Myself, I love Halloween. From the time I was 12 and scared a group of college kids off my grandparents porch, I have loved the season. I worked in a Professional Haunted House for 4 years and created every room from the butchers rooms, to Jeepers Creepers, and the Ring. I have been to Transworld (biggest Halloween tradeshow in the US) and I have seen it all.
Halloween when I was younger was about going around the block on Trick or Treat and getting scared by the spooky homes. It has turned into a sort of compilation of who can put the most blood and gore on display without being reported to the police by concerned neighbors. So, seeing what could be done and what should be done, I set out to create the spooky Halloween feel without any of the gore and blood, yet still be the best house in the city. I mean really, do you think i looks scary to see an arm and leg stuck in a spiderweb, or guts hanging out of every prop with blood all over?
I created a few steps here to try for to make your home flow with the theme in place and things to avoid making it look cheesy and fake.
I hope you enjoy the season and get a few helpful hints on how to create your own unique spooky atmosphere.
Step 1: Picture of the Finished Product
Step one is always on the title page so here is short and sweet step including just the final picture of the Home.
Step 2: Determining Your Theme
All to often, when you are creating your Halloween atmosphere, you have so many things you can chose from that you use too many. Does the pirate ship wheel and chest really look good on the porch if you have a graveyard out front? Should you have clowns everywhere in the middle of a zombie theme?
Take a look at what you have and what you want to accomplish and set the boundaries accordingly.
For my home, I wanted the haunted cemetery feel similar to the original Night of the Living Dead film. You have a cemetery out front and you have zombies that came alive from said cemetery. Hence you need to board up the windows to survive.
Now to add some atmosphere to the whole thing, I needed to add some cobwebs and spiders to make it look overrun as well as fog and lighting, but we will get to that.
Step 3: The Fence
It seems silly to have gravestones all over your front yard and not have them in a fenced in area like a real cemetery. But alas, I have a cemetery across the river from me behind the house with no fence. Myself, I like the fenced in look so I added that.
Here you can see a complete Instructable (https://www.instructables.com/id/Halloween-Cemetery-Fence/) if you want to build your own.
The fence serves two purposes. First, it sets a hard boundary as to what is in your display and what is not. If you neighbor has up cheap props and a hodge podge assortment for a theme, it will keep your theme intact.
Second, the fence keeps your props and set up safe. Running through the yard is a relay of low voltage wiring as well a just a few extension cords to power the lights and such. The fence helps to herd the ToTs (Trick or Treaters) to your front door and keeps them from accidentally tripping over an LED power source. This will also help deter vandals from wanting to take anything out of your yard as it is harder to make off with items in a controlled environment.
Step 4: Let the Neighbors Know You Are There
I created my display the first year I lived at my new historic home (The house was built in 1854 to be exact). At that point, I knew relatively few neighbors but wanted to reach out and know a few more.
After the fence was up and the yard was defined, next came the grave stones. Now you can go to the store and find the izzy dead yet, Frank N. Stein, and Drac Cula stones or the ones that just say RIP and look like a cross. That is fine if that is what you want to do. Myself, I like personalized stones. So log onto the internet (oh wait you are if you are reading this) and go to your local auditors website. Pull up your street and ta-da, all the last names of the neighbors you don't yet know.
Then get yourself some 2 inch foam (pink or blue 4x8 sheets from the hardware store) and and razor blade/sharpie maker. Write the names of your neighbors on the board and cut it out. Paint them up to your liking and stick them in the yard.
Best way to stake them down is rebar. cut a 2 foot length and drill a hole big enough for 1/2 pvc to slide into up into the stone. You will need a long bit for this or an extension. Then put the pvc in the stone, hammer the rebar half way in the ground and slide the stone over it. I prefer 2 stakes per stone but that is your call. 40 mile and hour winds didn't take one stone down this year.
Now just wait for the conversations to start as neighbors walk by and see their last name on a tombstone.
So far I have only had one neighbor ask for his stone to be taken down ( his wife almost died from cancer and she was self conscious that year. The year prior they loved it.) and I have had requests for 6 others to be made including one not even on my street. The neighborhood is loving the display and anticipates it coming back with new things each year.
Step 5: Pull the House Into the Display
Well don't literally pull the house into the display. Instead make the house look like it should be there. To do this, I wanted to build on the zombie theme. I figured if zombies were going to break in, you would board up the windows and fortify the house. So I got some pallets, broke them down, screwed them together and put them over the windows.
