Halloween—fun for children and adults. I was noted for my annual Halloween parties and creative costumes.
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 Area
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.
- Get advice for staying on budget from this YouTube video: How to Create a Home Haunt for Less Than $100.
- Explore one of the scariest haunted houses in Texas in this YouTube tour of The Haunt House.
What Kind of Haunted House Are You Planning?
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
Question: 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?
Answer: 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.
Question: Do you think a really scary haunted house should limit the age ranges for attendees?
Answer: 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.)
Question: Should I get a real spider to decorate my haunted house?
Answer: 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.
Question: Should I kill my guests and give them chocolate and have fake blood when creating a scary haunted house?
Answer: 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.
Question: How do I create a haunted house where the theme is every member of the family went insane for a different reason?
Answer: 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.
Question: I'm thinking about making a haunted house. After all of the work you put into this project (and the money you've spent,) should you charge money for people to enter the haunted house/spook alley? If so, what would be a reasonable price? I'm afraid that if we charge people to go in, no one will want to participate.
Answer: What you charge depends a great deal on how professional your haunted house is. You could try a token price of $1 or $2 for the first time. Each year, as you expand your show and gain a reputation, you can increase the price. Put Google to work for you. Search this phrase, "what to charge for admission to a haunted house" and you will find discussions on this.
Question: Do you think I should add age limits to each room I put in my haunted house?
Answer: I'd think that would be very hard to monitor. You could try signs saying "No one under age 10 can enter this room" or a similar message. I'm more in favor of setting a minimum age for the whole haunted house. Parents will fuss about wanting to bring their younger children, but they underestimate the effect all that gore has on young children.
Question: How do I make a nuclear disaster zone for my haunted house?
Answer: To create this as part of a haunted house, start with an internet search for those 3 words "nuclear disaster zone" and click on "images" when the results come up. You'll get some photos that will give you ideas. You'll want to make some of those triangular yellow signs with the nuclear symbol on them in red and maybe have someone dressed in one of those white hazmat suits with a gas mask on. Make the area look abandoned and forlorn.
Question: Are witches, spiders, skeletons, and blinking lights ok for little kids?
Answer: Little kids (preschool and early years of school) are very impressionable and you want to scale the scare-factor back for that age group in a haunted house. One year we had a haunted pumpkin patch at the local library. We used happy looking jack-o'lanterns, fun Halloween stories, and the librarians dressed up as witches (but friendly-looking ones, no masks). It was a great success and no one went home with nightmares. Another year, we had a more sophisticated haunted house at the library and didn't allow the very young children to attend. Some parents wanted to bring them, but we knew it would not be good for the toddlers.
© 2010 Virginia Allain
What Will You Do at Your Haunted House?
Cassandra on December 23, 2019:
Oh, maybe you could make a room infested with cockroaches. That would scare the living daylights out of them! Also, a man with a shovel, scraping the pavement, would startle visitors. I'll probably add a room with a little girl with a ripped teddy bear in her hand eat a REAL bear as well. Doesn't that sound terrifying?
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on November 01, 2018:
Great idea to add rats to your haunted house. I think most people find them repulsive. The more you add, the more it will creep people out.
rachel on November 01, 2018:
i hate rats so i am adding it to my haunted house for halloween contest.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on October 18, 2018:
Spider webs and a gigantic spider are pretty scary. Look on YouTube for instructions to create your own spider webs and for making a realistic looking 4-foot long-legged spider.
dick on October 18, 2018:
I have no idea what to do for my dumb class haunted hallway. HELP ME
Their after me.
Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on September 27, 2018:
A lot of good suggestions here. I'm amazed at how people take the time to put together such elaborate Halloween displays inside and out. We have a few neighbors in our area who really go to town.
Paris G. on September 20, 2017:
im turning my house into a haunted house this year and i have learned a lot from this article and i will be doing lots of stuff from this. i am 13 years old and i am very excited about it. My friends will help volunteer and im inviting EVERYONE! I cant wait until October 31st. Its currently Sep 20th right now. For the haunted house...im going to be a chained up clown (it). Its going to be very fun!!!!
