Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I Have a Dream

"Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty we are free at last!"
-- Chris Baker, er -- Martin Luther King

As you probably already know if you follow any number of blogs or vlogs, since so many have mentioned it, the premier Halloween and haunt related podcast Hauntcast is going free again. After a dalliance with a pay-per-download model (the exorbitant sum of $1 per show, or $12 annually) -- which apparently vastly enriched its creator Chris Baker to such an extent that he can now retire and produce the show at no cost to listeners -- he'll be opening up the podcast again for free.

Or...he was able to prove to advertisers that there was a demand for the product. Seems companies were willing to advertise on the show, but it was either it had to be free or Chris decided he couldn't charge people to listen to ads. Either way there was enough of an economic incentive there for him to revert to the original free download model Hauntcast started with.

From what I've read, there were some 12,000 or so downloads of past shows which advertisers found attractive. So what the g/host is doing is reworking the archived shows with new advertising. That's pretty smart on his part! Plus he gets new advertising too. I imagine that's something that can be reworked every so often, though it's probably a bear of an effort to re-edit all those shows.

As regular readers here know I've been a big supporter of Hauntcast, regardless of the iteration. I had a contest for two subscriptions earlier this year and bought one for a friend at a recent haunt convention, along with my own sub. As I've also said, I was more than willing to pay to support the show and I didn't think the cost was outrageous. And I have no problems now that it's gone back to free. It was an investment in extremely enjoyable entertainment for me.

But now, if you were hesitant about shelling out the $12 bucks to listen to what all the buzz was about -- there was buzz, right? -- now you can just head on over and tune in. For me, I'm happy knowing the best haunt and Halloween related podcast will remain on the air. Free at last!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hell Freezes Over

Despite my saying I would never, ever, ever vlog -- that is, post a video blog -- I went ahead and recorded one anyway, and posted it on my YouTube channel, which is GhoulishCop. That's the screen name I use on the haunt and Halloween forums.

Now Cecile B. DeMille has nothing to worry about with my freshman directorial debut (exactly how do you not constantly record your chin?) but it was fun. I tried to keep it under 10 minutes, because I think that's about the limit of anyone's attention span, so a lot ended up on the cutting room floor...which I'm sure you'll be thankful for.

Future episodes will be somewhat improved. I've already viewed my first vlog with a very critical eye, and though I posted it knowing there were a bunch of flaws, I figured if I didn't actually do it this time I'd probably never get around to it. So by forcing myself to post a video that I know has (many) areas for improvement, I'm actually pressuring myself into posting a second, better one so that the original isn't my entire legacy.

Having done this vlog, however, I have a lot more respect for those haunters who do this every day. I can assure you I won't torture you with daily updates of my exploits (pigs truly don't fly), if for no other reason than I'm just not that interesting. I'm sure my ramblings on this blog can make you think I'm something of a dullard at times (self-edit, self-edit!) so having to watch some stream of consciousness verbal diarrhea from me would undoubtedly be excruciating.

But what I would like my vlogs to cover would be my Halloween-related activities. I mean, that's the only reason someone might be remotely interested in watching them anyway so I'll limit them to covering that topic. The benefit to me is I think it might help me work on more projects. This blog helps me in some respect that way, keeping me interested in building things, and vlogging my progress might too. I know reading about your own haunt activities and viewing your videos gets me excited, so maybe in some small way I can do that for someone else.

Anyway, you've been forewarned: drivel ahead!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Postcards From the Edge

I took a couple of days off from working on my cemetery pillars but have been enjoying BlogTV, a combination of video chats and instant messaging. While anyone can host a session, obviously I'm interested in communing with my fellow haunters.

Some of the people who've hosted recently that I've tuned in to, and you might be familiar with, include Halloween Hellmouth, FrightGuy, and Steve's Haunted Yard. These are freewheeling, fun discussions, usually about Halloween and haunt related topics, but with a decidedly adult bent. In reality, anything's free game but because we all share a common interest, the dominant topic is Halloween and our activities surrounding the holiday.

