Thursday, December 16, 2010

Zombie Kills

From the website, Bloody Disgusting, every single zombie kill from the awesome AMC TV series "The Walking Dead."

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Pinch of Arsenic

One of my favorite movies of all time is Arsenic & Old Lace. I first saw it when I was around 13 years old, staying up late and watching some TV around 2 a.m. (remember, before they played the National Anthem and the test pattern would come on...whenever I'd find my Dad asleep in the chair with the TV on he'd tell me that was his favorite show).

I recall thinking the movie was the funniest show I'd seen and it's stayed with me through the years as I enjoyed catching it occasionally on TV. I rented it from Netflix the other day, and was surprised to see it was actually a Halloween movie; it's even mentioned in the opening graphics and kids come by trick-or-treating. I had never noticed that about the movie before, but then again I wasn't into Halloween as much as I am these days.

Of course, I'd wonder about houses that give out entire jack-o-lanterns as treat, but maybe that's what they did back then. There are few movies I can watch over and over again, particularly black-and-white ones (it's heresy, I tell you, what Ted Turner's doing to old movies by colorizing them!) but Arsenic & Old Lace happens to be one of them. I mean, who wouldn't want to be Teddy Roosevelt and charge up San Juan Hill every time you had to go upstairs?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's It Worth To You?

We all like "free." My motto has for a long time been "Cheap is good, free is better." Once I learned the joy of shopping at "Curby's" I went all in. I can't drive by someone's garbage pile without slowing down to see if someone's thrown away something I can use in my Halloween display. And the Yahoo Group "Freecycle" is must-read Internet for me.

Yet as much as someone else's trash is my treasure, sometimes you have to pay up. Another saying, "you get what you pay for" is also often appropriate. While free may be good, sometimes paying is better.

Okay, where am I going here? My favorite Halloween podcast "Hauntcast" (alright, the only podcast I listen to) is going to a pay-per-download format. Beginning with the next show, (g)host Chris Baker will be charging the exorbitant sum of $1 per show to listen. Times being what they are, if he can't get the support of his listeners then he can't afford to put the show out anymore.

And that's why paying up for quality is sometimes worth it. I've listened to Hauntcast for hours on end while building props or just raking the leaves in the yard (don't ask what my neighbors think about me blaring out a Halloween show over my speakers well after Halloween is over). As a matter of fact, I listened to the show everyday during the month of October to build up the excitement of the holiday as well as whiling away the hours.

I've heard some of the other haunt- and horror-related podcasts on the Internet and have been left less than impressed. For me, the content of Hauntcast is far and away superior so why not pay to listen? He's sure to lose some of his listeners, who don't think it's worth paying for a podcast. It's a trade off everyone has to decide for themselves. For me, I know the value I receive out of the show and am willing to pay a dollar to continue hearing it. How about you? Would you be willing to pay for something you previously received for free? Would you pay for Hauntcast? Let me know in the comments section below.

If you haven't heard the show before, you can still listen to it -- for free! -- and see if it's worth your time (and money) by clicking here.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

I'm guessing the malls will be filled today with fast-zombies as opposed to their slow moving, Romero-inspired cousins.

You won't catch me anywhere near a mall today, let alone being out on the roads. If and when I have to shop I'll be doing it from the comfort of my computer.

I recall going to the mall two years ago at Christmas time during the depths of the recession, and it really was as if we had a zombie apocalypse: the mall was deserted. It was actually a pleasure to go shopping then because you didn't have the crush of people all around you. Now, not so much.

Still, I'm able to scoop up some leftover Halloween items here and there that stores are practically paying me to take off their hands. Well, up till Wednesday. From today until December, the mall is a no-go zone for me. Y'all can deal with the feeding frenzy of the undead.

In the spirit of the season though, why not consider purchasing a gift from one of your fellow haunters. Items from the Etsy shops of ShellHawk, Stolloween, or Darkside Creations would make a wonderful Christmas present -- and you needn't go to the mall!

(btw, I have no financial interest in these three; I just appreciate their work and their blogs)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

It wasn't turkey they were eating at the first Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Is That All?

I just found out this first season of The Walking Dead is an abbreviated one. Only six episodes instead of the usual(?) 13. WTF?!

I guess everyone had to see whether there would be any interest in a zombie apocalypse TV series, but the overwhelmingly positive reaction has convinced them to re-up it for a second season. Good thing, because I love, love, love this show. Okay, sometimes the dialogue can be a little corny, and some of the characters seem like caricatures (Merle Dixon, could he be anymore a allegory for the Mason Dixon line?). But I can't argue with the contents of what they're showing and the gore has all been appropriate. Yes, I do like my zombie gore.

