101+ Ideas to Create a Scary Haunted House
Make Yours the Scariest (Best) House Around
Do you want to create a haunted house for Halloween? Make it a fun and scary experience for all who enter its creaky doors and brush past the sticky spider webs.
Most of these ideas can be used to turn your home into a mini-haunted house or transform one room into a terrifying experience. You could even set up a porch to scare the heck out of the trick-or-treaters.
Here's a wealth of ideas. Planning, mapping, safety issues, making it scary, getting props and costumes, making up the characters . . . you're guaranteed to find some good tips here.
Scary Rooms and Themes for Designing Your Haunted House
Consider creating a room or a whole house around one of these scenarios:
- Autopsy room
- Hell's kitchen
- Potions cellar
- Graveyard or tomb
- Operation room or medical experimentation chamber
- Insane asylum
- Murder scene or chamber
- Witches' coven
- Cage, prison, or dungeon
- A creature's hole or den
- Nuclear disaster zone
- Evil scientist's laboratory
- Crooked hospital
- Deserted orphanage
- Haunted motel
- School of the depraved
- Ritual of human sacrifice
- A zoo for people
- Giant spider's web or nest
- Medieval torturing chamber
- A house where every member of the family went insane for different reasons
- Ghost or demon child found torturing their stuffed animals
- Circus of the demented
- Crazy butcher's shop
14 Ideas and Tips for Your Design
- Something unexpected is always scarier than something you saw coming, so keep that in mind when you design your haunted house. Things might pop out, jump, or fall. A well-timed scream will amplify the terror!
- Don't forget to appeal to all the senses: sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste.
- Having a mixture of automated (battery-run) devices and real humans playing roles adds to the fear factor, since your guests won't know which is which.
- If you're planning on having a tour guide walking guests through, spend some time writing a really great script for the guide. A scary story can make the props even more horrifying!
- Remember that tension, distraction, empathy, story, suspense, threat, and familiarity all add to the terror of a situation.
- Remember: Clowns, dolls, and loud noises are always scary!
- Something else to consider: For very young guests, some kinds of scary might be just too much. Have a plan for downplaying the terror for the young ones. You might even design an emergency exit just in case your house is too haunted for the littlest visitors!
Tips from Professionals
Here are a few good tips from Fast Company about designing awesome haunted houses:
- Play off of the building's features. If you're doing it at your home, maybe turn it into an orphanage that was shut down by the government because of cruelty, or a place where a family member went crazy and murdered everyone.
- Employ different types of scares. Draw people's attention towards some element, and then scare them from the opposite direction. Or, draw them in towards something and then have something pop out of it that scares them. You could also have three separate scares in a row.
- Narrative can help improve the experience by giving context for people's enjoyment.
- Try to construct the path so that it's difficult for people to see the scares that are coming—curves, walls, and fog can all help with that mission.
- Use the stuff-in-face effect, where people have to push things out of their face (like cobwebs or curtains) in order to move through.
- Think about where people will jump when they're scared. You should always try to scare them forward, not back, or into a wall or something that could hurt them.
- There are a few things that professional scarers use that generally evoke fear: people moving from a large open space to a small space, areas where visibility is limited (such as from darkness or fog), and flickering lights, which gives the impression that something is wrong.
48 Haunted House Prop Ideas
Atmospheric Effects and Lighting
- Flickering lighting
- Red lighting
- Glowing eyes
- Jars of glowing or chemical substances
- Bloody limbs, torsos with missing limbs, bloody hair, eyes, and teeth
- Jars full of bloody teeth and what looks like fingernail clippings
- Bloody toothbrushes
- Blood-spattered votive jars
- Blood-spattered walls
- Bloody rags or bandages
- Bloody baby clothes
- Bloody tools
Bodies and Body Parts
- Piles of skulls
- Hands poking out of unexpected places
- People bound and gagged or corpses who were bound and gagged
- Heads in a jar
Classic Halloween Props
- Gravestones, coffins, or crypts
- Cheesecloth, spiderwebbing, or just old, dirty sheets hanging down from the ceiling
- Spiders hanging from the wall
- Cluttered, maze-like rooms
- Evil pumpkins
- Crime scene tape
Cute Things Turned Creepy
- Dolls that have been tortured or have their eyes sewn shut (you can find video tutorials for this)
- Cages with children's toys in them
- Scary red eyes on adorable animals
- Anything else cute and friendly that has turned terrifying and creepy, like a baby doll with its eyes cut out, or a teddy bear that's being tortured
Fake Animals (and Other Creatures)
- Flies taped to the walls or doors, or floating in pools of water
- Dead animal or corpse floating in a pool of water
Miscellaneous Scary Props
- Gas masks or hazmat suits
- Chainsaws, knives, bent forks, or sharpened spoons
- Spellbooks (or make your books look like spellbooks)
Wall and Window Decorations
- Put eyes on the walls, or make your windows look like eyes are peering through them.
