Friday, November 13, 2009

A Haunted Mansion Tribute

Ran across which gives some great insight into Disney's Haunted Mansion. Really cool is the behind-the-scenes look at the development of Disney's dream and how the Imagineers brought the Mansion to life.

Considering the impact the Haunted Mansion has had on Halloween die-hards and haunters, this is a great inspiration. For those that don't know, a "Doom Buggy" is the chariot that patrons ride in when touring the Haunted Mansion. There are even the patent drawings of the buggies on the site which show an incredibly detailed and complex ride that those touring the attraction probably don't realize.

I'm one of those that loves to see the development of an idea. The books showing the creation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy still have a prominent place on my bookshelves. This history site will hold a prominent place in my bookmarks.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Naturally Spooky

A tree I wish I had in my yard.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting Some Skull

Skulls. Lots of them. I need 'em. I've got a lot of ideas for my haunt for next year and a lot of them revolve around getting head(s).

I have four projects distinctly in mind, and all start with a skull as the basic building block. I want to increase the creep factor of the haunt so I want not only more groundbreaker zombies to populate the front graveyard, but I want hanging skeletons for the side yard as well. Additionally I want to create some specific human-like props, much like AranaMuerta's Mr. Hemlock Dench, the cemetary caretaker, and a fireplace surround with lots of skulls.

Yet being the cheap but (in my mind) creative type, I don't want to buy any of these props, or even the basic armature beneath. I want to build it all from scratch, so I plan on making lots and lots of papier mache skulls.From there I want to craft bodies. Right now I have three half skulls on my workbench and two full skulls, all in various stages of construction. Since my plans for the yard require at least 7-11 figures (3-4 hanging corpses, 1-2 humanoids, and a good 3-5 groundbreakers), I need to make at least another 5 full skulls.

I figure I can papier mache a full skull every other day to allow for drying, so I should have them done in a few weeks. However, since my fireplace surround is going to require a good 20-plus half skulls, that takes up a lot of the intervening hours. I'm figure over the course of the winter I should have them all completed and can begin work on many of the bodies in the down hours and really begin in earnest come springtime.

What's slowing me down now is my wife wants a Santa's sleigh for our Christmas display. And a Christmas locomative for the front yard. I've got the basic form of the sleigh completed, constructed out of bathroom panelling a neighbor was throwing away. It's flimsier than I thought it would be, and my original plan for using L-shape aluminum to make it a knock-down fixture for easier storage didn't quite pan out. Again, that's only because of my frugality.

Trying to make this as inexpensive as possible, I bought 1/2" aluminum which really didn't give me enough room to work with the 1/4" bolts I bought. In the end I opted to make the frame out of 1x2 wood that I had on hand and fitted the paneling over it. Now that it's together I plan on painting it with Dryloc, paint, and sealer. If it lasts through the winter as I think it will (just thru December 31 would be fine) I'll be happy and will construct a more durable one next year. This one is only to keep the missus off my back! Then it's on to the locomotive.

Hence my belief it will take me through the winter to complete the initial stages my Halloween projects. I'll try to post some in progress pictures as I go along.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Haunt 2010 Begins

Today I began working on my haunt for next year. I wanted to get right back into the prop building again before the embers of excitement that I felt before Halloween this year cooled.

I've been casting about for a theme for my haunt because I don't want it to be just a jumble of props here and there. I want to create an atmosphere that's chilling all by itself and I think I've settled on an idea that can continue to play out over the years.

The Bastille
France's notorious prison, The Bastille, I believe lends itself to the image I want to create, aside from having French roots myself. While the legend of the prison was actually far worse than the reality -- imprisoned nobles actually lived quite comfortably, with their own servants brought in -- it is the legend we remember. In particular, it is the fall of the Bastille, and the subsequent Reign of Terror, that offers much of the impetus for the haunt, with the vast use of the guillotine to exact a certain amount of justice. While I had wanted to call the haunt "Reign of Terror," one already exists using that name so I'll need to cast about for something different.

After the nobles were beheaded, the heads were placed on pikes and planted around the city. That sounds fairly creepy and opens up possibilities all on its own. And the Marquis de Sade was a prisoner in the Bastille at one time (as was Voltaire). And the Man in the Iron Mask had taken up residence there until his death.

As I write this, though, I begin to think about the possibilities for the Tower of London. That was truly an evil place and torture is part and parcel of its existence. I may need to think about this a little further.

Another thought I had at the time of mulling over the Bastille was a theme of the Grand Guignol. This was a macabre theater that ran from the late 1800's until the late 1950's, early 1960's that had as its purpose terrorizing theater goers with violence, death, mayhem, and taboo subjects. It's said that early on patrons would pass out from fright at what they saw, such as various forms of torture. It finally came to an end after World War II because it was said it couldn't compete with the horros served up by real, modern warfare and the atrocities inflicted by the Nazis.