Looking forward to episode 4 next week and here's to hoping we get a flashback on how Merle escaped his handcuffs!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Halloween Retrospective

Unfortunately, my camera decided to break and the battery on the camcorder became inoperable so there's no real photos or video of the haunt. The one to the right was a little dark so I tried adjusting the photo settings and got something more along the lines of the ones below, even darker and more washed out. Then the camera chose to die.

Here's the only bit of video I was able to get before the battery went kablooey.

As can be seen (or not), the yard display was very dark so next year I'll need to get more flood lights to set an eerie tone for the yard and then highlight individual props, tombstones, etc. with the LED spots I made. Viewing the yard from the sidewalk directly in front of the house it looked okay, but it became apparent as soon as you walked up the path that it was very dark. Time to go read Skull & Bone again.
In all Halloween was better than it's been in past years. First, I didn't run out of candy this time (a first!) and we had more trick-or-treaters than in any year before. In prior years we've had anywhere from 10-20 kids, but this year we almost hit 30. We actually would have had more, but I enforced a strict "no costume, no candy, no exceptions" rule this year and actually turned a few older teens away who thought they could get away with getting candy while walking home from wherever they were coming from. I didn't include them in the totals.

By 8:30 p.m. though all of the ToTs that were going to come had come, no doubt because it was a school night. So I was able to run and return a Redbox movie, but upon my return found two adults strolling through the front yard with their dog admiring the display. One of them said they had come by last year with his granddaughter who ended up being too afraid to approach the house and would only look at the display this year.

There were a lot of compliments this year, and it was nice to hear as one group of kids left and were heading to my neighbors (undecorated) house, someone shout, "You've got the best house in town!" That was gratifying.
There were a number of new props I displayed this year, including my ScareFX-style Rockin' Granny. It did generate a bunch of scares as I had set it up to go off with a motion sensor so that was fun, and I enjoyed my Flying Crank Ghost. I thought it looked nice moving on the front porch. However, what seemed to creep out most people was my "wall crawler" Monster Mud prop, which actually became a roof crawler.

I had him situated at the end of the eave, looking over the roofline and illuminated him with a flashlight on Halloween night. However he was up there the entire month. As two brothers walked by during the afternoon, one stopped and said, "You've got a lot of really great things out here, but the one that really creeped me out the most was that one," and he pointed to the roof. "The first time I walked by I felt that something was watching me and when I looked I saw it sitting up there and it scared the hell out of me."
A lot of the kids were actually scared to come up the walkway because of it sitting up there, and my wife wants a bunch of similar props to display up there next year as if they're climbing up onto the roof. 

The graveyard is really just the scene setter and doesn't seem to carry much weight, at least not as much as the other props. I guess it provides the ambience for the other props to give their chills. But next year I need height. Almost all of my tombstones were of a similar (low) height, so I plan on introducing some obelisks and maybe a sarcophagus similar to the one the Davis Graveyard displayed. That would look splendid in the yard.

Other than the wind that ended up whipping up late in the morning, there wasn't much to complain about. The breeze really didn't threaten the props, as I heard a number of haunters say happened at their homes, but it made it impossible to use the fogger I had at the ready. I had been hopeful because the day dawned bright, clear, and still but by 11:00 a.m. a steady breeze was blowing making it impractical to use. That's two years in a row now with no fog.

The only prop I wasn't happy with was my reindeer/cat/rabid dog prop. The movement was much to subtle to bring any notice to it and I was unable to synch my iPod with it to have it snarl and growl. Because I had hooked up the player to the motion sensor as well, the "Play" button needed to be hit each time it was activated. I tried taping a nut to the play button but that didn't work either so I'll need a better option next year.

In all, I was happy with my display. The props, the look of the yard, and the increased number of ToTs that came by all made the work I did all year long satisfying. I think some better lighting options next year, a few more props (still want to make my gravedigger), and perhaps introducing ambient sound will make it even better. This was a learning year for me -- such as learning to make sure my camera works before Halloween -- and I'm looking forward to an even better effort next year.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scared of Halloween

Haunters like to say that you're never too old or too young to enjoy Halloween. While there are always stories that crop up about some group or another trying to ruin our haunting good fun, it's really scary when it's the government that says you can't enjoy Halloween.

No, I'm not talking about the local fire marshall shutting down a haunt for some unsafe practices, or the police who close down a site because the traffic becomes uncontrollable (I'd love to have that many people coming to see my yard display!). What I'm talking about is the government saying you're too old for trick-or-treating!

Every town and city has its do-gooders who think they know best what's right you. San Francisco recently voted to ban McDonald's from giving away kids toys with their Happy Meals. DeKalb County, Georgia, is suing a man for growing too many vegetables.

But Belleville, Illinois, has gone to the top of the list (or is that the bottom?) by telling teens they're too old to go trick-or-treating. Actually they're not alone as a number of cities around the country have cut off the fun for teens, typically saying once you hit 12 years old, you can't go out anymore on Halloween. It reminds me of the movie Logan's Run when once you turned 30 the government killed you off.

