My 9 Favorite Frugal, Easy, and Scary DIY Halloween Yard Decorations
You Might Go Batty!
Easily Make Creepy Halloween Decorations for Your Yard
Creating a front-yard setting that is both awesome and creepy to amuse, scare, and delight the trick-or-treat crowd is easy, but it does take some time. When my own kids were young, we used to have "the best house on the block" for Halloween. We never put out the decorations prior to Halloween afternoon; that way, it was always a surprise for the doorbell-ringers, most of whom were local kids.
We'd begin right after school let out, and be finished by a little before dinner, just in time for the first round of the youngest groups. This worked out well, as it is usually not quite dark by then, and is less scary for the toddlers-through-kindergarteners with their parents.
But after dark, oh, my! Watch out! We had some really creepy stuff; sometimes, we even gave a scare to the adults!
I am very sorry to report that I do not have any photos from back then. I don't know what happened to them, but in any case, the quality was too poor for today's digital standards.
But, follow along—I know you all have working imaginations—my intent is to start you thinking. Consider this article as a springboard for ideas of your own.
The Ever-Popular "Graveyard"
What Kind of Materials Are Needed?
As a lover of practical jokes, this kind of decorating is right up my alley. When you come right down to it, the spooky, unexpected effects used for Halloween are little more than practical jokes!
Back in the day, we did not have the budget for much in the way of purchased mass-produced decorations, so we used our imaginations, and came up with all sorts of things from stuff we had in the house or laying around the backyard.
This has a twofold advantage: first, no one will have anything that is just the same as yours (and twenty-dozen other houses), and you and your older kids will have a blast designing and making the spooky decor.
Here are some basic things you probably already have or can easily scrounge up:
- Garden gloves (worn out dirty ones are even better)
- Leftover or broken fence boards or shelves
- Small sticks or branches
- Black plastic sheet or trash bags or black landscaping fabric
- Black sewing thread; you'll need several yards
- Plain old dirt
- Cardboard boxes
- Poster paint or spray paint and permanent markers
- Old worn-out shoes or boots
- Wire coat hangers or bamboo plant stakes
- Masking tape or duct tape
- Small nails
- Plastic skeletons or pieces from a broken one
All of these things, plus many others that you can probably think of, now that I've started the list, can be used alone or in combination to create a "spookified" yard display.
Hint: For items you don't have on hand, the "Dollar Store" is a great source of inexpensive spooky stuff.
Probably the most common scare-scene for Halloween is a fake graveyard. This is also probably the easiest. You can do the entire front lawn area, if you choose, or just a portion. If you live in a large city with no front yard, or postage-stamp-sized lawns such as are found in San Francisco, more creativity is needed, but it's still not an impossible feat.
For our setup, we made 'tombstones' cut from cardboard boxes, and labeled with goofy names and silly epitaphs:
- "Joe Schmo; he got too greedy so he had to go."
- "Here lies The 100-year horror; Born, 1875, Buried, Oct. 31, 1955,1956, 1957, 1958,..." etc... (make up dates that will sound as if the thing is about to emerge again the year of your display.)
- "Buried here is Dooley Dumkoff; tried to kill a vampire without a silver bullet."
You don't need names on all of the 'stones,' only the ones near the sidewalk or walkways. The others in the background can have some lettering, but smudged, and looking older; it's just for effect, anyway.
The 100-Year Horror Tombstone
This Person's "Tombstones" Look Much as Ours Did
What You'll Need
The 'tombstones' are easy to make, following the basic shape of a rectangle set on its short end, with an arched top. This was a fairly traditional old-style stone, and of course, you want your graveyard to look very old and creepy.
- Brown or gray cardboard
- Wire coat hangers or bamboo plant stakes
- Duct tape
- White chalk or paint markers
- Cheap (or free, and broken) plastic skeletons
- Dark green spray paint (optional)
- It is easier to do the writing on the "stones" before they are mounted to the stakes. You can take a look at some that are pictured just above, and go for the poetic touch, or you can make up your own scarier-sounding epitaphs. After all, it's your yard!
- Fasten each 'stone' to either a length of wire coat hanger, or a bamboo plant stake, using duct tape across the back side. Simply stick these into the lawn, in a sort of random order.