A rare film clip I saw showed a mad doctor using a hacksaw to cut off a woman's arm. This was over-the-top horror, with lots of blood, which I'm not exactly into featuring, but the theme does offer a lot of possibilities. Obviously I need to think about the further still.

Yard Haunt Plans
What I'm looking to do is expand my haunt. Right now it is positioned only on my front lawn and certainly additional props can be added there, from headstones to zombies, but I'd like to extend the haunt around to the side of the house as well. I think forcing the trick or treaters to walk through the graveyard and up a narrow haunted side yard could increase the creepiness of the haunt. And my wife is correct when she says our display needs to be creepier. That will be the focus of my projects this year.

And to start I'll be making corpses that will be hanging from poles, as if they had been tortured and left to die on the stake. The ravages of time and nature tearing and rending their flesh. A series of them hanging along the side of the house seems like it could create the right atmosphere.

Since I'm not running a haunted house, but rather a walk-thru haunted yard display, I want atmosphere. I want to have chills developed just by looking around at what is presented. I will look to the masters on the web for inspiration, but I can already tell that some of the plans I had previously sketched out in my head will be changing.

For example, I had wanted to do a Pumpkinrot-like scarecrow with a leering pumpkin head. He got that look just right and it was something I wanted to transfer to my yard. However, as I've looked around the web, it seems everyone has such a scarecrow in their yard and it's no longer such a novelty, at least to me. I know my wife wants me to make one, and I'm sure most people would not have seen one like that before (so it may still find its way in some form or other), but I'm looking to create something unique and simply copying what has been done before doesn't excite me so much.

Who knew that get a Halloween display just so coudl require such deep thought. While I'll need to spend some time thinking about the overall progress I want my display to take, building zombies and corpses can certainly fill in the blanks until an overarching theme is found.


Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Halloween Wrap-Up

Halloween 2009 has ended and I was left drained by the experience. It was fun and exciting, but the build up to the crescendo leaves you spent afterwards.

In large part that's due to the Halloween party. It was a big success -- some 40 people attended -- but the work, worry, and toil right up to the last minute was draining. Everyone had a good time, especially the kids. They told my stepdaughter that the party was just the best so that was cool, and the adults stayed to well after midnight. The food was just enough, so we didn't go overboard there, but a last minute purchase of beer means, well, that I'll have a lot of beer to drink myself! Completely unnecessary.

But a party the night before Halloween left me totally unenthused for Halloween itself the next day. No real hangover (okay, a little one), but feeling lethargic throughout most of the rest of the day did have me feeling inspired to want to scare the trick or treaters. Most of that left me by evening so that I was able to get into the mood again, and the first few ToTs who appeared -- and got scared by the animatronic witch -- got me going again.

There were fewer kids than last year, but that was undoubtedly due to the weather as it poured at what might be considered "prime" ToT-ing time. And it was hard and fairly steady for the rest of the night. In all, about 15 or so kids came. I once again sealed the fate of not having anymore show up when I went to the store to get more candy because I didn't want to run out. It was only about 7:00 p.m. and the bowl was looking rather low. We had just had a large group of kids come and it was raining at the time so I ran to Walgreens to replenish my supply.

That was fun in itself because I went in costume. I got a lot of chuckles as I walked through the store, but the best was the lady I scred in the parking lot because she had her head turned to me as I approach. When she turned back around she gave quite a start when she saw me. I got to laugh.

But upon arriving home, there had been two more smaller groups of kids that came and then that was that. The rain started and no more kids came to the door. It's been the exact same thing each year for the past three years running. I'll start to run low on candy, so I'll go buy another bag or two, and then we don't get a single ToT after that.

Nothing left now except for the clean up. Taking down all the decorations, putting up Fall-themed ones in their place, and putting Halloween away until next year.

I learned a few things though from the experience. First, start earlier on prop making. I hope this is actually year-round activity for me, but that two-day extravaganza leaves me wanting to put aside the dark arts for awhile. And my wife wants some Christmas props built anyway.

Second, I think having the Halloween party the day before the holiday is not a good idea. Certainly the energy is higher for everyone involved -- hosts and guests alike -- because of the proximity, but by the time Halloween itself dawns there's not the same level of anticipation there was the day before. Next year I want to have it maybe the week before to allow time for recuperation and the energy to return (and the hangover to go away).

Third, from a party menu perspective, I can simplify the process even further. I spent more on food than I otherwise should hve but tht was because I was looking for certain, specific cood itemslike chicken wings with the wing tips still on them. Wal-Mart and other big box stores only have "wingettes" but because I was looking to hve a "bat wing" display of food I spent more money than I should because I had to buy a large amount from the local supermarket. In the end, I didn't display them as I wanted -- there just wasn't the room to -- and they ended up jumbled in the pan anyway.

