Some people believe that death is caused when the Grim Reaper comes to bring you to the afterlife. While you await judgement for your life's decisions, good and bad, you are placed into purgatory. This Halloween costume is that idea brought to life.
I love visual illusion costumes and this year I wanted to do something big. This costume is almost 7.5 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter, but it will still just fit through a door and not quite touch the ceiling.
Step 1: Concept Drawings and Materials
As with all builds, it is easier to have plans and work through ideas on paper rather than trying to put stuff together on the fly. I wanted the Reaper to be 8 feet tall, but after walking around with a tape measure stretched out that far, I noticed I kept hitting a lot of things (door frames, lights, ceiling fans...) I used my arms, shoulders and hands as references and scaled everything accordingly so the Grim Reaper stands just short of 7.5 feet.
As I am not a professional costume builder, I wanted to keep the cost of the build as low as possible. Lots of items I had at home, but to buy everything would be around $100.
- 1/8” Foam PVC board – 4’ X 3’ (not the corrugated type)
Rust-oleum Hammered Metallic spray paint
Bone white spray paint
18 gauge wire
4” diameter foam pool noodle
Duct Tape, black, blue and grey
¾ “ PVC pipe with T’s and elbow fittings
#8-32 screws and nuts
Grim Reaper cloak
Cheesecloth, black and grey
4” thick foam
Old shirt, pants and socks
Step 2: The Cage: Part 1 (Cutting and Painting)
I wanted the cage to look cramped and as it was going to be the focal point of the costume, I started with it first. Strips of PVC board 1" wide and 3’ long, made up the vertical slats and the horizontal hoops of the cage while the flooring comprised of shorter pieces. Holes were drilled to give the spacing between the hoops of 2” at the top and bottom and 8” in between. A 6” diameter circle was cut and drilled to connect the slats at the top.
Originally, I was going to weather the PVC board by striking it, painting it, staining it... However, this made the plastic board brittle and would easily break at those locations. I decided to use a Hammered spray paint instead. The paint gives the plastic an old metal look while saving a lot of time.
Step 3: The Cage: Part 2 (Building)
The cage was put together with #8-32 1/2" machine screws and nuts. Vertical slats were connected to the horizontal hoops then bent and connected together at the top using a round plate. The screws gave a sense of realism and added to the metallic look of the cage.
The bottom of the cage was done a little differently as I need to climb in and out. 14” X 1” pieces were attached to the slats by folding over duct tape and “hiding” the tape between the slats and the hoops. This gave the bottom of the cage some flexibility and would otherwise go un-noticed hidden by the fake legs. I connected all but three pieces on the bottom of the cage, leaving some space for me to enter it.
Step 4: Beefy Arms
Ten strips of 18 gauge wire were cut to 5' lengths. This would give the Grim Reaper arms roughly 4 feet long and the remaining wire (12") was used to connect the arms together once they were both complete. Each wire was covered with masking tape marked to show the different length of each arm bone. The foam pool noodle was cut to the different lengths and each piece was slit up the middle to place the wire in. The foam was then wrapped in masking tape and more foam pieces were added to give the bones a natural look.
Step 5: Gnarled Hands
The hands were constructed the same way as the arms. The wire was cut and adjusted for the different length of the bones in each finger, covered in masking tape and all joints and finger tips were labeled. Extra foam was placed around the knuckles to give an added gnarled look. Once the arms were completed any area that had foam was covered with tape prior to paining. The arms were painted with a bone white spray paint and left outside to dry.
Step 6: Grim Reaper (Head and Neck)
A pool noodle was cut to provide anchors points for the neck, skeleton and arms of the Reaper. The neck was constructed using a piece of the foam pool noodle cut and glued to a 6" length of PVC pipe. This provided a larger surface and ensured a more stable fit when the pipe was glued to the skull. The skull was connected to the shoulders by a 3/4" PVC T fitting placed in the middle of the pool noodle shoulders. The orange foam and white pipe was then covered in black duct tape and securely fasted to the upper body with more duct tape.
Step 7: Grim Reaper (Body)
The remaining pool noodle was cut in two spots to place the PVC T’s to connect the body of the skeleton. The T fittings were positioned with the head being offset from center to give the illusion of the skull bending forward. PVC pipe was cut and connected to the elbow fittings so that the base would sit comfortable in the bottom of the backpack. The straps of the back pack needed to come through the Grim Reaper cloak, so all pieces were connected together and the skeleton was placed the cloak to measure for cutting.The cloak was then cut in two places align to the straps and, to give a better illusion, one place where the rest of the cloak would be visible beneath the cage.This would allows me to climb through the larger cut and the cloak would be visible around my hips.
Once the arms were dry, the noodle was cut in the back and the wire was fed through all of the PVC T's and twisted together. The foam was slightly bent to look like shoulders and everything was wrapped in black duct tape. The Reaper was then hung to dress with cheesecloth and other bits of black fabric.
Step 8: Alternate Legs
For the visual illusion portion of the costume to work, I needed to have my legs inside the cage. 4” bedding foam was cut and shaped to resemble a foot. As the foam was going to be covered with a sock, I duct taped the foam into place to provide the basic shape of a foot. The socks were then put on and the legs were placed into a pair of old pants. I cut the back out of an old shirt that could be worn inside the cage to cover up the back pack straps. Strapping a belt to the pants and wrapping it around my waste completed the look of me being trapped.
As the grim reaper cloak was meant to fit someone of average height, it was roughly 2’ short of touching the ground. Black socks with a black skirt lengthened the overall costume and completed the look of Death towering overhead..
Step 9: The Completed Build
The straps of the back pack were threaded through the pre-made holes in the cloak and placed over the middle hoop of the cage. These were then connected to the waist band through the space between the two lower hoops. As the hands and arms were made from wire, they could be bent into any shape and hold their form. Both hands were wrapped around the sides of the cage giving the look of the Grim Reaper holding it up. The total costume weighs only 15 lbs. and most of the weight is carried in the backpack.
This reactions of people as I walked around with Purgatory was priceless. Lots of question of how does that work, nervous laughter and only a few crying kids made this a great Halloween costume.
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