.
Harrison sipped a drink.
And then, suddenly, there was a scream.
And another. They were blood-curdling.
But the screams didn't come from the Harrisons; they came from a 9-foot-tall projection screen.
"Nightmare Man," a 2007 horror flick, was the latest feature attraction to play at the Harrisons' outdoor movie theater.
"Nick hates scary movies," Harrison said of his 9-year-old son one of the couple's four children.
Daughters Gabby, 17, Courtney, 13, and Hanna, 11, complete the Harrison clan.
Their outdoor theater system is set up in the backyard, an increasingly popular option for people to save money.
That's why the Harrison family did it.
Harrison said he needed to cut back expenses, as fuel prices rose above $3 a gallon this summer. A family night out at the movies was axed.
He estimates it cost him $75 or more for the entire family to see one first-run film at local theaters.
"I'm frugal. I get tired of spending money," Harrison said, candidly.
In exchange, he spent $1,400 and custom-built a theater in his backyard for his family and their friends to enjoy nightly.
"In 26 movie nights, this is paid for," he said.
That same logic was used a decade earlier to custom-build a pool and patio deck for $9,000, Harrison said.
He said his children needed a place to cool down after he disconnected the air conditioning unit to save money.
"It's just a logical thing: Continue to buy stuff for the house, that's going to keep you entertained, so you don't have to spend money elsewhere."
Gabby said they watch outdoor movies almost every night; all the films are older, bought cheaply at Wal-Mart.
"You can't put enough value in that everyone is together," Harrison said.
And they're not alone.
A movie night attracts friends and neighbors to their house; some times 30 or more guests.
"We like it," said Mike Schoen, Harrison's next-door neighbor, grabbing a handful of popcorn and lounging on his patio deck. He was joined by his wife, Joyce.
"It's like a drive-in movie, but it's more comfortable," Schoen said.
Harrison said the backyard theater even makes Monday Night Football games more enjoyable.
Randy Fisk operates a Web site dedicated to backyard theater aficionados:
Get tips. See photos. Get ideas. Chat with members.
"It's definitely gaining in popularity," Fisk said. "A lot of growth in the last two years."
Fisk attributed this increase to projector prices, saying they're cheaper now. In 1995, he said a projector cost $7,000. Now, you can buy one for about $700.
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