No, I didn't screw them to the house as most people find putting screws into the outside of your house a bad thing, (although, I can count at least 12 I put in for Halloween alone and 6 for Christmas). Although I do have wood shingle siding, it is still bad to screw into if not needed.
To counter this problem, I created some hanging brackets like you would see at Christmas for wreaths. It is basically a sheet metal hook that fits over top and behind my storm windows. So loosen the 4 screws holding the plastic tabs on my windows, pull out the window, put the screwed together pallet cover on, and put the window back in place. And now you have boarded up windows with real boards that look like you screwed them to your house.
The next problem to address is sound. Your house looks creepy it should also sound creepy, especially through the month as you are decorating it ( I start decorating September 30th). To get the creepy sound, you need some speakers outside, and music. You can go with the cheap sound effect CDs at the store if you want but they will make the house sound like a cheap sound effect. I prefer dark symphonies. A few artist make some good ones for Halloween that are fun, dark, but family friendly. I used Midnight Syndicate and Nox Arcana for my mix. The Vampyre CD by Midnight Syndicate is my favorite and holds 8 of the 12 tracks on the disc. I have found that any of the CDs will have a song or two I can't stand or just sound silly. So I upload them to iTunes and then make my own mix from the top songs. Even if you don't do that, just putting in the Vampyre CD will be leaps better than the sound effect one your neighbor uses.
Step 6: Add Some Detail
My screen name is Haunted Spider. Hence I like spiders at least in a Halloween sort of way. When it comes to a real giant spider called fishing spiders in the Cleveland area, I don't like them at all, but I digress.
I love the look of spiderwebs done right at Halloween. The stretchy stuff you get for a dollar at the store isn't the look I wanted. I found two types of webs I could agree looked pleasing with the display. Those are hand tied nylon and beef netting. Beef netting? Is that what I said? Yep it is.
The beef netting is from a place called Trenton Mills. They sell netting to butchers across the country but they are also now catering toward Halloween nuts like myself. You have to order the net from them which comes in pounds not lengths (10 pounds is overkill but fun). The only catch is they don't like credit cards and you have to mail a check.
With the beef netting, you can put it up as is, or throw it into some Rit dye first to whiten it and make it glow in black light. Next just cut it into a length you like, cut the tube in half ( it comes in a tube form for putting meat into. and start to staple it up and stretch it as you go. Then just use a razor blade and cut across it in small sections. It will pull apart and make the web look shown here.
For tied webbing, first learn how to tie a clove hitch, and then repeat that process over and over. Basically tie the runner strings first and then just circle out from the center with the clove hitches to create the web. 3/16th nylon works great. If you want to make a maze you can see through but not run through use 1/4 nylon so you can bounce off :)
Step 7: Fog Effects
Most graveyards look spookier when there is a mist or fog rolling through. At least that is what I am telling myself and what Hollywood says whenever they have a cemetery scene.
So you need a fog machine. Any machine will do the job but some do it better than others. I have used the cheap $20 machines from Walmart and I have a nice American DJ 1200 watt fog storm. I like my fog storm as it produces much more fog at a better rate, but it is also a little more expensive.
The problem with fog is it comes out of the machine hot and wants to rise and fog your neighbors yard rather than yours. So I made a fog chiller which basically pushes the fog through ice before it exits the chiller and cools the temp down helping the fog stay low to the ground and in your yard, unless there is wind. The concept of a chiller is easy and building one is not to hard either. Search fog chillers online and you will find a plethora of choices. I believe mine was called a reverse vortex chiller, that I modified with a drainage tube to disperse the fog over an area vs one source and put in a vent fan to push the fog down the tube.
If you use a chiller, you will loose half of your fog volume to the ice but what is left will look more like the Hollywood scene you wanted in the first place.
I also suggest you get a timer remote on the machine so you are not having to constantly push the button to make fog appear in your yard.
For the fog itself, solution matters. I have tried the walmart brand, Spirit Halloween brand, Sam Ash brand and even Rosco (high end fogger units). What I prefer is Froggys fog. Depending on your application, they have many different kinds of fogs to chose from. I like the swamp juice from Froggys as it is thick and lasts forever. I walked down my street last year and could see the fog in the air in front of homes 9 houses away.
You can also scent the fog to your liking with scents sold from Froggys. I think my current scent is Swampy Marsh but might change that next year.
Step 8: Lighting
What good is an awesome display if you can't see it? So what can you do to fix that? Lighting, yep it is that easy, well sort of.