- Whether you want to use the wire or bamboo stakes depends on your soil. If it is hard and compacted, or very rocky, you'll want the coat hanger wire. For looser soil, like sand, the bamboo stakes will work nicely.
- Make the "stones" nearest the walkway legible, even if a bit smudged, or with partial letters. Remember: you want an old and weathered look. If you want, you can even do a light dusting with the green spray paint, to represent moss growth. (For the "stones" in the background, the lettering can be much less clear; it's all just for effect. You can also use any kind of large, flat stone, such as pavers or irregular flagstones, laid flat in the background.)
- By removing the bottom of a cheap skeleton, and staking it upright so it shows only from the rib cage up, as if it's emerging from the ground, you will have a much-magnified 'creep factor.'
Beware Count Dracula: Making An Open Grave
Naturally, you want a "Count Dracula" grave..and this should be nearest the walkway, here's how to make this creepy effect. Be certain to put a 'tombstone' right at this one.
Items you'll need:
- Old board or shelf
- Two short pieces of wood, about 4 inches tall and one-inch square
- Dark-colored paint
- Small nails or tacks
- Old, dirty garden glove or creepy hand
- Broken plastic skeleton (optional)
- Black landscape fabric or black plastic tarp or leaf bag
- "Count Dracula" tombstone you've made
- Red paint or paint markers (optional, for "blood" spatters/drips on the "tombstone"
- Take the old board, and (depending on the condition of your yard), you can either dig a shallow hole the length of the board, or use the dark plastic or fabric under the board to give the illusion of an open hole, if you have a nice lawn or other plantings you need to preserve.
- Next, prop the board up on one side, from both ends, (see drawing), so its lengthwise dimension is "open" to the ground using the short sticks, painted black. Use nails to fasten the board to the ends of the sticks. Sprinkle some dirt over the top of the board. This represents the lid of a coffin.
- Bend an old glove (the dirtier, the better) around the open edge of the 'coffin lid,' and nail it in place with a short nail or tack. To make this invisible, put the nail inside the glove, and before you install the board over its 'hole,' nail the glove on by simply hammering over the spot where you have put the nail or tack inside.
- If you have an old, broken plastic skeleton, take the forearm and hand, and stick it into the glove, allowing it to bend at the wrist, and the arm bone then can appear to be coming from inside the 'coffin.' If you want, you can add some ragged black cloth around the skeleton arm to represent the remains of a sleeve.
- If you want to intensify the effect of a coffin, you can also add a board about the same length as the 'lid,' but only about an inch or two wide, and prop it up at the front edge of the 'hole' (don't forget to paint it black, as well). This will add more depth and dimension to the illusion, as if the coffin box is coming up from the ground.
Setup a Creepy "Opening" Coffin
There are several lighting tricks you can use for maximum creepy value. Needed items:
- Blue lightbulbs (40 to not over 60 watts)
- Blue stage filters or colored plastic wrap
- Stakes or Clamps for positioning lights
- Tripod for holding a light (optional)
- The first is the simplest: replace your normal porch light with either a blue bulb or a blacklight bulb, both available at party supply stores. Blacklight bulbs make normal colors look all kinds of creepy; white glows with a purplish haze, for instance. However, a blacklight is hard to see by, so it's best used in conjunction with another kind of light for safety's sake.
- For the decorations in the yard, it helps to have a couple of clamp-on floodlight reflectors fitted with floodlights, or even regular light bulbs. You don't want the light too bright, though, so either use blue bulbs or fit a couple of layers of blue plastic wrap or stage filter (if you have access to such props) over the open side of the floodlight.
- If you have the larger reflectors, with about a twelve-inch wide opening, the color medium won't be close enough to the light bulbs to melt but will diffuse the brightness quite well. Don't use high-wattage bulbs, either; 40 watts max should do the trick.
- Be sure and disguise the reflectors with shrubbery or behind landscape rocks, or whatever is available. If your yard is situated right up against your neighbor's yard, you might ask permission to clamp one or two of your lights onto their fence or a tree limb to aim at your yard.
Our neighbors at the time had a boat on a trailer parked between us, and we were allowed to place one of the lights on the trailer, aimed at our yard.