Being a libertarian at heart, I have trouble coming up with many instance where I think the government has a right to intrude in our lives, but this is just an over-the-top interference that conjures up some scary skeletons.

Could there be a bright spot in all this? The story says that though one 12-year old is bummed that the government won't let him get in costume next year, but he's looking forward to scaring the kids that come to his door next year. Sounds like we have a haunter in the making.

Monday, November 1, 2010

And Done!

Whew! I spent the better part of the day putting away the props and there's not a trace left that there were some very spooky goings on here. I'll be back in a day or so with a review of how things went this year, but the immediate assessment was it was very successful. Relatively nice weather, more ToTs than ever before (and I didn't run out of candy this time!), and basically the fruits of a very full year of preparation coming together nicely.

And to top it off, I got to sit back and enjoy the most awesome premiere of "The Walking Dead." I'll post more of my thoughts about that too soon, but it looks like it's going to be a great series. I mean, what other TV show could get away with a head shot of a child with brain splatter and all, all within the first few minutes of its start? It was a great way to end Halloween (as if that doesn't sound just a tad odd).

I can't relax too much, though. There's only 364 days till Halloween!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Haunting!

Here's a shout out to all my Halloween haunting buddies. I probably haven't even met you, and "know" the vast majority of you only by creepin' around your own blogs and haunt pages, but every one of you has filled me with inspiration to go out and put on a display that only keeps getting better and better.

I've probably lifted at least one idea from each of you, and even if it didn't get incorporated this year, it's in my notebook for future iterations of my yard display.

Reading your posts, visiting your sites, seeing the awesome, incredible work that you've done has helped give me the drive to do as well myself. I've come to love Halloween more than any other holiday (as you may know, I only caught the bug a little over a year ago) and I find working on even small tasks related to my display a source of great pleasure (and means of staying out of trouble).

Thank you, haunting community. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Nothing Left But the Cleanup

The food is gone, the cups are empty, and while the miscellaneous undergarments have been taken off the chandelier there is still the sense of a whirlwind having blown through. No one had to be carted home in a wheelbarrow, which was fortunate, and the highlight of the night (well, for me anyway) was when Jessica Rabbit showed up. She's not bad, she's just drawn that way. I knew there was a reason I liked that movie.

It all looked so pretty beforehand, but now the real work begins. Pulling up the tablecloths, breaking down the tables, cleaning up the...glop...from the floors.

Yet today is also one of conflicting emotions. This morning I'll be saying goodbye to my friend John as he's laid to rest with full police honors. They're expecting upwards of 8,000 people to be attending. If you've never seen a police funeral they're full of rituals and customs.

Aside from the playing of "Taps," the mournful sound of bagpipes, or the roll of drums, there's also the "last call," the attempt to locate the officer on the radio and the three-rifle volley. His badge number will be officially retired and the flag that is draped over the coffin is folded into a triangle and presented to his wife. It is very similar to a military funeral and many of the traditions come from the military. As is often described, there will be a "sea of blue" as police officers from around the country come to pay their respects for an officer killed in the line of duty.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, another good friend will be renewing his wedding vows for his 25th anniversary. How special is that? There's a cross-country trip that will begin after Halloween and end in Hawaii. A true haunter if there was one...sorry honey, I love you and all, but we can't go to Hawaii until after I scare the kids! Congratulations, both of you. Have fun!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Almost Party Time!

The house is all decorated, the chafing dishes are out, and the food is ready for preparation. The soda's chillin' and the beer is ready to start flowing. 

This year I tried to work a little smarter than last time. First, I didn't schedule it the night before Halloween. I'll have a day to recuperate now. Then I purchased foods that didn't require a lot of preparation ahead of time. Chicken wings, meatballs, jalapeno poppers, and shrimp cocktail are easily popped in the over or kept on ice. There's a 6-foot hero on the way too. 

And, perhaps key to the whole event, I limited the number of kids attending. Sure they provide high energy, but they also contribute to circuit overload. This is a far less stressful affair. Look! Here I am posting, instead of being in the kitchen preparing the hors d'oeuvres !

Ah! Almost 12 noon. Time to crack open a beer (not that I need a reason to open one sooner). Party hardy, my friends. I will!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gone So Soon

My patron picked up her reaper and two hanging corpses this morning, and I was actually sort of sad to see them go. I had become attached to them in so short of time, but I think they'll be going to a good home.

It was definitely the quickest I've made a prop, with the reaper taking just three days (and a little on the fourth to waterproof) to complete, while the two hanging zombies took less than a week. I don't think I can say I made a profit though. While materials were generally negligible for all three props, the time put in was a lot. I'd work several hours a day, every day, trying to make sure they were complete in time. Even with the reduced number of props (thank goodness!) I was still wondering whether I'd make the deadline. I came in well ahead of schedule, having finished them on Sunday night and waterproofed all three on Monday.