Tht brings to mind the admonition I always make to my wife about decorating the house. She'll see a picture in a magazine and I have to remind her that it's just like a movie set for the magazines; real people don't and can't live like that. So you have to be more practical. The display I saw for the "bat wings" was nice -- if you had three people coming to a party. A platter with about 12 wings on it arranged as a splayed bat wouldn't have gone very far with 40 people. In reality, while display is important up to a point, the description of the food can serve as a simple "display" in the end. Having those same wings jumbled in a serving dish as we did with the label "Bat Wings" was just as effective. So I could have bought the Wal-Mart wingettes, put them out as "bat wings" and saved money for the same impact. Next year.

Fourth, the party guest was a mixed adult-kids one and while the kids brought a level of energy to the party, it also dominated it. Adults were pushed to the corners almost, until the kids went outside. Maybe instead of having fewer kids next year, I incorporate the backyard into the event. I had set up the patio thinking the adults would utilize it for a getaway retreat, but in fact it was the kids who did and the backyard too. It's an interesting phenomenon to watch a mass of 20 kids or so huddled together all with their cellphones out texting madly. Who were they texting? It was a bizarre scene. But I'll put some lights out on the pergola next year and provide the kids with an area for themselves to go to. We were helped by the weather this year, which broke for the party and that was a godsend because having all those kids in the house at the same for an extended period might have been too much. I'll need to check out the Farmer's Almanac again because they were incredibly accurate about the weather for Halloween this year.

Fifth, don't stress. While I pretty much had the Halloween prop part down after hearing the guys on Hauntcast say that your neighbors have no idea what you had planned so they won't know about all the things you never got to, and you're probably doing more than most anyway (very true on my block -- no one does anything here), I didn't apply that to the party. I stressed more about the planning than was necessary (though I do that with most parties I throw) and it wasn't necessary. The holiday and the decorating fill in a lot of the blanks for you so trying to get specific details done just so isn't necessary.

Sixth, as for the Halloween part of it, since this is going to be a hobby of mine, I need to build with more care. Overbuilding props I see is essential. The weather wreaked havoc with my props this year. Wind and rain were brutal on the reaper and zombies so starting with sturdier foundations will help ensure they survive for many years to come. I should have known this from woodworking and framing, but because the field was knew to me I followed instructions that weren't completely sound. Using MDF plywood for a base that's going to be getting wet is not smart. It will just swell and fall apart eventually. Pressure treated plywood is a better choice; for all exposed or ground-contacting parts too. Additional levels of papier mache will offer more protection too, from what I've read. Two held up very well, but maybe three (or four) will be a better option. PVC and rebar beneath the shell will help as well.

In all it was a very good Halloween, even if the turnout wasn't as much as I would have liked. In part I do this just as much for me as for the holiday as it provides a creative outlet for me, but next year as I hope to have a much more elaborate display I'm looking forward to a bigger turnout.

It was very much a learning process this year and I look forward to spooky tidings in 2010!


Monday, October 26, 2009

Of Monsters and Other Scary Things

Time was I loved the old monster movies. Frankenstein. Dracula. Even Creature from the Black Lagoon. Those black-and-white classics used to terrify me when I was a kid, but I loved watching them. Chiller Theater with its creepy, six-fingered hand creeped me out to no end. Even later on I'd watch Kolchak chase ghosts and The Twilight Zone (Rod Serling's, not that current crap) would hold my attention.

I'd like to say that it was this early fascination with monsters that ripened into my current obsession with all things Halloween, but that would be rewriting history. I didn't really get into the holiday until I got remarried and my wife wanted to decorate for it. She was the one into it. I kind of just tagged along, but now I'm off running with it.

Yet the monsters were a cherished part of my youth. I remember building a plastic Frankenstein model with my dad and displaying it in my room. I think I even did a Wolfman too. But those days faded and were largely forgotten until I saw that they're making a remake of The Wolfman.

There looks to be a lot to like in the trailer -- and the second one, too -- but I'm worried about some of the CG effects I see. I dislike a lot of CG in my movies, and in something like this you're going to have to have it during the transformation. But I see signs of it cropping up elsewhere and too often that turns a movie into a cartoon.

Unlike some, though, I like remakes of original movies. I like the more lavish sets, the greater attention to detail and effects (even as I hate CG). A good retelling can be just that. Yes, a lot of times they fall short, but even in their failings they can look better than the original. I've watched a lot of movies I had remembered liking as a child and thinking, "WTF? This was good?" Yeah, I'm not a movie purist; I don't care about the devotion to the craft that was achieved back then. I want a good looking movie, but it's gotta have a story too.

