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!

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