Now they're gone. It's so hard to watch your children grow up and move on so fast. Sniff.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Zombie Ate My Brain

Imagine my chagrin the other night when I stayed up till midnight to watch the first episode of the mini-series Dead Set only to find out that the IFC channel it's running on comes with a higher premium package than what I have with Cablevision. It was just one of those things that I assumed I had and never bothered to check. Apparently I have no brain. Maybe a zombie ate it.

I'm pretty sure the episodes are available on the Internet somewhere, so now I'll just have to hook up my laptop to the TV to watch them. The benefit of that is I don't have to stay up to midnight to watch it, and I don't have to worry about it interfering with my party on Friday.

In a related entertainment note, The Washington Post has an article running today on five (count 'em! five) new books about zombies.

"No less an authority than Stephen King has proclaimed that in a quest for world domination between zombies and vampires, zombies win."

I concur. Unfortunately for me, the books are more humorous than "real." As I've said before, I'm not a fan of humor in my zombie world (though I did like "Shaun of the Dead") so I probably won't be picking up any of the books with titles like "Night of the Living Trekkies," "The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten," and "Married With Zombies."

What I might check out is "33 A.D.," a story about the crucifixion of Jesus. While I initially thought it was suggested that Jesus was a vampire, it turns out one of his followers is and an order of vampire elders is sent to dispatch them both. As the promo for the book states, "killing them should be easy."

While its available on Amazon for around $11, it's available for the Kindle for less than $3. I don't have a Kindle, but I do have the Kindle for Mac application. It lets you download books to your computer and read them. There are many e-books you can get for free as well. Usually I prefer holding a book in my hand -- reading a story on the computer isn't quite the same -- but I might check it out anyway.

I recall reading one time that Jesus and the Resurrection are proof that zombies do exist, which gives me a reason to perhaps spread my haunt to Easter too. Now that would have been a more interesting book: Jesus as a zombie.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Preview

Here are a few photos I took with my cellphone of my yard display (fine time for my digital camera to stop working).

We had a nice misty morning yesterday, though it doesn't show up quite so well in the photos. Then last night I was out trying to take night photos with the phone (yeah right!) and was toying with the settings. Ultimately it ruined most of the shots I took so I'll have to retake them again soon. I'm going to try my hand at capturing some video this year too, and will post it here as well.

Really, other than my rockin' granny and my FCG, there's not much movement that really requires video, but I'll try to capture the grand sweep of the haunt! My 50-feet of American Dream will undoubtedly appear far more expansive than it really is.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rest in Peace

A good friend of mine and former coworker died this morning in a tragic car crash. Officer John Abraham was killed instantly when the police car in which he was driving slammed into a utility pole directly across from police headquarters.

John was a unique individual, to say the least. Aside from being one helluva cop, he was also quite the comedian and his quick, sharp wit never ceased to amaze you that he was able to come back with a retort as fast as he could -- and it annoyed you at the same time, since he always got in the last, best word.

I'll remember your first arrest that I gave you as your training officer, the smoke bomb I threw in your car, and "raiding" the nude beach at Sandy Hook. You were the cop another cop wanted as backup.

I'll miss you, John. We definitely had some good times together. Kind of puts everything else into perspective.

End of Watch 10-25-10. RIP 257.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Optimal Scare

Normally I use my "Optimum Triple Play" rewards card to go to the movies for free on Tuesdays. When you have Internet, telephone, and cable service through Cablevision, you can get discounts on various products and services, and on Tuesdays they give you two free tickets at any Clearview Cinema (you can get $1 off a ticket any other night of the week).

Today, Cablevision notified me of some "Spooktacular Halloween Savings" on nine different haunted attractions in my area (and one fruit store, go figure), including The Bates Motel and Blood Manor in New York. Aside from the overdone "Spooktacular" verbiage and the fact they should've come up with 13 attractions instead of nine, it looks like a pretty decent benefit.

Some offers are better than others in that I probably wouldn't use s a VIP pass (or is that an RIP pass?) anyway -- these attractions charge way too much to avoid standing in line -- but Six Flags Great Adventure offers 60% off regular ticket prices for their Fright Fest. Then again, that's like buying a can of Coke during the summer that has discount ticket prices printed on them, and with so many promotions out there, I'm not sure anyone pays full price ever.

Still, I might have to check out some of the offers anyway.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Nor'easter Not'sobad

They told us a Nor'easter was going to be blowing through last night. It would begin with rain then swing over to strong gusting winds. Sounds just like last year!

This time I was prepared, or more so than I was when I was constantly running down the block scooping up my props that blew away. Ah! The wonders of PVC and rebar. Just about everything that could be staked was, including my reaper who got knocked over so many times last year that he started to come apart. I finally left him laying down until the winds died down and then tied him up.