Last night, for example, FrightGuy from Grimlock Manor, discussed techniques he's used to age paper and pictures, including coffee, cinnamon, and cumin. While I've used coffee before, I never heard of the latter two so that's something I'll have to try.

Also Steve, who also posts daily vlogs on YouTube, recently hosted BlogTV and corpsed a blucky. He also held a contest where the first five people who texted him (you know, having a literature degree I still haven't gotten comfortable with "texted" being a word let alone a verb) received a unique postcard that he picked up from the Museum of the Weird in Austin, TX (he also vlogged his time at the Museum). I was one of the five (I think there were only five of us on at the time) and, true to his word, I got my postcard in the mail yesterday. You can't go wrong with Lon Chaney as "The Phantom of the Opera!"

Perhaps even more important was Steve's own artwork added to the reverse side of the card. I'm sure that it will be worth something in a few years so I'm hanging on to this!

Thanks, Steve! And for everyone reading, check out BlogTV. Look up the folks above searching under "People" and subscribe to them. That way you'll receive notification when they're planning on hosting a new chat session. It's great hanging out with names you've probably seen on the various forums and discussing in real-time Halloween and haunt related topics.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pillar Update

Did a little more work on my cemetery pillars the past couple of days. I finished carving the stonework into the foam on all four sides and then painted it with a coat of Drylok. I opted not to use any Monster Mud because I didn't want to cover up any of the detail, and in the end it really wasn't necessary.

(What's interesting is how the blue ink from the foam mixed with the Drylok, yet in that one spot where there's an "S" it didn't. Nor was that visible before I started painting. Ooooooh! Spooky!)

After that coat dried I painted it all over with a coat of black paint. The goal will be to build up the paint layers in successively lighter colors with the end result that it looks like stone. We'll see.

Painting melted foam isn't as easy as you might think. Getting the brush into all the nooks and crannies that are formed is a time-sapping, laborious process. My neighbor was leaning out her window watching me and offering commentary on my work (Yes! That's what I need!) when she asked, "Wouldn't it be faster to spray paint it?" I  explained about the melting properties of spray paint on foam so that I'd still have to provide some sort of primer coat on it. Plus, spray paint can get expensive, though the basic flat black cans at Home Depot and Lowe's are cheap at just $0.99.

As I sat there jabbing my brush into the crevices, I suddenly wanted to smack myself upside the head. I have a compressor with a sprayer attachment! So I went hooked everything up, and in 5 minutes time had the entire pillar painted. What had taken me three times as long to do just half of one face of the pillar took me a third of the time to complete the rest of it.

Don't know why I drew a blank on the spray unit before, but I guess my neighbor's colloquy really was what I needed after all.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Brick by Brick

Between building my cemetery pillars and remodeling my basement, space has become a premium in my garage. I got 14 sheets of 5/8" sheetrock for free from a Yahoo! group called Freecycle and they're stacked to one side of the single-car space while my columns take up the middle. While I'm slowly making my way through the sheetrock, I figured if I'm really ever going to open up any room in the garage I'm going to have to get these columns done and put into storage.

So after lots of procrastination I began work on them again. The one column had the rigid foam insulation already applied while the other is still just the frame. Since I don't have space just yet to go get and store more insulation to skin the second one, I figured I'd do the design work on the first and at least get it out of the way.

Of course, working without any clear idea in mind as to the exact effect I want is difficult, but I decided that rather than brick it would have something of a stacked stone look. After laying out how big I wanted the courses to be, I measured and scored them, then began the laborious process of using a wood burning tool to make the mortar lines.

While that was actually quick enough, I didn't want neat, sharp lines since these are supposed to be aged pillars. So after making the outlines of the stones I wanted using a straight edge (the stones would have been straight and orderly when initially set), I went back and began "aged" them by rounding off corners and generally "unsmoothing" the neatness. That was the time consuming process.