I think that's my problem these days with the old movies. They had the story, but no "look." Today, too many movies have "the look" but no story. It's the rare film that does have both.

I'm not expecting The Wolfman to be one of those films (I thought Trick 'R Treat did, however) but it looks like it will be entertaining, and sadly, that's about as high as my expectations get these days.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Review: The Haunting of Sleepy Hollow

Last night I went on the haunted hayride in Sleepy Hollow, NY. I went with high hopes, though I'm typically not a fan of hayrides. Usually it's a bunch of chainsaw wielding people trying to scare you, which it doesn't, but that's why I had high hopes for "The Haunting of Sleepy Hollow." It would follow the supposed last run of Ichabod Crane as he was chased by the Headless Horseman. As that's always been a favorite tale of mine I thought it might be interesting to see how they adapted it.

The attraction starts at the town's high school, and the organizers had actors in period costume entertaining the crowd. Period costume, yes, but zombified! Certainly within keeping of the Halloween flavor, though the four zombie girls dancing in the center of the gymnasium was interesting. They didn't actually dance, but danced as zombies might. So it was a little bizzare to say the least. They also had a tall witch on stilts who took pictures with those in line.

So let's talk about the line. The attraction opened at 6:00 p.m. but you were forewarned that the hayrides wouldn't begin till 7:00 p.m. We arrived at around 6:50 and while there was a good crowd already there our position on line was about the length of the high school's basketball court. On the way there we had seen about six haywagons roll buy with about 10-15 people in each so I figured we'd have to wait about a half hour to go. Not ideal, but not terrible.

Well it wasn't ideal and it was terrible. We ended up standing in line for a good hour and a half! It seemed to go in spurts. After the first half hour of going nowhere or only inching forward, we suddenly surged ahead and got to about mid-court. I figured we'd be going soon, but that's where things bogged down. We didn't move more than 10 feet for the next hour. Even the VIP line (or RIP line as they called it) was going nowhere. I don't know what the delay was but it became interminable. It was really a horrible time and the music they played was either too loud or had the bass too high because the tunes played were barely discernible. Loud, static-y, bass-filled music while waiting on a line that didn't move for an hour and a half was not my idea of fun. I pitied the people who arrived at around that time as the line had wrapped around the basketball court and was now at the entrance to the gym. I can only imagine how long they'd be there.

Just as we were second or third in line to go next, order seemed to break down. The guy at the door allowed a group of 16 to go through then three people (two adults and a small child) that had been trying to creep ahead all along somehow got in front with a "We're with them" line and was allowed to go ahead. That didn't sit well with my wife or the woman behind us and they started complaining to the doorman who I sort of felt sorry for. He looked like he genuinely didn't know what to do. But then he left his spot at the door and went outside. So now the line started pressing up against the door and it looked like it would just be a mad dash for the exits with everyone elbowing their way to the front.

My wife went outside and complained again to the doorman who was talking with another event organizer. They ended up calling a police officer over who agreed those three line jumpers wouldn't be going ahead of anyone at which time I was allowed to jump ahead along with the woman and her family behind us. They squeezed us all into a wagon (with the group of 16) and the three who tried to go in front we delayed. They had been outside but I think the officer must have escorted them back in because they weren't on any of the wagons.

It was bound to get ugly because there wasn't enough space inside, the police line tapes they had set up to corral everyone was too flimsy and when one kid stepped on one the whol thing fell down. I wish I oculd have seen the mess that resulted in the aftermath.

Spolier alert!
Once on the haywagon, cramped as we were, I was willing to immerse myself in the haunt, even with the light rain that had begun falling. It was a ride of a few minutes to get to the old cemetary and it was then that I noticed a creepy woman sitting in costume right across from me holding a book. She said nothing until we approached the cemetary and then turned on a speaker that played haunting background music. She began reading what was the background story for this ride.

I really wasn't prepared for their interpretation of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. They did say it was a "unique" and "twisted adaptation." I should have been forewarned. Vam-pirates? Really? The story had to do with how some vampire pirates had landed in Sleepy Hollow, cut off some heads (including the Hessian horseman's), took a necklace from his wife (I think) after beheading her, but somehow lost it. It was only found later by Ichabod Crane who ended up giving it to Katrina Van Tassel. That apparently irked the now-Headless Horseman who pursued Ichabod.

Okay, that was bad enough, but despite a ride through the cemetary no landmarks were pointed out. This was supposedly the same route that Ichabod Crane had run in the story, but at no time was that highlighted during the ride. Further, because we were driving through an actual cemetary, proper respect for those buried there was otherwise maintained. Which meant no props or lights were visible. Interesting, but since you could barely make out even the headstones, it was just like we were taking a ride in the dark (in the rain) with a woman reading us a preposterous story.