Not this year, though. This time I drove an 8-foot pipe 2-feet into the ground and slid his PVC support brace over it. In the wind that we did have, he was something like a weather vane turning where he stood depending on which way the wind blew, but he didn't fall!

There were two props that did fall however. One was my "pumpkin kreep" prop; the other was simply a wood column I had scored off of Freecycle and painted. The pumpkin prop didn't really fall so much as bend waaa-a-a-ay over. It has a PVC superstructure too, and was surrounded by corn stalks that were tied to the PVC. I'm assuming with all the rain the stalks became saturated and toppled causing the PVC to bend.

When I had erected it, I drove a short piece of rebar into the ground and slid the PVC over it. While it was still dry outside, that was sufficient to hold it erect. By rain and wind took its toll and made him bow down to the other props. If the winds relent tomorrow, I'll drive another steel  pipe into the ground and slide him over it too.

The column I left lying on the ground. No sense in picking it up to have it fall over again. The only other "damage" was one of my tombstones busting away from its PVC support. Apparently adhesive for foam insulation isn't as strong as I had expected. I'd read Gorilla Glue was excellent and wouldn't damage the Stryofoam, but I couldn't find my bottle and substituted the adhesive. Next time I'll not be so lazy and drive to the store and buy another bottle.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

I'm Dead Set For It

There's been a lot of discussion about the new TV series "The Walking Dead" due to premier on October 31 at 10 p.m. on AMC, but I haven't heard mention of another show that's coming out on the 25th and will broadcast for five straight nights through the 29th: "Dead Set."

Apparently this was a British TV show that first aired back in 2008, but is only now making its way across the pond to the U.S. The mini-series tells the story of the only people who've survived a zombie contagion: the contestants holed up in the house of the game show Big Brother.

According to

"Britain has been hit by an epic problem. The dead are returning to life and attacking the living. Within two days, 80 percent of the population is dead. Few people remain who aren't worried about this living nightmare: the remaining contestants in the reality TV game show 'Big Brother.' Cocooned in the safety of the Big Brother house, they're blissfully unaware of the horrific events unfolding in the outside world...until eviction night when the walking dead descend on the studio."

Now as cheesy as that sounds, the trailer for it actually looks pretty good:

There is one dilemma though: if you miss any of the episodes they're going to be broadcast back-to-back at a later time. Great right? Except it's on Halloween night, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Aside from interfering with trick-or-treaters, it would also run into the premier of The Walking Dead. 

Dead Set is going to be airing on the IFC channel. I have Cablevision, so for me here in northern New Jersey, that would be Channel 83 or in hi-def on Channel 783. You can find out if you have IFC on your cable or satellite provider here.

Of course, my Halloween party is also on the 29th and starts at 7:00 p.m. which presumably means I'd miss the last episode. What's a haunter to do? Probably ignore my guests and watch the end of the show!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Now What?!

As I was in my yard today adding some details to my display -- I went to the local swamp (actually an overgrown, abandoned roadway) and pulled up some vines to wrap around my columns and fence -- a car pulled up in front of the house and the woman driving complimented me on the display.

I graciously accepted the compliments but she began to explain that she ran an entertainment company and they were putting on a haunted house in Hoboken. It was really a series of haunted tents, and what she does is drive around to try and steal ideas from home haunters. She said she really liked my display and wanted to know where I had gotten my various props. When I told her I built most of them, she was more than effusive in her praise.

Then she asked me if I could build her a groundbreaker! She would pay me for it! But it would need to be done before October 29 when the event was to take place. Oh, and how much would I charge?

I had no freakin' clue. I've only been doing this for a year and while I think my groundbreakers and corpses are fine for my little yard display, are they really "professional" haunt quality? I don't think so, but neither am I one to dismiss an opportunity either, particularly since I enjoy doing this stuff and I'm doing it every day anyway.

She said she was just starting out in the entertainment business and she had done this particular haunt last year and they liked it enough to ask her to come back. But she wanted to up the effort this time around to try and branch out and perhaps do it for more places. Of course I was thinking to myself, well, nothing like waiting till the last minute...but she said she would be willing to have me join her in her business. I'm guessing as Chief Prop Maker.

I figured I could make the props and even if she never came through I'd at least have another prop for my own display.

So, would anyone care to suggest what a groundbreaker would go for? Oh, and then after she left, she came back five minutes later asking if I could make a reaper too! Would it take long? Oh boy. Now what am I gonna do?

Monday, October 11, 2010

R&R: Repair & Recovery

Yesterday was seemingly a long day. Starting early in the morning, I began the work of tweaking the props that had determined to fail on me the day before. It started off with a couple of successes: the FCG just needed to have some bolts tightened and the LED spotlights all lit up after some suggestions from my make-and-take drinking buddy niblique71. I just need to pick up some extra wire to finish hooking them up.