Once that was done, I used a technique I had seen on a vlog by Steve's Haunted Yard where you spray water onto the foam and then hit it using a heat gun. It gives the foam a stone look almost instantly. Very cool! (I looked for but couldn't find the link to the exact video. Sorry.)

I only finished two sides of the column and will complete the other two today (hopefully). The second side took a little bit longer than the first because it was the side I have my access panel on and I wanted to disguise its presence so there are a number of smaller and misshapen stones there. While I think it hides it fairly well for the most part, it took a lot more time to do all those extra stones. But it also underscores why I built my foam-cutting tools: the score-with-a-razor technique left a lot to be desired. I'm confident my second column will come out much better using my hot wire cutters.

And while I probably don't have to coat them in Monster Mud before painting, I probably will anyway to cover up as many imperfections as possible. Then adding a bit of Drylok on top of that will give an additional layer of protection and stone-like appearance.

On a side note, it was actually odd using Drylok on a non-haunt-related project. While I don't have a problem of water leaks in my basement, since I'm putting up new walls on the exterior concrete block, I figured it was a bit of preventive maintenance to cover them in Drylok to inhibit any moisture that might want to work its way in after I put them up. Now that that's done, I'll be able to finish another corner of the laundry room. But that means it's almost time then to renovate the back stairwell which entails tearing down my old stairs and building new ones.

How the heck can I make Halloween props when my wife insists on me finishing the basement? That's the difference between doing the work yourself and hiring a contractor to come in. They'll be in and out quickly while I have the luxury of squeezing it in around skinning my cemetery pillars. I'm thinking though I may have to focus on getting the stairwell done quickly though. I might want clean clothes occasionally and I don't want to have to tell my wife, "Careful going to the basement, honey. That first step's a doozy!"

Friday, May 20, 2011

Hook Me Up

I'm not much of a TV person and it wasn't until I met my wife that I became anything close to a moviephile, but a good TV series (say, The Walking Dead) or a good movie (28 Days Later) can reel me in (Heh! Get it? "Reel me in." Movie reel. Okay, onward).

But finding good shows or movies to watch can be hard because there's just so much crap out there. Too often, the trailers for the movies or shows contain all the good stuff and the rest is just filler, and bad filler at that. Worse, a director can do really good things with a movie, but gets stuck in how to get out of the box he's created and so comes up with a lame ending. A lot of times I'm left feeling there's a lot of film that's been left on the cutting room floor.

However, lately I've become addicted to a resource that's at least leading me in the right direction to really good cinema: Hook's Haunted Hollow.

I'm not sure how I found his blog, but I started tuning in lately and I've found it's just a wealth of movie and TV show trailers and links for stuff that's coming out that looks like it's going to be awesome. For example, there's an indie movie that just came out called The Tunnel, about an Australian news crew doing a story on an abandoned subway system in Sydney. Thinking it was more a story about homeless people going missing, they find there's a lot more going on beneath their feet than anyone could imagine.

I had seen a trailer for the movie and thought it looked really cool, but then Hook's blog posted the filmmakers were offering a free, legal download of the movie -- in high-def even. I immediately downloaded and watched it yesterday and it was every bit as good as I thought it was going to be. I wouldn't have known about the free download had it not been for Hook's post.

Then there's the regular updates about the coming movie Super 8, several new TV shows coming out this year that look very cool -- The River, Awake, and Person of Interest -- and more. The man's got way too much time on his hands to be finding and posting all these links, trailers, and updates, but I'm glad he does. I'm pretty much a couch potato as it is (though my laptop is usually in hand rather than the TV remote), but I may never have a reason to get up with all the cool stuff he's finding.

If you're the least bit interested at all in horror, thriller, and even sci-fi-ish stuff (he's got Green Lantern updates, X-Men, and Transformers too) you must check out and follow Hook's Haunted Hollow. Really, it's simply a convenient way to stay on top of the best these genres have coming out. It's definitely on my daily, must-read list.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Logging a Lot of Miles

Not me, but my fellow haunters. I've recently got hooked on watching haunt and Halloween related video blogs -- or vlogs, for those of you who might not have found them yet -- and one common thread that runs through all of them (aside from being haunt and Halloween related) is these vloggers love to drive and vlog at the same time.

