I've been a designer, builder, and actor in haunted houses since I was 12, and I have learned a lot of wallet-friendly tips along the way.
In the Beginning . . .
Having been an avid designer, builder, and actor in haunted house attractions since I was 12 (I actually own a real coffin), I have learned a few tricks through the years. Haunted houses can be an expensive endeavor. Over the years, I started picking up little bits and pieces of knowledge that made it easier to put on extravagant haunted attractions without putting the scare on my bank account.
In this article, you'll learn tricks from using household items to create fantastic horror make-up all the way to using radio wire to animate a Ouija board and scare the crap out of anyone who dares come near enough. It takes a special breed to get involved in this line of work, but with a little effort, you can be scaring the neighborhood kids to death or raising money for a local charity in no time.
A Video How-To
Special Effect Make-Up for Dirt Cheap
One of the first things I learned when trying to haunt houses is that special effects make-up is expensive. One piece can run you around 15 bucks. When you've got to do around 12 characters, you start to see where that 15 bucks is gonna multiply beyond your budget.
I learned at a very early age that Tom Savini- and Dick Miller-style make-up was possible without latex and spirit gum. In fact, they were as simple as going to the local Dollar Tree and picking up a pack of toilet paper and a bottle of Elmer's glue.
Glue and TP Might Be All You Need!
I know it sounds hokey, but I assure you some of the things you can do with simple glue and TP will blow your mind. I have done several zombie events and all of our staff were done-up using these means, and the media was glued, no pun intended, to our show. It just takes some practice and a good sense of human anatomy and you will be churning out some serious gore in no time.
The trick is to overlay the paper and smooth the edges with glue. Let me give you a quick rundown on how this process works.
- Add a layer of glue.
- Add paper.
- Smooth edges of paper with glue.
- Rinse and repeat.
It sounds easy because it is easy. The entire process takes a while and I always suggest you have a hairdryer there to dry the glue faster so you can get your paint on there.
The More the Merrier
Pool Noodles to the Rescue
Too often, we associate haunted houses with scariness and gore, but there are other ways to generate scares that do not rely on these tactics. I have discovered by accident that pool noodles when used the right way can scare the living hell out of people and create a very cool space filler in a hallway.
Let's face it guys, hallways are the toughest part of a haunted house to work with. It is hard to get a scarer or prop in there due to space but we can utilize the art of the noodle and create a fun segment that can actually be extremely terrifying.
The trick is to hang pool noodles. I know crazy but stay with me here. Just run wire across the ceiling of the hallway in a grid fashion. Now attach the noodles to these wires so that the noodles hang down and present the audience with an obstacle they have to get through. I find that if you light the scene the right way these swinging noodles will create a very graphic sight and will cause the people going through them to anticipate a scare at the end so they will tread with caution. This does not mean do not put a scare at the end but it simply means you make not have to.
A Great Prop
The Haunted House Fan Club
One of the best tools for creating amazing haunted house effects is a simple oscillating fan. These fans are pre-programmed to sway back and forth so they lend themselves very very well to becoming haunted house props.
Just remove the fan casing and the fan blades and you have a very cool mount that you can place a dummy head or half body prop on and wham instant animatronic horror goodness. The fan allows you to have a motorized, moving prop that can be used as a space-filler or even a means to distract the viewer so an actor can get the real scare.
I have used fans for years, and most recently I used one with a clown head to distract the visitors so I could get them with a bigger scare using one of my actors. It is super effective and will almost always be a big hit. The only catch is not to let anything get caught in the fan while it is swaying. It can burn the motor out and cause a fire if not remedied soon.
The Spirit Board Trick
Ouija boards are all the rage, and using them in your haunted house can be a great way to get a good easy scare. For this trick, you will need a piece of wire (radio wire works great) and a means of hiding the person who uses the prop.
I used this trick recently by staging a funeral with a gothic girl crying in front of a coffin. Under the coffin (hidden by a sheet) was a person who used the wire which was tied around the planchette of the board to make it appear as if the board was moving itself. The scare was not only effective but made even more realistic by slamming doors and a falling teddy bear that was all worked by the same actor hiding behind the sheet.
This is a simple scare and all it really requires is for a person to manipulate the planchette by way of a wire. This trick can be made even better by simply lighting the area the right way. Black lights usually do the trick.
Good Luck With Your Haunted House!
Creating a haunted house is a trying task but it does not have to be an expensive one. While this is just a short little look at what can be done I encourage you to stay tuned as I will be doing more in-depth haunted house articles as time goes on. This was just a bite of the cake that is haunted houses.
I am always doing these types of events for local organizations and charities and one big aspect is the tiny budget. I never see a lot of cash going into these events so I am always on the lookout for a means to do scary things for cheap. By saving these groups money I am able to help them raise more for their cause or have money for other events.
My biggest piece of advice is to always be creative and try new things. Maybe you will stumble on something that really gets a good scare and you never would have imagined it would! Creating a good haunted house is as simple as you want to make it or as complex as you think it should be. It is up to you as the creator of the chaos. Happy haunting.
© 2016 Sam Little
Sam Little (author) from Wheelwright KY on December 28, 2016:
They really do the trick. It is amazing how much people freak out over them.
Scribbling Geek from Singapore on December 28, 2016:
Creative ideas. Have to try some of these if given the chance.
I'm pretty curious about the effect of pool noodles too!