- Faces coming out of places, like walls, mirrors, or watching in the windows. You could make it look like a face is pressing up against the backside of a wall trying to get out.
- Hands pressing on windows trying to escape
- Spray-painted messages of doom, death, or insanity
- Haunted portraits
- Photographs with blacked-out eyes
Other Scary Prop Ideas
You'll need prop people, too. Here are just a few ideas:
- A butler standing by the door holding a tray of disgusting "treats."
- A devil emerging from the ground.
- A zombie-like mom sitting in a rocker with a ghostly baby.
- An adult-sized baby trapped in a cage.
- A portrait where the face changes.
- A severed head.
- A mad scientist in their lab.
If you don't have many actors, you might consider making or buying stand-ins. Get something that's animated to really creep people out. Another animated prop to up your horror factor is a figure that lunges at visitors.
Have a bowl full of overcooked spaghetti, peeled grapes, boiled tapioca, hardboiled eggs, tofu, jelly, or other gooey stuff. Blindfold your guests and have them stick their hand in the bowl and guess what they're touching.
Large Display for a Drive-Thru Haunted AreaClick thumbnail to view full-size
How About a Haunted Drive-Through Display?
A family that lives outside of my town has a large property with a circular drive. They do a super-large haunted drive-thru display. This doesn't require parking, as visitors see the displays as they drive through before heading out to the road again. I thought this was such an innovative idea—if you have a circular drive, this type of haunted display is definitely something to consider.
Or a Walk-Through Haunt?
Another family further up that road has a number of little outbuildings on their property. Each is set up differently so that guests can walk through them one at a time for themed scares. One shed is a mad scientist's lab, for example. They have 8 sheds plus an extensive yard display, and a lot of it is interactive. If you have a lot of sheds, garages, or outbuildings on your property, this type of haunted attraction would definitely be something to consider.
19 Creepy Things to Write on the Walls
You could also write these messages on the door, on the underside of the toilet seat, or anywhere else that might catch a visitor's eye.
- Death to all who enter here.
- HELP US!!!
- (Scratches on the wall)
- Don't lose your head . . .
- darkness comes
- bad sad bad sad bad sad bad sad bad sad bad sad
- help me.
- please, God, please, let me live
- There is no God here
- hope doesn't help
- Forget hope.
- Don't close your eyes
- why me why me why me?
- I need blood, lots of blood
- It will be back
Spooky Sound Effects
Don't forget to have a terrifying soundtrack for the evening. Eerie noises include . . .
- Screams, moans, laughter
- Banging (footsteps, hammers, pots and pans)
- Children's songs (sung slowly or whispered)
- Dripping, echoes, heavy breathing
- The sound of metal against metal or nails on a chalkboard
- Sirens or alarms
- Wind and thunder
- An out-of-tune instrument
- Creepy carnival music
- Classical music (Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre, Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain)
- squeaking and slithering sounds like rats make
Make your own noises or buy a CD. Mix and match to get just the right sound for your party or haunted house.
Scary Character Roles and Performers
These are just some of the roles that might need filling:
- Scary-looking people and creatures to greet visitors.
- Guides to walk guests through.
- Mad scientists, murderers, ghosts, and other scary characters to pop out at people along the way.
- Someone (or two or three) may be needed to make realistic sound effects (screaming, moaning, banging pots and pans together, etc.).
- Someone (or more) to stand behind the scenes to work the props.
- Hide someone with a mask on in the woods and scare people as they're coming up to the house.
In the video below, James explains how he prepares (with equipment and practice) for being a "slider" at an event. Dressed as a werewolf, he would make a dramatic entrance sliding in and leaping up to scare the heck out of visitors. Watch the video to see how it looks!