Whether it's going to the local Goodwill store, running to the post office, driving to or from work, or heading out to some convention, these vloggers are behind the wheel videotaping themselves. While I appreciate the spontaneity of recording thoughts as they happen, maybe it's because I'm a retired police officer but all this "distracted driving" drives me nuts! And they say talking on a cellphone leads to accidents.

I haven't witnessed any wrecks just yet, but paying attention to what you're saying to a camera instead of driving that 2,000-lb. machine and what's around you -- though I do notice a lot of checking the mirrors; maybe they're looking for cops? -- is going to lead to bad things eventually.

For the sake of the vloggers who I've come to really enjoy watching and learning from, please put the camera away while you're behind the wheel. We can wait till you get wherever it is you're going to hear what you have to say.

While I've only just started subscribing to various YouTube channels, I already have a number of favorites that I make  sure I watch every day (probably because they post every day!). Typically the best ones (for me) deal specifically with props and prop building, though catching up on some of their everyday lives is fun too.

I would like to see a little more self-editing in some of these, though, so that they stick with the main thrust of the video and don't run more than 10 minutes maximum. I wish I had time to sit and watch endless hours of stream-of-consciousness ramblings, even if it is about Halloween, but I need to get in and get on to other things so I often find myself fast forwarding through a lot of what's being said. Keeping it on point would be a big help.

Despite that minor criticism, I'm enjoying the vlogs and seeing things occurring "real time," or close enough anyway. Here's a list of some of my favorite vloggers:

Steve's Haunted Yard
My Little Piece of Hell
The Bloodshed Brothers

At the top of the list, however, is HauntVentures by Haunt It Yourself, two vloggers who give really great tips and inspiration for haunters everywhere. Jason Dasti and Melissa Mcknight are professional haunters (or something). They have a huge workshop up in Canada and build some amazing props, and were also behind many of the videos posted for Hauntcon, where they took you on tours of many of the haunted houses, vendors, and workshops that took place there. I really want to go see the Dent Schoolhouse as a result of their videos.

I had seen the Dent Schoolhouse website previously and it looked really cool, but HauntVentures' tour through the haunted house really made up my mind. What I liked best was you get to see these haunted attractions as they appear to regular guests, but also with a "lights on" tour. Then you get to see the level of detail these attractions put into their work.

Hauntcon apparently offered a number of attraction tours, and Jason and Melissa I think captured them all on video. Well worth the time invested in watching them all (perhaps 80 videos or so!).

In short, if you haven't started watching the vlogs, I think you should give it a shot. Many are very informative. I don't think I'll be vlogging anytime soon myself, but I have at least considered putting up some videos of projects I'm doing. If I do decide to do that, however, I'll make sure none of them involve being behind the wheel of a car!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Handheld Foam Cutter Tutorial

The latest addition to my hot wire foam cutting tools is a handheld device for when I want to do close-up work and don't need the table. Detailing the edges of tombstones, for example, or carving out pieces of foam that might be too awkward for the table to handle are the instances where a handheld foam cutter would be handy.

While initially basing my handheld cutter on a device hpropman made, this one is much smaller than his as I envisioned using it for the times I mentioned above. His cutter was about a foot or more in width; mine is about 6 to 8 inches.

To make the cutter, I used scrap 1/2" Schedule 40 PVC though I imagine other sizes would work, as would thinner Schedule 20 PVC. The parts list for my device are as follows:

Handle - (1) @ 8"
Cross bars - (2) @ 2"
Arms - (2) @ 4"
T - (1)
90 degree Elbow - (2)
End Caps (3)
Nickel wound wire 18 gauge
Screws (2) @ 1"
Nuts (6)
Washers (4)
Wire Connectors*

* I'm not sure exactly what they're called. They're circular and allow you to insert a wire into the end which you're then able to fit over a screw.