Things really started to bog down when I began working on my rockin' granny. Though I thought the motor had been wired for the slowest possible setting -- and from the pictures on Monster Guts website it looked that way too -- I disassembled the mechanism just to make sure. I switched out the wires then reassembled everything after confirming I did have it as slow as possible. Actually, I had to do it twice because that's when I found out there was a "blank" connector too.

Have you noticed a pattern here? I do everything in multiples? Take apart a prop only to have to redo it again later. Run to Radio Shack dozens of times. You'd think after doing this time and again I'd start to slow down and try to get it right the first time. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

After getting the granny mechanism back together again, I noticed that the bolt that connects the arm bar to the wood upright was wobbly, probably from the wild rocking motion putting a lot of pressure on it. As it was only 2 inches long or so, the lag screw was getting loose. So I removed the lag screw, but the washers on the bar had somehow fused themselves together, so I had to unmount the whole thing from the motor and take a cold chisel to separate them to remove the screw from the arm. Once that was done, I found a 4 inch or so lag screw and bolted that back in, figuring the extra length would help minimize any loosening of the mechanism. It did seem to rock a lot smoother after that.

Perhaps the biggest achievement was simply moving the rocking mechanism from the front of the chair to the back of the chair. That slowed down the movement from wild to simply manic. One of my other M&T buddies, hpropman, who's an electrical wunderkind, also suggested moving the location of the lag screw up, even as little as 1 inch, to help regulate the movement. That will be one of my objects today.

After fiddling with that for a good long while, I tried to convince granny to keep her legs on. Double amputees are great fun and all, but it wasn't the look I was going for. First the PVC inserts were too long and prevented the chair from rocking at all. After cutting them down, I tried using PVC cement to keep the pieces in place. But using PVC pipe with CPVC connectors doesn't quite cut it -- and as always, I was too lazy to run to the store and get them. So instead, I battled for a good hour or so trying various ways to keep them attached.

Granny's nothing if not determined and she managed to kick off her legs at every turn (or rock). I finally gave up and decided to break down and go to the store and get new connectors. That's the other part of my objective today. At least her arms remain intact.

After that annoyance, I waited for the sun to go down so I could properly position my spotlights. I have to say I'm happy with how they look. The blues are bright as hell, as are the greens. Reds are less so and I may have to double (or triple) up my ambers. I have one pointed at my "pumpkin kreep" prop, but it doesn't illuminate it as much as I want. Perhaps moving it a little closer will help. It's no Skull & Bones lighting display, but I'm pleased nonetheless.

Last, my wife and I took a ride over to Hackensack, the next town over. In years past there is one block where almost all the homeowners put up colorful Halloween displays. And I mean "colorful" in a pejorative sense. It was always too cutesy and cartoonish for my tastes. It seemed as if everyone had the same wooden soldiers out, and I always wondered what that had to do with Halloween anyway. But to each his own.

I was expecting pretty much the same thing this year and was really surprised to see things had taken a turn for the dark. And by that I mean most of the displays were downright creepy. While one or two houses had Shrek or the Wizard of Oz wooden cutouts, the vast majority of homes had gone with graveyard and/or zombie scenes. One even was using pneumatics (which scared the crap out of me because I definitely didn't expect it when it lunged at me). I have to admit I was downright jealous. A number of the yard displays were really quite good, and I saw one display that my wife and I agreed we were going to have to steal.

The only drawback was that the number of homes participating in the display had dropped by more than half. Maybe it's still early for some of the homeowners, but there were not nearly as many displays as in years past when the police would come for crowd control and close down the block to all full pedestrian access. Parking was always a problem at night because of the vast number of people that would come to gawk, but this year there was plenty of space.

Here's an Associated Press video about the Clinton Place extravaganza from 2007: (sorry, wasn't able to get the clip to embed)

Now back to work!

And just a side note: When you're sitting alone at home and the mummy you in your living room -- you know, the one that responds to movement -- suddenly goes off even though you're sitting in the dining room (as it did just now), it makes you think that my little ghost visitor has returned.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Summer Winds

I guess we should be thankful for this "Indian summer" we've been granted. It certainly makes it more enjoyable to set out props in the yard, though when your thoughts are turning to jumping in the pool it hardly makes it seem like Halloween is less than three weeks away.

The yard is coming together. The tombstones in the graveyard are up (a few more are waiting to be finished), the flying crank ghost is up and running (more on that in a minute), and granny is rocking away in her chair. I put the finishing touches on the LED spotlights I made this year and began running the wiring to them. So why is it all coming apart at the seams?

I've been testing the FCG and letting it run for hours at a time to make sure that on Halloween all is okay. And it has been, until yesterday afternoon when one of the lines for the arm decides it wants to get entangled in the motor screw. What the heck makes it suddenly do that?!