Ask Your Friends for Ideas
"My husband worked for a haunted house attraction one year. He wore his black cloak and spoke Shakespeare in a loud, creepy voice as the guests entered. He loved it."
—A tip from my friend, Granny Sage.
How to Plan for Your Haunted House
Planning is super-important. To put on a top-notch event, as soon as you finish this year's creep-fest, you should start planning for the next one. What worked and what didn't? Build on your strengths, invest in some good quality props, and next year will be your best haunted house yet.
Here's a proposed timeline to get you started:
Several Weeks Before the Big Day
- Choose the space you will use and begin to brainstorm ideas. Involve the kids as much as possible!
- Begin going through the closets and garage to see what props and materials you already have. Ask to borrow items you don't have from friends and neighbors.
- If there are items you'll need to buy, you should do that as far ahead of time as possible. (Note: Sometimes store-bought props are cheaper than the time and materials it would take to make the prop yourself, so shop around before you decide.)
A Couple of Weeks Before
- Begin to enlist help and assign roles. Make a list of all the things you still need to do and then assign each job.
- If you are making certain items, start now so you'll have plenty of time to finish.
- Make sure to get the word out, too—either put up some posters, send out emails, or invite your friends!
A Week Before
Clear out the space you'll be using. For example, if you will be using only the porch of your house, then clear it of all unnecessary items of furniture and other clutter.
Several Days Before
- Begin setting up the decorations.
- Plan a flow chart or a map of how visitors to your haunted house will move through it.
A Couple of Days Before
- Do a dress rehearsal to make sure the costumes and props work and everyone knows what to do. This is your opportunity to do a test run to make sure the flow chart will make sense to your visitors and they won't get lost. It's also your last chance to make sure the route is free of tripping, fire, or other safety hazards.
- It's good to make some house rules ahead of time. For example, a no-touching rule is often a good policy!
On the Big Day
- Arrive early.
- If the haunting will last for several hours, make sure you have a plan for relieving actors so they can take a break.
Don't forget to make assignments for cleaning up and returning any items you borrowed. You'll definitely need some help with this.
Some Helpful Links for Your Spook Fest
- Decorate out front to set the tone. Here's how to make a giant spider web for a porch or between some trees.
- How about a realistic, gooey brain covered in blood! How do you make that? Here's the recipe for an edible brain with bright red blood over it.
What Kind of Haunted House Are You Planning?
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Do you think a really scary haunted house should limit the age ranges for attendees?
To be scary for adults, most haunted houses are unsuitable for children below the teen years. Kids think they like spooky things, but the reality is they may have nightmares, disrupted sleep, and fears for many years after seeing horrible things. I see that some haunted houses limit the younger folks by having a height restriction (since most children don't have an ID showing their age and unfortunately, parents will lie to get their too-young child into an event.)Helpful 15
Should I get a real spider to decorate my haunted house?
I'm afraid that a real spider might get injured if someone comes in contact with it. I recommend a moving, battery-powered spider with flashing, lighted eyes. You can find those on Amazon.Helpful 9
I am planning an in-home haunted house walk-through. My husband does not want to have one since he is afraid of being sued for any reason. I am just planning on different rooms with different themes not too scary. And I live in a ranch-style house and don't see how anyone could get hurt but still, he thinks everyone is so sue-happy these days. Do you think we should worry about being sued for a haunted house?
I suggest that you talk to an insurance agent and ask them about event insurance. When I searched online for information on insurance for a haunted house event, I found Cossio Insurance Agency had all sorts of Halloween-related insurance to offer. Everything from a pumpkin patch to a haunted house. Probably they are not the only one. Check on it for peace of mind.Helpful 8
Should I kill my guests and give them chocolate and have fake blood when creating a scary haunted house?
How fun. You could have a table near the exit for the visitors to the haunted house to put on bloody streaks on their face and arms. As they leave, it will scare the people who are just coming in. Best not to kill the guests, as you might want them to come back next year.Helpful 8
How do I create a haunted house where the theme is every member of the family went insane for a different reason?
Give each family member a separate room and create your scene around that. Perhaps the mom could be insane because her baby died. A little girl could be insane because she is being menaced by clowns. The father could be insane because he drank and killed someone in a car wreck. Anyway, figure out your family members, then their cause of insanity and create a scene to show each one.Helpful 5
© 2010 Virginia Allain