After cutting all the pieces to length, I dry fit them together. Actually, I didn't glue up any of the parts because I figured there may come a time when I want to swap out the parts for wide or longer pieces, depending upon what I'm working on, and rather than building a whole new cutter, I could just remove whatever's in there currently and replace it with the new parts. The caps definitely shouldn't be glued because you may need to gain access to the nut holding the screw in place.

This is a really quick project, the hardest part being fitting my fingers in the end caps to tighten down the bolt. Here is a picture of the end cap assembly showing the screw, two nuts, wire connector, and washer. As you can see, I drilled a 3/8" hole in the top and side of each end cap. The top hole is obviously for the screw; the side hole allows the wire to travel down inside the PVC.

I wrapped the 18 gauge nickel guitar wire below the top nut and tightened the nuts down. I stretched the wire across to the other side and did the same thing. Since I couldn't show a picture of the completed end cap assembly underneath that would have any meaning, below is a drawing of how the assembly looks.

One adjustment I may look at making is coming up with a way to fine tune the tension on the wire because when it heats up it does stretch a little. But in the meantime it works just fine. I also noticed I didn't need nearly as much power with this device as I did with the table. Or rather, I noticed the wire actually turned orange on the handheld at the same setting it was on for the table. Perhaps it has to do with the shorter distance between the wire, or maybe it's that I'm using 14/2 Romex wire compared to the 16 gauge wire I used for the table that I had left over from my LED spotlight project. Either way, I dialed it back before I snapped the guitar string.

With the hot wire handheld cutter and foam cutting table, I think I should be able to tackle any of the foam cutting projects I have in mind. I do have a tendency to build jigs and tools to help build projects without building any project itself! At least now I don't have an excuse for not working on props.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Foam Cutter Power Supply Tutorial

After completing my foam cutting table yesterday, but failing at hooking up the power supply to it, I wanted to get it done to cut some foam.

The Garage of Evil tutorial calls for using a Pony PET-120-12-60 power supply, but no store around here had one in stock. I was going to buy one online, but did a little online searching and found, first, that these are called transformers (I didn't know that ahead of time, and when I tried to explain it to people they had no idea what I was talking about).

Once I knew what I was looking for, I went to Radio Shack and was able to find what I needed: I got a 12.6 VAC, 3 amp power transformer (it was Radio Shack part number 273-1511B).

I also bought a basic dimmer switch from Lowe's:

While the GoE plans also calls for a switch-outlet combination, I didn't figure that was going to be necessary. While I'll get a project box for the parts, the double gang box I originally bought won't fit the RS transformer. I guess that's one of the benefits of the Pony model, it's more compact than this one. But I wanted to cut foam now, so I went with what I had available.

I also bought alligator clips which I connected to 16 gauge wire I had available from my LED light projects.

It was then time to hook up the transformer and dimmer to the plug wire I salvaged from the train transformer. The GoE directions were essential since there are a heckuva lot of wires and no real rhyme or reason to them. Following the schematic, I hooked up all the wires, though I had two yellow wires coming out of the transformer instead of blue. 

Also there were no white wires on any of my components, everything was black or yellow so it was a bit of a guess as to which went where. Maybe it doesn't matter so much. Either that or I guess right. Obviously I bypassed the switch/outlet part.

I connected the transformer to the alligator clips, which in turn were connected to the guitar wire.

Here is a look under the table showing the other connection at the PVC arch:

I plugged in the setup and with fingers crossed I turned on the dimmer. There were no sparks and the circuit wasn't blown so it seemed to be working. A quick touch of the wire showed it was hot, so I shoved some foam into it and success!

I definitely didn't bring anything new to the discussion here, and I suggest anyone looking to build this power supply themselves to follow the Garage of Evil tutorial. It was a big help.