Justine on October 12, 2016:
Aaa thank you for this ! For drama club , were turning our entire school into a haunted house , so this stuff is great to know ! Especially the sliding ! As a roller derby player , I can easily pull it off and the long hallways in the school will allow me to get some great distance to slide !
namitha on September 11, 2016:
hey we're having a charity fundraiser at our school n we're making a haunted housse...u ideas helped a lot...thank u soo much :)
peachy from Home Sweet Home on June 25, 2015:
that sure is a scary hub for halloween day, great ideas
Tony Payne from Southampton, UK on October 22, 2014:
Several friends of mine helped to run a commercial haunted house in Indiana. I never managed to go there but it sounded terrific.
TanoCalvenoa on November 04, 2013:
Recently we saw a screech owl flying around outside after the sun set, and my wife said it would be perfect for a haunted house. So I'd play screech owl sounds.
Margaret Schindel from Massachusetts on November 01, 2013:
I've never been into haunted houses, but I think you've got some fabulous ideas and product suggestions here! That gory human half-torso prop definitely would elicit some screams in the dark! ;)
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on October 31, 2013:
Heck, I could get a wig, do a little artful makeup (won't need a lot unfortunately) and be the granny in the rocker! That would be fun to scare the heck out of some people. But I wouldn't want to scare little kids. This lens sure has some absolutely marvelous ideas for a haunted house. Anyone who is planning one should definitely get in touch with this page, it's practically a chart for the best haunted house!
Ruthi on October 30, 2013:
Great ideas you share for Halloween haunted house fare. I like that animated laughing hag. I can see her perched upon my deck in a rocking chair!
Angela F from Seattle, WA on September 08, 2013:
Love the crazy granny!
ChristyZ on August 30, 2013:
Very creep ideas! I love it!
mel-kav on August 29, 2013:
Really cool ideas! I love haunted houses.
gottaloveit2 on August 19, 2013:
Stopped back by to get more ideas for a Halloween haunted house. Might decorate my own haunted house this year.
kerryhrabstock on January 07, 2013:
Years ago, my roommate and I always loved watching the Rosanne Halloween episode. They did such great décor for Halloween on that show.
poorwendy lm on November 04, 2012:
Spinning head baby looks so creepy.
anonymous on October 31, 2012:
Great lens! My wife and I have a bit of an obsession with haunted houses. We travel across the country to go through nationally-acclaimed haunted houses! Love Halloween! Thanks for sharing these great ideas!
Brandi from Maryland on October 29, 2012:
Wow, great haunted house ideas! That baby at the top totally creeps me out! Happy Halloween! :)
MostInteresting on October 20, 2012:
Wow. I'd like to just live in a haunted house year round. Cool decorations.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on October 17, 2012:
@SPhilbrick: How about a Haunted Porch? I have a page on that topic too.
SPhilbrick on October 17, 2012:
I don't have plans to do one, but I love a great haunted house! The last one I helped with, we had everything from graveyards to axe murderers... it was a lot of fun!
PennyHowe on September 30, 2012:
Thanks for all of the great ideas. I would love to give it a try one of these years.
TriviaChamp on September 25, 2012:
I love Halloween. These are really interesting ideas.
xtraneus on September 19, 2012:
Awesome decoration suggestions! The haunted house video had great tips :)
barbiefashionistas on September 19, 2012:
An awesome lens with lots of scary stuff!
ShineRita on September 18, 2012:
Great stuff. Fantastic ideas!!!!
Gloria Freeman from Alabama USA on September 13, 2012:
Hi you got some scary stuff here..Booo so creepy.
Camden1 on September 10, 2012:
My kids used to spend hours when they were little planning Haunted Houses in the basement - what fun they had! They were too young to come up with anything as amazing as these ideas.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on September 08, 2012:
This is a very useful resource for Halloween decorating.