That would've been okay, but I went to make sure that I had properly set up the wiring for the LED spots and went to connect it to the computer power supply powering the FCG when I noticed I didn't have a proper connector. I checked the (five!) other computer supplies I have figuring I'd harvest a connector from one of them, but none of them had one either. So off I went to Radio Shack to get one.

I once read a parody of the Shack's business on The Onion, which ran an imaginative interview with the company's CEO Julian Day.

"There must be some sort of business model that enables this company to make money, but I'll be damned if I know what it is. You wouldn't think that people still buy enough strobe lights and extension cords to support an entire nationwide chain, but I guess they must, or I wouldn't have this desk to sit behind all day."

Parody, yes, but it hits pretty close to home. But thank goodness they do sell all sorts of doodads. I was able to find my connector but upon getting home I realized I needed a female connector, not a male, so back to The Shack (good thing it's just minutes from the house). I got the female connector came, back home and went to install it, when I realized I actually did need the male connector!

Now before you think I'm a complete idiot, let me just say that I was always under the impression that a male connector slid into a female receptacle, and that's why they were named as such. Not so with these Radio Shack parts. It's the opposite. When I showed the two parts to the employee helping me, he was baffled too (for your own edification, the picture above right is supposedly the male connector, while the one to the left is the female, even though the one on the left slides into the one above. I'm guessing it has to do with the prongs inside the connector).

So back home for a third time at which time I realized my computer power supply's (female) connector didn't fit The Shack's (male) connector. The latter had a slightly different shape and no amount of "helping" would make it go. So, it was back to Radio Shack again where I just cancelled the entire transaction. I'm just going to wire it directly to the PC battery, but by that point yesterday I was too friggin' agitated to do more.

Between the FCG and the stalking I was doing at Radio Shack, I was pretty well aggravated by this point. Which brings me to my ScareFX-style rockin' granny. Maybe it was the unseasonable weather, but granny seemed like she wanted to stand up and walk right out of her chair she was rocking so violently. I don't remember her having done so previously when I tested it out.

My good fried Noah Fentz, who runs the Katzper's Haunt (an award-winning basement walk-though haunt), had opted not to have his granny move using the ScareFX mechanism because he thought it looked too unnatural. While I believe in certain circumstances the "crazy lady in the chair" movement can be effective, I see his point after watching mine rock violently. But I set it up with one of the motion sensors I made and it should really scare the bejesus out of people. I know it did my wife. She didn't realize I had powered it up and when she walked onto the porch she jumped as it started moving. So I'll have to find a way to keep her legs attached (yeah, that was one of the pitfalls of this wild rocking, she kicked her legs off).

In reality, the yard display is coming together and the "setbacks" yesterday are really just tweaks. But when they come as they did in threes -- the FCG, the LEDs, and the rocker, as well as three trips to Radio Shack -- I had had enough and went inside and had a few cold beers. I would've anyway, but it was a good excuse to calm down from my frustration. And I'll be back at it today!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Halloween Begins

It's an inauspicious start -- certainly no Davis Graveyard -- but my little (dark) corner of Halloween has begun. I began setting up yesterday, planting a pair of corpses on stakes in the garden and erecting a few tombstones. Today, it was putting up the cemetery fence and a few more tombstones.

This is the first year I hollowed out a groove in the back of my tombstones and glued in a PVC pipe. After sliding it over two pieces of rebar hammered into the ground, that sucker wasn't going anywhere! Why I didn't do this last year I don't know. I ended up spending a good hour doing the same to all of my tombstones and now I just need to get some more rebar.

I liked it so much that I did it to my cemetery fence. This was actually a stockade fence I cut down last year and fashioned into a shorter, more broken down version, but I had attached wooden stakes to it which I pounded into the ground. Since the stakes were 2x2's, they made some nice aeration holes in my yard. After the PVC-rebar success I enjoyed with the tombstones, I removed the stakes, installed PVC, painted it over, and placed it on rebar. Again, a far more sturdy result than what I had last year.

Still, there's lots more to do before it's all set up.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review: Headless Horseman Attraction

Last year I went to the Sleepy Hollow haunt in Tarrytown, NY. It being the home of the original horseman tale I was expecting a lot. It was totally crap and I couldn't recommend it to anyone.

This year I went to Ulster Park, NY, a little further up the Hudson River (okay, a lot further) to visit the Headless Horseman Hayride & Haunted Houses. I've heard a lot of great things about this attraction and I set my expectations bar pretty high, but the actual event simply blew them out of the water. This is a ridiculously detailed haunt, and while $32 a person sounds high-priced, with some of the best props around it is well worth it.

Headless Horseman is actually a haunted hayride on top of a series of haunted house walk-throughs. They say there are 7 houses, and maybe some of them ran together so I didn't realize I was actually in separate haunts, but I did see three distinct areas.