One note of caution: I wanted to see how high I could crank the power on the dimmer and put it all the way up. It didn't take long for the wire to turn red hot and then pop! About half the way provided sufficient power and I sacrificed the wire just to see what would happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Foam Cutting Table Tutorial

I spent this morning making a foam cutting table, basically following the design of my fellow NJ/PA Make & Take haunter, hpropman. Joe's design is in turn based on the welded table version made by the Garage of Evil.

I figured I'd offer a step-by-step tutorial with photos for everything I did. The project cost me less than $10, and the most expensive part was the metal bracket, which was about $7 alone. I was fortunate in that I had a piece of MDF already on hand, so if you were to make one too it might cost you a little more for the wood.

This was the quick plans I sketched out on a scrap piece of note paper which I taped up outside my garage where I was working to refer to if necessary. Some of the measurements subsequently changed, but I note them below.

The table started by cutting my MDF to size. I made mine 24" wide by 36" long. While a really big table would be fun, storage is always a consideration and this should handle most projects. Some of the other versions out there use a laminate top because it is super slick and smooth for moving the foam across the table, but MDF is a very smooth surface as well.

I next made two stretchers from 2x3 board I had on hand. The stretchers run the along each long side, though not completely to the ends. I made my 24" long and centered it on the table length, that way if I chose to use a fence to help make straight cuts I'll have a place to clamp it.

I laid out three screw holes centered on the width of the boards (3/4") at 7", 18", and 29". I pre-drilled the holes and countersunk them to keep the screw heads below the table top. When using MDF it is important to pre-drill your screw holes otherwise you're likely (read: guaranteed) to split the wood.

I also glued the strechers to the table top for added strength.

I then clamped the stretcher to the top and pre-drilled it to make sure the screws went in securely (this could have been done all as one step). 

I then screwed the top to the stretcher with 2-1/2" drywall screws.

Here's an end view showing the two stretchers attached.

The next step was to make the arm that holds the cutting wire. I ripped a 2x3 in half, but using a 2x2 would be a good choice, but I was trying to use up spare wood I had on hand. The riser is 22" high while the arm itself is 18" long.

They attach at a right angle with the arm on top of the rise. Once again I pre-drilled and countersunk holes to attach them with two screws. Like drilling into MDF, when drilling into end grain of wood as you are here, pre-drilling is important to prevent splitting.

The next step is to attach a shelf bracket to the arm assembly to ensure it remains rigid and there's no flex that would allow the string to go slack. I used 1" screws here.

To attach the arm assembly to the table, the riser will be screwed to one of the stretchers. An alternative method, particularly for ease of storage, would be to attach the arm assembly using two bolts run through the riser and the stretcher and held in place with either a knob or wing nuts. As I had forgotten to pick up wing nuts, I opted to screw it to the stretcher, though this can be changed at a later time.

As always, the screw holes were pre-drilled and countersunk.

Once that was done, I drilled a 1/8" hole for the wire. It is located 1/2" back from the end of the arm and centered on it. A second hole was drilled another 1/2" back, but this one did not go all the way through the arm as it will be used for an hanger bolt that can be used to keep the appropriate amount of tension on the wire.

An alternative would be to use a guitar tuning key, but my local Guitar Center told me they were sold in sets, not individually, and since I had the hanger bolts aplenty from my LED spotlights project I used them instead.

Once the arm assembly was screwed to the stretcher, it was necessary to locate the hole in the table top so the wire can pass up through the table from underneath. It should be fairly perpendicular to the table so that your cuts are straight.

Initially I was going to use a plumb bob hung from the end of the arm and then measure back 1/2" inch to align the holes. But my daughter came up with a novel, better idea: using the laser pointer on my stud finder. I turned the laser on, shined it down through the hole in the arm, and the laser dot appeared on the table top precisely in line with the hole in the arm. I marked its location and drilled through the table with the 1/8" drill bit.

I had taken a picture of the laser dot marking the spot, but unfortunately it didn't show up in the picture.