At some point we cross a bridge. Now even though I believe the original bridge Crane was said to have crossed no longer exists, they could have made some reference to the bridge. Heck, most people probably wouldn't have even known it wasn't the real one. It would have made the trip at least more relevant to the whole legend.

After cross the bridge we must have exited the cemetery proper because I could see lighted props ahead. Well, I could see until the pickup truck towing us stepped on the brakes every few seconds and then I was blinded. It was tough to see anything. The set was then various Halloween type torture props with actors in period costumes (again zombified) jumping out here and there yelling "Yaaah!"

Some of the props looked cool and a few of the tombstones they had set up and lit looked really good. I did notice a large gargoyle which I thought would look pretty cool in my own graveyard and there was a PumpkinRot-type character walking around. The leering pumpkin head was actually pretty cool, and standing about 8' or 9' tall was scary for some of the kids on the ride. I liked the effect until the actor turned and in the lights of the trailer I could see it the facade that had set it up: he was wearing a football helmet and had some sort of PVC structure underneath. It ruined the effect.

At the very end you finally got to see the Headless Horseman. Barely. He was sitting in the woods and eventually made it up to the road after the wagon had passed but it was so dark and he was all in black it was all you could do to see the (unlit) pumpkin he held in his hands. And then it was over. We pulled out into a residential street.

The funniest part was that one house along the road we now traveled on was decorated for Halloween and the owner dressed in a witches costume and stood on her porch as we road by and called out to us in a witchy voice while stirring a cauldron. Nice that at least one resident got into the spirit of the season and the event. I'm sure she was part of the official show.

In all, it wasn't worth the time or money ($20 a ticket) spent. The wait was too long, the backstory created was ridiculous -- I mean we're in Sleepy Hollow, hew to the damn storyline; you've got a town made for this! -- the part of the ride intended to build suspense didn't because it was simply pitch black, and the sets used were simply mundane Halloween ones. Even the big payoff, the Headless Horseman, was a disappointment.

It was all just too much to be able to recommend this haunt to anyone. Certainly not for $20 a ticket. Had it been half the cost it would have been fine and I might have even tolerated the long wait to go. But when you're paying high prices and forced to cool your heels for interminable periods, it was unacceptable for the level of haunting they brought.

I won't go back, I can assure you, and next year will go a little further up the Hudson River to another "Sleepy Hollow" haunt that holds the promise of a whole haunted village. At $30 Ulster Park, NY's, Headless Horseman Hayride doesn't sound cheap, but it seems to offer a far more immersive experience.

In short, avoid Sleepy Hollow as if the Headless Horseman still roamed the hills there.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009


After reading an article about a local haunter in Springfield, NJ (or thereabouts) who said a local "Spookytown" Halloween store was his favorite place to buy props, I was happy to learn there was one open in Paramus and decided to drive there to check it out.

It seemed bigger than a lot of the Spirit Halloween stores I have been in and carried a lot more props (though the Spirit in Little Falls does have quite a bunch). I'm really not into costumes, and dislike that three quarters of the stores -- regardless of the names on the sign out front -- carry tons of them. Maybe it's because even before I really got into yard haunting that I was always more impressed with hand-made costumes than store bought. There is so little creativity displayed in a store bought costue for the most part. Maybe I just had some innate attraction to the props that was looking for an outlet to express themselves.

What I did discovery at Spookytown (and everytime I say that name I think of the song Funky Town, it drives me nuts!) was that they are expensive with a capital X. Yee-hah! Even simply masks were $40 or more. But the props seemed outrageously priced. Although I appreciated the sign that said everything in the store was for sale, it would have to be a well-heeled customer to pay those prices. I'm hoping the $1700 on the drum set at the front of the store included all the band member skeletons on the display and not just the drummer. I also would have liked to have seen it in action.

Perhaps the highlight of the visit though was to the back area where a pretty, buxom girl in a very tight, low cut shirt wearing a coordinating very short skirt felt the need to climb up on a ladder to get something off a shelf. I liked it when she called over the one guy working in the area to "spot" the ladder. Without question his view was improved!

I was surprised really at the cost of everything though. Raven props that I got at Spirit for $8, were on sale at Spookytown for $20. A somewhat anatomically correct skeleton that stood only about 4 feet high went for $100. I think you can get an actual anatomically correct skeleton from some skeleton company (AAC? I forget its name at the moment) for the same price just about, and it's about 6 feet tall.

They had different props than I've seen elsewhere, though much of the same too. Considering the prices I can't imagine my buying anything from them, though the show that was put on might make it worthwhile for a return trip!