CoolFool83 on September 05, 2012:
You got to have some crazy psycho in a haunted house. I enjoy this very much! Gets me in the mood of Halloween.
mumsgather on September 02, 2012:
The scary haunted house theme sounds like a really good idea and lots of fun! Just like this lens.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on September 02, 2012:
@anonymous: Maybe the spirits have decided you are a good thing for the house. Who knows...
anonymous on September 02, 2012:
Oh Boy, I really could not do this as I would have nightmares. When we downsized and moved here, we were sure the house had ghosts as the shut door would be open and sounds could not be explained, Lights kept going on and off. It was weird then it settled down and things have been quiet lately thank goodness.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on August 31, 2012:
@dpgibble: Wow, I'd love to find an old journal stuffed behind the floorboards.
dpgibble on August 31, 2012:
I helped tear down many a real haunted house. The ones where we found old money and journals were usually the creepiest. Bats and owls would occasionally startle us as we took apart their abodes. One location was the site of the last public hanging for that county in the 1800's. The ancient elm tree died, diseased, but lives on as paneling in the family farmhouse. I bet somebody could make a story out of this!
bossypants on August 30, 2012:
I'm completely creeped out after reading this! What a selection of haunted house resources!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on August 28, 2012:
@JohnTannahill: Yep, spiders are a scary thing and I've even made a few pages about spider decor for Halloween.
John Tannahill from Somewhere in England on August 28, 2012:
At this time of year our house starts getting invaded by spiders. All I have to do is leave it a few weeks and the cobwebs will be enough decor for any halloween theme. You know that feeling when you walk into a fresh cobweb and you know there's a spider attached to it somewhere?
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on August 12, 2012:
@xriotdotbiz lm: Great idea, to have music for those waiting in line.
xriotdotbiz lm on August 12, 2012:
It is coming up on that season again! Last year, the school where I work had a haunted house, what was missing was scary music. Thought that would be a great addition because there was a massive waiting line where music would have amped up the anticipation. Who doesn't know the theme for Friday the 13th or Halloween? Even fun music like Monster Mash or Spiders and Snakes would help set a tone.
MillBucks on July 25, 2012:
You have featured some great ideas for a cool haunted house, I will definitely be using some of these for Halloween, thanks for sharing.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on July 22, 2012:
@anonymous: Halloween is a lot of fun for grown-ups.
Onemargaret LM on July 15, 2012:
I love Halloween! Excellent ideas!
BestToysReviews on November 07, 2011:
I don't want to make a scary haunted house. I'll wet my pants before half of it is finished. Too scary for me :o
slippknot12 on November 04, 2011:
Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, thank you for such a great lens, it is awesome!
gamecheathub on October 31, 2011:
That fog machine is screaming my name! LOL.
gottaloveit2 on October 20, 2011:
I already live in a haunted house. Our ghostly happenings used to wig me out but I'm used to them now. No need to add any other haunted things over here. Great lens though.
Toni Grundstrom from Minneapolis, MN on October 15, 2011:
I do not think, when I was a kid that I would have been able to trick-or-treat at your house. Too 'haunted'!
Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on October 08, 2011:
Some of those props are so creepy scary. ha Anytime I go through a haunted house, I expect someone to jump out at me, but it still scares me every time. lol Huge variety of ideas in the lens; great!
Ann Hinds from So Cal on October 01, 2011:
This is really great. It's going to take a while to digest all the information. Angel blessed!!
awakeningwellness on September 26, 2011:
Ghoulishly good ideas!
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on September 04, 2011:
How fun! I like the smoke machines. Makes it nice and eerie.
pcgamehardware on August 25, 2011:
Not really planning a haunted house this year, but when I do next year...." I'll be back ".
Great resources and ideas for anyone planning a haunted house... Nice work.
Mishael A Witty on August 18, 2011:
Great ideas here. My girls are too little for this right now, but maybe in a few years ...
Toni Grundstrom from Minneapolis, MN on August 15, 2011:
I don't think that you missed an inch of the house with how to decorate it ideas for Halloween. Thanks.
ZablonMukuba on October 25, 2010:
thanks for the great advice, i love skeletons on a noose
Sami4u LM on September 16, 2010:
I just love Halloween, It is one of the best holidays of the year. Some great ideas to help your haunted house you have here.