The next stage of the project was to make the PVC arch the holds the wire in place under the table. I had 2" PVC pipe on hand, but I imagine 1-1/2" pipe would work too. I cut off a ring about 1-1/2" wide and then cut it slightly more than in half to create tension when it's holding the wire. A 1/8" hole was drilled in the center of the arch.

The wire that I used was 18 gauge nickel wound guitar string. It comes with a ball at the end which is perfect for holding it in place. I got two wires for less than $2 at Guitar Center.

The wire's passed up through the arch, through the table, and through the hole in the arm. I then wrapped it around the hanger bolt to secure it. When the bolt is turned it applies tension to the wire.

At this point, the table assembly is complete.

The next step was to make the power supply, but since that didn't work out so well, I'll save that for another tutorial. My problem was I had attempted to use an old train transformer to generate the heat, but it apparently wasn't strong enough and didn't heat the wire sufficiently enough to cut through the foam. So I will build the power supply described in the Garage of Evil tutorial, but I have to order the low voltage transformer and will show the steps I used when it arrives.

Right now the table looks great and I'm disappointed the train transformers didn't work because I'm itching to give it a go.

Hopefully the steps described and the pictures provided will help you build your own foam cutting table.

Friday, May 13, 2011

A Critical Eye

I received an email the other day from the producer of an indie film called "All God's Creatures," which apparently is an official selection of the 2011 Hoboken International Film Festival. The movie's world premiere is being held in Teaneck on June 4, and they've invited me to a screening of the show. Seeing as it's in my hometown, I can't pass up the chance.

From the email, the movie is "a dark love story about a young serial killer, Jon Smith, and a young prostitute, Delia Maitlin, who unintentionally and unexpectedly find love; a very dangerous love." Interesting premise.

It was shot on a budget of $25,000 but the trailers seem to have some good production values to them. In the site's main trailer (sorry, they don't have an embed code) the first clip is accompanied by one of the movie's signature soundtracks, "Ted Bundy Was a Lady's Man" by Des Roar, and it's actually pretty catchy. 

While I've accepted the invitation, I haven't as yet heard back from them so maybe they've decided against it. We'll see, but I'd be interested in seeing the movie. So long as they don't expect rave reviews simply for inviting me. I can't be bought (yeah right!). If I hear back from them I'll do a complete review.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Right On Schedule

After the National Haunters Convention I'm all excited about getting to prop building. This coming weekend I'm working on my cemetery pillars and since the NJ/PA Make & Take group is having a bunch of scheduling conflicts, there may be a few haunting buddies stopping by to work on their own props. It will be another mini-M&T.

But I find that my prop building routine is rather scattershot. I'll work on a paper mache skull here, make some paper clay finger bones there, and occasionally screw on some insulation to my pillars whenever I'm walking by them in the garage. It's not the most productive allocation of my time.

The other day, though, I was watching a vlog from one of my new favorite haunters, Halloween Hellmouth, and I noticed on his bedroom wall a whiteboard with various to-do projects on them: the prop car he's building, house, and some intriguing item called "Hellmouth 4 Resurrection." Maybe that was that particular video since it was Hellmouth 4 (if you're interested, it's at about the 5:05 mark in the video). And there are all some bullet points underneath each.

That got me to thinking that maybe I needed to organize my prop building efforts a little better. Create a list of props I want to build, divide it up into the major sections that need work, and write it all down. For example, I've decided I want my gravedigger prop to be pneumatic. Nothing special, mind you, just that he's going to be in a hunched over position as if he's digging a grave but then as the ToTs walk by he'll be triggered to snap his head up to look at them.

So in addition to making his body, I'll need to construct the cylinders that will make him move. That may necessitate ordering the cylinders or making them from PVC (yeah, yeah, I've heard all the pros and cons about it). So my project list for Madog might be "Make PVC body," "Order cylinders from Monster Guts" (there, ya happy?), "Attach cylinder mechanism to prop," etc.