Monday, October 19, 2009

A Light in the Darkness

Cribbing from an idea found on the HalloweenForum discussion boards, I picked up five clip-on LED spotlights, the kind the would be appropriate for book reading. They're bullet-shaped and made of plastic, so they don't look like they could light up very much. What a surprise then when I found that they helped reveal a lot of the props (including the zombies) that were previously hidden in deep shadows because of the brightness of the large spotlights I have illuminating the haunt.

From the sidewalk, the graveyard is bathed in a ghostly blue light while from the porch it looks like the yard has sprouted fairy lights. Even better, though, is that they have helped make my animatronic mummy actually work.

One of the problems I've had in the past is that during the evening hours there wasn't enough ambient light to activate the motion sensor located on the mummy's belly. I took one of the mini-spots that was getting dim (they're battery-operated) and placed it on the porch aimed at the mummy. If it was a new spot the porch would be too bright, but because it's getting dim it doesn't change the spooky look of the porch but is bright enough to allow the mummy to activate when someone walks in front of it.

I got my other lights working too. They kept tripping the GFCI outlet and after trial and error, I figured out it was that one of the fixtures had accumulated some water and that's what was causing the short. Swapping out the fixture for a new one and the problem was cured. Now my neighbors can come by and appreciate the yard without knocking on my door at 10:00!


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Accolades, Rain, and Guillotines

Last night I got a pleasant surprise when my doorbell rang at 10:00 p.m. and my neighbor was there boo-hooing that I didn't have my haunt lit up for the evening. Seems she and her husband had been raving to some friends about our haunt setup and they took a stroll down the block to show them. They were disappointed that the lights in the yard were off, but I had to explain that because of the rain we've been having, the GFCI outlet keeps tripping (yeah, I gotta work on protecting the connections) so I was waiting for things to dry out.

Still it was nice to hear that people do notice the work that's gone into the yard (meager though it is, to my thinking) and make an effort to come by and look. Actually, when I was setting up the display, one of my other neighbors was driving by with his kids and stopped to look. I heard him make an appreciative comment (I happened to be behind the Reaper so I was unseen) and then five minutes later he and his kids walked up the block to have a look around. They were pretty excited about coming back on Halloween to trick-or-treat here.

I had that last year, too, when a family piled out of their car in front of the house and the mother said the kids insisted that our house be a mandatory stop on their ToT travails. They were actually "working" our particular neighborhood, but because the kids had seen the set up beforehand they wanted to be sure to come by.

That is part of the reason why I set up early. It helps build up anticipation, and might be why we get the amount of ToTs that we do, which isn't much really. The Halloween yard haunt is simply a labor of love on my part (and my wife's). We enjoy the season and despite there not being so many people that actually come by, it's great to see the reaction of those that do.

And so I plan on adding on to the display each year. I only really got the bug this year (and in September at that) so my haunt isn't all I'd want it to be (though I guess no one else really knows that). And since no one else on the block decorates -- and I mean no one -- I guess there is some level of anticipation by the neighbors and kids as to what we will do next.

But the rain is a bummer. As I mentioned previously, I took in my zombies for fear of their becoming damaged by the constant soaking we've had, and I haven't been able to put them out again. As a matter of fact, it's raining now and a big Nor'easter is supposedly heading this way. We'll see, but I'll be keeping an eye on my Reaper to make sure he doesn't blow over again when the winds come.

Off with their heads!
And under the category of WTF, despite all the effort and time placed into my Reaper, zombies, tombstones, and set up, the thing that has gotten the most comments has been my guillotine. I don't get it! This was a prop I threw together last year, debated even putting it out this year, and am not even happy about its construction (or look, for that matter), yet I've had more people comment on the "cool"guillotine than any other prop.

As you can see from the photo above, the head chopper ain't all that. The frame is just 2x4's, the "blade" is simply a piece of hardboard I had laying around cut at an angle (with a little blood added to it) and I'll be putting a bucket in front of it to catch any heads that roll its way. Because it was a last minute, thrown together in a hurry project (I was trying to use up some extra wood I had laying around) I didn't even seal it for protection. So the blade and stocks are a little warped and I had to hot glue the blade in place because it had come apart. Yet this is what people like! Go figure.

Just goes to show that although I can appreciate all the time and attention to detail that goes into some props, sometimes the simplest things are the best. And when you consider that most ToTs will be taking in the scene for a minute or two at most on Halloween, they're probably not going to be seeing all that detail anyway. Sometimes when I participate in prop builders forums I wonder if it's even the ToTs that we build these props for, and not the accolades that come from our fellow prop builders instead.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Decorating Day

Today was a day primarily devoted to decorating the inside of the house for Halloween. Actually my wife did much of the decorating today, I worked on the the severed head you see over there. I still haven't gotten the whole corpsing technique down yet. Not quite sure why it's such a problem, but it is.

After a morning at Wal-Mart and then helping here and doing the head, I've had enough Halloween for today. Onward for tomorrow though!


