I've been a big fan of Steve Hickman's "Terror Syndicate" and his Dark Works haunt ever since I stumbled across them last year. For a home haunter, Steve's got a set up that could rival many pro haunts I've seen and visited.
Although I've said that for my own haunt I'd like it to have a theme, and for the props to be coordinated and not just a haphazard collection of props, what I like about Dark Works is that it is all coordinated but there's no set time period for it. As I've read Steve's description of it, the name implies what it is: a "dark" haunt with props that reflect that theme. You might have Monster Mud monks, but you'll also have granny having a problem with her toilet. The odd thing is, they easily and naturally coexist.
From what I understand Steve opens his walk through for three days leading up to Halloween. I had initially planned on visiting his haunt this year -- until I realized just how far Pittsburgh is from me. As cool as I'm sure the haunt is, a 7+ hour trip is probably not going to happen. Yet it is one of my new plans for the coming years, to take a few days off and visit my fellow haunters haunts and appreciate in person the work they're doing. There are a lot of talented people out there and I'd like to highlight them with reviews from personal visits.
Steve also has available a number of books and videos for sale detailing how he builds his props. At $30 a pop, they're not exactly cheap, but I figured for the knowledge they'd give I'd try them. I ordered the first two (of five) handbooks (as he calls them) and while I was expecting a slightly higher quality presentation -- I had in mind a book like "How to Haunt Your Yard" by Lynne and Shawn Mitchell -- they are filled with useful and helpful details and projects.
The books are spiral bound pages with clear plastic covers. While that initially turned me off, I have to say the benefit is that they lay flat on my work bench so I can easily follow the instructions as I build my props. Needless to say, I burned through the first two rather quickly and ordered the next two in the series. Last month I got the fifth and final handbook, but also ordered the first video in the series.
On the video Steve gives a presentation of how he builds certain props. What I liked was seeing how they actually came together -- and there were a few extras included that weren't in the handbooks (like a gargoyle prop). It was good to see how he actually constructs his body forms.
For each of the props made, a complete materials list is provided and Steve shows each of the tools needed to build them. Aside from a power miter saw (which is really optional anyway) these are tools that just about every homeowner has in their house.
What I was really impressed with was his discussion and use of Monster Mud. As most know, Monster Mud has been around for awhile, but it really took off in popularity and usage following Steve bestowing the name "Monster Mud" on it. I've built a few props using the medium, but it wasn't until I actually saw Steve using it himself that I really (and finally) felt I had a good feel for it.
The video is very good quality and the haunting sounds playing as background fit the mood of what's being built. The editing is also smart and looks professionally done (Steve's credited with doing the editing, so bravo, Steve!). Of course I'd prefer a cheaper price, and some of the photos were tough to make out, which probably results from photocopying rather than printing, but I think they're still a good value and recommend them.
As I said I'm a fan of Steve's haunt and hope that one day I'll actually make it out to western Pennsylvania and visit.
1 day ago