Another prop I'm contemplating will be The Cellarer. In monastic life, the cellarer was the one who provisioned the abbey with food and drink. My thoughts on him are for a life-size monk to be carrying a large crate, but in reality it would be a Monster-in-a-Box. As the ToTs approached, a motion sensor would trigger the MIB. So there would be a whole bunch of steps needed to bring that to fruition.

Point is, by organizing my thoughts I'll make better use of my time and I'll see how well I'm progressing on my prop building. I'll know when I'm done when I check off the last item on the list (yeah right! There's never an end to a haunter's list).

I've started the process so far by creating an initial list of props I want to build. Some of it's rather ambitious like the two above, plus a mausoleum to house my FCG. I also want to finish my cemetery pillars (c'mon Saturday!). But others are relatively easier or less time consuming, like making another groundbreaker or two and a few props for inside my house, like a severed hand standing on its finger tips on top of a stack of books, and a PVC candle in a skull. There are some that seem to be somewhere in between, like a moving shelf of books (saw a great example on the HauntForum boards by halstaff, which he adapted from a Halloween Forum member maureenpr).

(at 1:44 in the video, but yes, let's all join in on the hate for halstaff having completed so much stuff already)

So I have given myself a full plate, but idle hands are the devil's tools, or some such saying. Trouble manages to find me when I'm lazing about doing nothing, so what better way to occupy my time than building Halloween props? I don't know either.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Scaring Up Some Good Fun

Now having attended my first Halloween-haunt convention (I don't think last week's Chiller Theater really fit the bill), I can say these are a really good time. The National Haunters Convention in King of Prussia, PA, was indeed worth the time and expense as not only did I get to see a bunch of haunt vendors and pick their brains for ideas, but I once again got to hang out with fellow haunters and meet a few of the industry's "rock stars."

Going in to NHC I didn't know what to expect, and I'll admit on entering the show I was a bit let down. Having seen videos of Transworld I was expecting something along those lines, so this was apparently more scaled down than that mega show. However, I later found that this year's NHC was bigger than in the past and as I walked the floor I did come away with a better appreciation for the event. For the $25 show floor ticket, which was apparently good for all three days of the event, that's a pretty good deal.

They had a lot of vendors there covering a broad swath of the industry: props, animatronics, pneumatics, controllers, foggers, makeup, scene setters, and music. The NHC even had entertainment, including a trio of zombie singers and a trivia game show that was pretty funny.

My personal highlight was meeting (finally!) Johnny Thunder and Denny (Denhaunt) from the Hauntcast show. I also got to see Denny's "Pumpkin Thief" prop up close. Awesome job. They raffled it off and I could have sworn all the major league butt kissing I was doing would give me the inside track to winning the prop, but alas! No, someone else scored it.

The Hauncast booth served a second purpose, though, and that was as a central meeting place for all the haunters who were going to attend. It was great being able to put a face to a (screen) name.

I'm sure all of these people don't see themselves as anything special, but seeing them on the boards (and the excellent work they produce), watching their YouTube channels, reading their blogs, and listening to their podcasts, provides incredible inspiration to regular, relatively new haunters like me. They might not view themselves as leading lights of the industry, but as I noted they're like rock stars for me (Pumpkinrot, where the hell were ya?!).

Unfortunately for me, my camera acted up (later on I found it needed to be reset) so the pictures I had taken on it were lost, but at least there weren't that many. I ended up using my cellphone to photograph the props I liked that might provide some inspiration later on. It was definitely a good time and I'm glad FrightGuy from Grimlock Manor convinced me to go at last. I've got lots of work to do now!

The crew that met up at NHC (l-r): HalloweenZombie, GrimGhost, the Bloodshed Brothers, Johnny Thunder, JoiseyGal, me, Spooky1, RoxyBlue, IMU, Devil. (Kneeling, front): Denhaunt, FrightGuy. Devils Chariot ended up showing up later on.

A few other pictures I took of vendor props at the show:

Definitely the creepiest costume

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