Thursday, October 15, 2009


The cold October rains swept in today and gave everything a thorough soaking. The Reaper has held up fine, no doubt an attribute of the Dryloc waterproofing sealer, several coats of exterior paint, and two coats of deck sealer. So long as the wind doesn't knock him down again I have no concern for his durability.

My zombies I'm a little more concerned about. They seemed to have held up pretty well considering the driving rain that was falling on them, but at about 6:00 p.m. tonight I decided discretion was the better option and brought them inside. I think I should have done that from the beginning.

While they're still maintaining their integrity, I have found a few areas on both of them that feel "spongy." Interestingly, these are also the areas that contained the least amount of newspaper packing inside. For example, the ribs and breastbone on both zombies remains as hard as ever, but between the ribs, sections of the skulls, and certain places on the arms (joints mainly), it has that soft feel. My concern is that water has gotten into them and they will now rot from the inside a true zombie!

So I've wiped them down, used a hair dryer to dry them off, and will keep them inside until the rains pass. I'll then recoat them with the deck sealer to try and protect them further.

It's a little disappointing after all the work that went into them to think they might end up getting ruined. While they're my first attempts at this I want them to remain intact for years. At least a couple. It may mean though that next year (and beyond, if they last so long) I may have to wait until just before Halloween to put them out...which isn't such a bad solution, but I enjoy coming home and seeing their unearthly mouths agape at me.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Though I was aware they existed before today, it was only this afternoon that I began listening to the Hauntcast podcasts. What great fun!

Ok, I'll admit I listened one time before, but not for more than just a few seconds as I was initially turned off by the goofy opening. But today I had time on my hands where I wasn't able to do anything but listen to something, so I decided to tune in. I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner. The shows are really professional and they give a lot of information that's useable for home haunters like me. It inspires you to do more.

I listened to shows 10 and 11 and had a great time. These aren't just short blurbs either. These are rich, detailed broadcasts featuring interviews with industry "gooroos," tips, hints, links, and as I said inspiration.

Well worth the time invested in them and I'll be listening to all the other shows they've archived while eagerly awaiting the next installment to be posted.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Party Planning

Crunch time for party planning. Decor. Menu. Games? Time to go room by room and plan out what's going to go where. The Witches Apothecary is coming along with just a few more jars needed to complete it for this year. That will be fun to add to over time as glass jars become available. For those shown there to the right, the labels have been further aged and twined added to the necks of the jars to give it an older feel.

Much of the menu has been chosen already, and it's going to just be finger foods (heh!), but I want to finalize the menu, jot down the ingedients, and be ready to shop.

Decor is going to be a little more. Not only do I want traditional Halloween decor in all the rooms, but certain special items need to be considered too, such as a place for when the guests come in to have their picture taken. Will be fun to get everyone in costume since they are required.

Time to get to it!


Monday, October 12, 2009

A (PVC) Flicker of an Idea

Well, it's not my idea as I stole it from smarter, more creative people than I, but my PVC flicker candles came out pretty good. Not great, just pretty good. Now that I've got the whole process down, ghowever, I can create a lot more of them. I have all kinds of ideas for the candles, inside and out in the haunt.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is they actually work and I didn't electrocute myself. While I'm sure these could survive the outdoors, I'm thinking this set will stay inside. When I'm able to use electrical cordnot hacked from a flicker light set I'll feel more confident with them being outside in the weather. But for now, these actually look pretty good sitting on the table in the living room.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lights! Zombies! Action!

Lights! Zombies! Action!

It was great to get my two groundbreaking zombies out into the graveyard at last. I feel like I finally accomplished something. But it was also something of a letdown because, while they are completed and do look terrific (if I do say so myself), they're small and so don't take up a lot of space. After so much time and toil, you want it to be an event!

So that's why I plan to continue building throughout the off-season. I'm already planning for next year and have created an ideas book so I can jot down projects I want to tackle throughout the year. When Halloween 2010 rolls around, I'll have that event feeling I'm looking for.

That shouldn't minimize the accomplishments thus far, particularly for someone that just got into haunting. I made my "monster mud"reaper, made two zombies, and created a bunch of small, interior projects for the Halloween party we'll be throwing on the 30th. Still...


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Review: Macabre Manor in Keyport

I'm not much of a fan of haunted hayrides, but I do enjoy haunted houses (go figure). Tonight I went to Keyport, NJ, for a haunt called the Macabre Manor held in an old Jersey Central Power & Light building. And in case you're wondering because of the picture, there's no "Macabre Manor" sign on the outside.

Keyport apparently had just finished having a street festival and it was breaking down when I arrived for the haunt. There were quite a few kids hovering in the area and I was a little worried it was going to be overrun with their antics, but order was well maintained by the boys in blue who were on assignment.

