Fall brings with it a bevy of neighborhood traditions and October in particular spells the arrival of DIY backyard haunted houses across the country. From small scale spookiness to professional-grade haunts, you don’t have to have a background in boogeymen to pull one off. These frighteningly fun tips will inspire you to roll up your sleeves and get to work on the Halloween haunt the whole neighborhood will be screaming about.
Step one is to decide the level of scares – and the level of budget – you will be working with. You can have everything from a sheer curtain with a holographic projector to one of your kids dressed as a zombie leaping out of a camouflaged hole in the “wall”. You’ll definitely need some dim lighting, so think about putting those Christmas tree lights to use. Blackout tape can limit the number that light up, and if they’re flashing Christmas lights… so much the better.
Get creative on your budget. From a grave & DIY headstone that is actually a shallow hole lined with black garbage bags with someone hiding under sod who can reach up and grab ankles to “bats” on a simple pulley system with string to fly at people, there are a unlimited number of ways to make your haunted house a one-of-a-kind memory for all the kids on the block.
Draw up schematic encompassing the entire scope of the project, mapped exactly how it will fit in your yard. Leave no stone unturned, from the scale and size to the supplies needed and the corresponding budget. Once you’re done this, make as exact an estimate as possible for the time it will take to set up your haunted house, how many people it will take to run, and how long it will take to take down your backyard boo-fest. Once your plans have been set, you can focus on creating invitations to send to friends, family, and neighbors announcing your Halloween festivities.
PVC pipe, chicken wire, and fishing line are your friends, as are trash bags, shower curtains, and custom tarps that offer multipurpose potential to create everything from Grim Reapers to ghosts to entryways. Hang electric candles from your haunted ceiling to give it the appearance of a floating hallway… and while they’re looking up make sure there are scares on the floor right when you’ve taken their attention upward. Make multiple Grim Reapers with PVC pipe, chicken wire, and black material, but make sure one of them is a real person who suddenly moves! Red lights for glowing eyes are great for everything from your entryway to the hidden alcoves inside your haunted house. Kitchen staples like food coloring with a hint of chocolate sauce can be used for some eye-popping fake blood. If you’re the handyman type, plywood can be cut into spooky silhouettes for that much-need ambiance.
Once your supplies have been gathered, round up the handiest members of your family and start the construction process. Using your previously drawn up plans to mark out the space in your backyard. You may have to move pieces of your outdoor living room in order to make space, so put on your patio furniture covers and table covers and store them in a safe place for the time being.
Next, lay your base and support first and then start building up and out. Rigging PVC pipes with curtains is a popular choice for walls and anchoring them with metal u-shaped hoops, while those looking for a simpler – and smaller – setup can opt for buying a tent they can customize. Whatever method of construction you choose, be sure to implement safety features for both you and your future guests, such as a clearly marked entrance and exits and using only non-flammable materials throughout.
Now that your haunted mansion has been raised from the dead, you can focus on setting the spooky scene. Stream a playlist of Halloween sound effects and creepy music throughout the haunt. Strobe lights and red bulbs create a chilling ambiance, while fog machines add some mysterious gloom. Add in some custom tarps personalized with some creepy graphics and you’ve got a haunted house that rivals the pros. Use a white tarp and you can project images onto it as well.
The best haunted houses offer more than scary strolls for their guests. Have Halloween themed activities on hand for both inside the house and out for those who aren’t keen on scares. Blindfold a guest and have them stick their hand in a “Mystery Bowl”- what feels like eyes or brains are actually peeled grapes, ground meat, or cold al dente spaghetti. Just be sure to put on table covers beforehand to prevent any ghoulish goop from spilling over. Simple classics like bobbing for apples will keep little guests entertained once they’ve conquered your ferocious frights.