The hayride
If anything, the hayride was maybe the "worst" of the lot, but that could be because I just don't like hayrides. I don't find them scary (admittedly I'm not scared by much) but they just don't have many startles or me. Of course, the rest of the hayride participants seemed plenty startled by a lot of the scenes, so don't let my word sway you.

The sets were richly adorned and perhaps I was distracted looking at all the props. Funny, but as we would pass by a graveyard I spent a lot of time looking at the tombstones to see if they were Styrofoam or not. Some of them were so real looking I would have thought they were real.

The trail you ride along is a mile in length and it was very dark. Living in an area with lots of light pollution, I forget just how many stars there are in the sky. But that gave the actors plenty of opportunity to hide in the shadow and jump out for scares, which was effective for many on the trip. The props were well done (they could have spent a little more time on the train engine) but even by itself the hayride was worth it. Your are brought through a number of sets of small village scenes and various vignettes which tells the story of an old, abandoned jail and the convict that still haunts it.

The Haunted Houses
At the end of the hayride you're let off at the Lunar Hotel, a creepy looking motel, even from the outside. When I saw the line waiting to get in I though it was going to be an arduous wait, but the line was kept moving and was at most 20-30 minutes long. Not bad at all.

From there, you moved into the seven haunted houses and it's simply one terror after another. To be honest I can't remember how long it took us to go through it, but for the two young teens I had in tow, it must have seen like an eternity. They were thoroughly terrorized by the experience and the 14-year old was reduced to a sobbing mess who actually peed her pants at the scares that were unleashed. The 13-year old was hyperventilating from fear.

The set designs were awesome. They were rich in detail, fully thought out, wonderfully acted, and even gave me a startle or two. Of course, I was going through trying to absorb as much detail as I could but it was sensory overload. There was just way too much to take in.

After what might have been 3 or 4 of the haunts, you're given a brief respite as you exit and have to walk about 10 yards into a haunted corn maze. Here some of the props could have been beefed up as the actual mechanics were completely visible and no attempt was made to hide them. But people jumping out of the corn provided some good scares.

Soon enough, though, you were back inside what looked to be a greenhouse of sorts and some science experiments gone awry. And the terror started again. It wasn't long before the 14-year old was sobbing again with her head buried in my coat. Hey, at $32 a pop, she was going through all the haunts!

Unfortunately I didn't get to see the last haunted house because it was about this time that my wife realized she lost the car keys. Having ridden a mile long hayride and walked through a maze of haunted attractions, she had no idea where she lost them. While police and security at the attraction were excellent and beyond helpful (they even walked with my wife back through some of the haunts to try and locate them -- I was jealous since I would've gone just to get another look at the props, the hell with the keys!), it was of little use. So a $200 cab ride back down the New York State Thruway later, I found myself heading back up there with a spare key to pick up the car.

The story had a happy ending (of sorts). As we pulled back into the lot, security informed us they had actually found the keys. They were in the corn maze and my wife realized that was where she had pulled out her cellphone to call her cousin and tell him what a chicken his daughter was. Well the joke was on her (me) I guess.

Regardless, it was a haunt well worth the trip and the cost (minus the cab ride). Now haunters would be familiar with a number of the props Headless Horseman had. If you've seen any of the Transworld videos posted on the forums, you'd quickly recognize a couple of them. For example, the Pale Night Productions zombie attack was there as were some of the werewolves feeding. Cool stuff nonetheless.

From what I understand of the haunt, the owners invest heavily in their props each year from the proceeds they make. You can definitely see it.

If I can provide any tip (other than hang onto your keys), it would be "go early." When I attempted to buy the tickets online, it showed the date (October 2) was unavailable. So I called up and found out that they still had tickets available, but it was around the 9:00 p.m. time frame. Innocently enough I asked about walking around the midway while awaiting our start time and the woman said we could do that and if we wanted to get on the ride early we could probably do so as well. I then asked about getting there early enough for the 7 p.m. opening, and she said yes we could probably do that too.

So we ended up arriving around 7:00 p.m. and it took about a half hour to get the tickets, but we made it through security quickly and went right over to the hayride and got on without any problems. The lines were very short then. When we came out around 9:30 or so, which would have been around when we would've picked up our tickets, the lines were exceptionally long at that point. I wouldn't have wanted to wait then.

Security is tight at Headless Horseman (the signs say to leave your weapons in the car!). They have security patting you down and wanding you with metal detectors and the local constabulary there as back up. No flashlights, cameras, lighters, cigarettes, or backpacks are permitted in the attraction and they make you take your offending items back to your car if you try to get in anyway. I saw that happen several times.

That makes for a safe environment to enjoy the haunted rides and houses. So I can't recommend this attraction highly enough. For all that you get, and considering what other haunted houses charge in comparison, $32 a person is very cheap. Now I need to go back again to fully enjoy the show -- but I'll hold onto the keys.
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