Outside they had a fogger working up a good mist, but the cool October breeze kept blowing it away. A few actors worked the crowd, including the obligatory chainsaw guy (who did get the girls to scream a lot) and some creepy looking characters. They even had a kid zombie working the line. I liked the big-headed coachman with his razor like teeth. It provided good entertainment while waiting for the doors to open.

I was able to be right at the front of the line and got to go in first when the host looked for a party of two to fill out a group of six. The Manor is a one-level haunt (I was only slightly disappointed) but they offered good atmosphere, some excellent prop work, and even a good scare or two (not for me, but for my wife). I was pretty much engrossed looking at all of the props, trying to steal ideas.

I found the best part of the walk-thru to be the cemetary area, complete with dirt floor. They channeled you through a narrow corridor with some twists and turns, but the lighting (blue) and the scenery (some animatronics and one live actor to scare) was engaging.

The operating room was fun too. I'm sure I'm not revealing any secrets to note they had a live actor with his head and arms through a table where a torso with guts spewing out was on a table. The surgeon gave a nice little talk to the six of us, then proceeded to whack the heck out of the torso which sprayed us all with "blood." Good effect and had the three girls in the group screaming. The little kid who was carried by his father and had been a trouper throughout started bawling when that scene finished.

For just $10 it was a very reasonable price for the entertainment received. Speaking of entertainment, they gave a two-trick magic show as part of the haunt. While I wasn't sure if I should clap or not when the performance was over (I did), it was entertaining nonetheless.

In all, the Macabre Manor was a haunt worth visiting.


Friday, October 9, 2009

The Weekend Starts

This weekend is the time to try and complete as many of the projects that I have going as I can. Not only am I finishing up another groundbreaker zombie for the graveyard but I've got a bunch of things to do for the party on the 30th.

That's my test run set up (at least before the wind knocked everything downthe other day), but there's still more to add.

Here's my full plate:

1. Groundbreakers - finish painting and seal
2. PVC candle centerpiece
3. Paint ping pong ball eyeballs for jar
4. Create witch's specimen jars (get specimens!)
5. Haunted pictures
6. Creepy dolls
7. Shrunken heads for fence
8. Lighting for graveyard and house
9. Pallet toe-pincher coffin
10. Prop arm for coffin
11. Fan-powered flames
12. Paint address on entrance columns -- can't decide if I live at "13" Garden St. or "666" Garden St.
13. Anything else that pops into my headfrom reading too many damn Halloween blogs

Final details will be put on my last groundbreaker tomorrow and Sunday I hope to seal them so I can put them out. Hope someone doesn't walk off with them.

I wired the PVC candles today and tomorrow will begin apply the "wax" to their sides. With any luck I'll start painting them on Sunday.

Then I can start everything else on that list. I'm hoping that next year it will be a lot less pressure since I intend to work on these things throughout the year instead of beginning one month beforehand. Yeah, that's it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Blustery Days

Warm and sunny though the day is, the strong gusts of wind have me fearful for my Reaper. I finally completed him yesterday (got his lamp wired with a flicker bulb at last -- damn you procrastination!), but with today's gales I'm worried he'll blow over.

So far he just rocks to and fro (would probably make for a cool motorized movement to scare the ToTs), though everytime a neighbor's garbage can falls over I keep running to the window to check.

He also survived an overnight rainstorm. When I examined him this morning he had a bluish cast similar to the coloring when I first applied the sealant. However, after the sun came up and he dried off, his regular color returned. You can see him at right.


UPDATE: Disaster! The whirlwinds grabbed hold of everything in the yard and cast it about like it was made of styrofoam. Oh wait. Everything is made of styrofoam! But the Reaper was pushing up mums, my entrance columns were scattered, even the picket fence around the graveyard was uprooted and tossed around. My imprisoned skeleton escaped, the winged angel crawled out of its coffin, and the guillotine was positioned to cut grass instead of heads.

I decided to leave everything down till the windstorm passed to ensure that nothing would be broken. In the end, while everything was bowled over, nothing was broke or damaged so disaster was actually averted.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

All Treats in "Trick 'r Treat"

How did "Trick 'r Treat" not get released in theaters and receive broad distribution? The buzz around the film certainly warranted such support, yet it apparently went almost directly to DVD. Well, it's the studios' loss, but our gain since we still get to see it even if it's on the flat-screen TVs in our living rooms. So grab your candy bags and munch on your chocolates, this is definitely a film worth watch...several times!

Four stories are interwined with excellent acting, good storylines, several twists, and dollops of humor. Not over the top, not slasher-gore (sorry if that's your thing), but plenty of suspense make Trick 'r Treat a worthy addition to the Halloween horror genre.

Related Posts with Thumbnails
/* Use this with templates/template-twocol.html */