Good lighting will make the difference from a great prop/set, to a dark shadowed blob that is indistinguishable from the bushes behind it.
I started out my lighting with 25 watt colored bulbs and some 75 watt spots. The problem was they would color wash out too many things and you couldn't see the details. When the graveyard looks better in daylight, you have a problem.
I created some simple LED spots on low voltage cable (landscape wire) with the help of a few tutorials. These little spots allowed me to highlight each stone individually and props separate from each other. A few bigger spots were still used to light up parts of the house and 4 foot black lights were on the porch.
The goal was not only to reduce the power used, but also the wash out effect and to create a safer environment so it would be hard for someone to get shocked if they did trip on a wire.
The LED lighting was powered using a hacked computer power supply, meaning I took the supply out of the computer, used the 12 volt lines to run the lighting, and capped the rest. This builds in an automatic short shut off mode in case the wires are crossed. The system instantly powers down with no one hurt. As well they were plugged into hard wired GFCI outlets on the porch for double protection.
With the proper lighting, your display comes to life as it is lit up dimily but purposefully. Shadows lurk and important things are highlighted leaving the rest to imagination.
Step 9: What Are the Kids Into?
Part of a great theme is knowing what the kids are into these days. Myself, I am 27, so not that far removed from the kid zone, but knowing what is popular is helpful. Most kids probably don't know who Chucky is or even pinhead. They might have seen them in passing as a mask at a store but don't know why.
Knowing what is popular will help keep your theme lively and fun. I chose zombies as everyone loves zombies right now. Specifically, I chose the Call of Duty Zombie game to base a few things off of. I made the boards boarding up the windows alot like the ones in the game. I made cut outs of zombies ( credit due to another instructable on this site https://www.instructables.com/id/Zombie-Horde-on-the-cheap/) attacking the windows. I also outlined a gun on the wall in black tape like you would see in the game as an item to buy.
When kids walked by, you heard, "Hey thats a Thompson (the gun) on the wall. Thats awesome that you know about COD Zombies."
Keeping up with the times will help relate to what you are creating and make it a success.
Step 10: What Does Your Neighborhood Have That Others Don't?
So to have fun with the neighborhood and play on a side theme, I built a plane crash in my yard. The side yard didn't have anything in it last year so this year, I had a blank slate. The plane included a pilot and co-pilot as well. The co- pilot forgot to pull his chute cord and the pilot pulled his but got hung up on the flag pole. I purchased real parachutes and harnesses from a testing center that deemed them unsafe for flight, created some kicking leg mechanisms with the help of the ScaryTerry website as a loose guide, and put them to motion activation using a Monster Guts nerve center.
The whole thing was rather intriguing to build and entertaining to watch.
Here is a Youtube link to the scene in action.
Granted this doesn't fit into the whole zombie theme, but then again it fits with my neighborhood and makes it unique so I don't mind. As well it is in the side yard and not connected to any of the zombie stuff so I justify it my way :)
The point is, if you have something your area or neighborhood is known for, expand on it and have some fun with it. It will draw attention and get people talking. I had at least 3 different police officers stop in my drive get out and take some pics and video with their cell phones. That will help me if I ever had an issue with vandalism as they know exactly which house is mine. Plus it is nice to see people take notice of a town gag.
Step 11: Halloween Night
The way I look at it is, Halloween is the best day of the year to reach out to your neighbors. You wouldn't feel comfortable going to your neighbors at Christmas and giving them a gift because they would feel awkward not having one to give in return. Think about when you get a Christmas card from a neighbor and you didn't give them one.
Halloween on the other hand is fair game for giving. Everyone expects candy for the kids but who says the adults that are lugging around the ToTs that evening don't want something too? So to solve this, my wife and I set up a pole tent in the front of the driveway and fired up the BBQ grill and cooked out. We handed out 50 hotdogs, 2 gallons of hot chocolate, and a gallon of hot apple cider. You will need an extra hand or two here to keep things flowing. My parents came to help out.
Granted we only had 32 kids this year, we still had a blast doing it and we had neighbors that came down and stayed a good part of the evening just to hang out and chat.
It was great fun and an amazing outreach to be neighborly and make friends of those around us.
Below is a video at the start of trick or treat. It is still light out but you can see the display for what it looked like the night of Halloween. The music playing in the background is a mixture of Nox Arcana and Midnight Syndicate for those interested.
Step 12: Pictures
Below is a video of the pneumatic box working a bit. Just a few scares.