Sometimes, neighbors get together to create a whole "spook block" of creepy decorations. That's all kinds of fun!
The Ghost In The Window: Fond Halloween Memories
When I was a child, there was a couple up the street who always had a spooky display, even though it was San Francisco, and they had no front lawn at all.
What they did have, was a huge ghost that took up the entire front room window! And it had blinking red eyes! They called it 'Sweeney,' and we all thought that we had to run up the driveway, and get to the stairs before the eyes blinked 'on,' so he wouldn't see us!
Then, when you got to the top of the stairs, the window facing the stairs featured a pair of paper skeletons (those with the accordion-fold legs), and they would 'magically' dance up and down when you rang the doorbell! Oh, it was pretty scary stuff, alright, but the reward was well worth it! They handed out nickel candy bars!
(Back then, Hershey bars, Snickers, Mounds, etc. sold for a nickel—and they were larger than they are these days—ha! I'm really dating myself now!)
"Sweeny" Reimagined From Memory
The ghost was merely a large white bedsheet mounted on a frame to give the impression of (short) arms, and a featureless, 'floating' body. Two holes were carefully cut to make room for the blinking 'eyes,' which were nothing more than the large (C7, they call them now) Christmas tree bulbs to poke through.
Somehow, they had the rest of the strand hidden, so it did not show through the ghost's body.
That window was covered with a black cloth behind the skeletons, and they were connected to bits of black thread. The lady's husband would be seated behind the window, and when the doorbell would ring, he would pull alternately on the ends of the threads behind the black cloth.
All very simple to do, and not at all sophisticated, but it was still all sorts of spooky fun.
This one is pretty easy. Depending on the weather and temperature, you can either open a window in your home and aim a speaker out the window, while you have a CD of "haunted house sound effects" playing on endless repeat.
Or, you can run the speaker wire out the window or door and hide the speaker near the door, so you can keep the inside and outside temperatures in their proper places.
Be sure to crank the volume high enough to attract the attention of the trick-or-treaters just entering your block. (If you or other family members want to watch TV inside, do yourself a favor, and disconnect the wires from the speaker left in its normal spot.
The sampler below runs for three hours! It should more than last through an evening of trick-or-treating, and no one has to jump up to change the CD.
Check it out—listen to a bit—then move the slider along to check out other sections without actually having to listen for the full 3 hours!
Live Decorations Using Adults
This is a really fun thing to do, and there are a couple of ways to perform this bit of living décor.
- 1. Get a person willing and able to sit very, very still for extended periods, and able to control themselves from laughing. Dress them all in black, including a black-face 'death' mask, the kind with a black mesh front. They will be able to see through, and know if people are approaching, but their own features remain hidden. The object here is merely to induce speculation among the visitors as to whether this is a "dummy" placed on the bench or chair, or a real person. Do not move, do not make any action or say anything to either confirm or deny their speculations. Let them leave still wondering.
- However—and this is where the fun begins—if someone approaches the "dummy," and reaches out to poke or touch a shoe or arm to check, then the person very slowly leans forward and says "BOO!" but barely above a whisper! I had all kinds of fun playing this role. The best was when I caused an adult to nearly fall all over himself from being so startled.
- If you have access to a fog machine, this can be hidden under the bench, and the control activated by the person playing as the "dummy," when people start up the walkway.
Using Teenagers as Animated Decorations
The other piece of living décor is better suited to young teenagers who may still want to play, but feel they are too old for trick-or-treating and don't like sitting still, either.
Dress them all in black with some kind of flowing black fabric for a cape, and a 'scream' mask. Have them stand near the door, and as people come up the walkway, they SCREAM loudly, and run away around the corner of the house!
The visitors will get quite the start, and it is funny to see the reactions that the 'creepy monster' is apparently 'scared' of their costumes, after all, spacemen and princesses would be quite scary and out-of-place in Transylvania, wouldn't they?
This Is the General Look You Want for the Teens
A Creepy Sensation-Based Effect
Spider webs are the ultimate creep-out for many folks. But instead of using those white things they sell, that have to be stretched out to create the 'effect,' and end up looking clunky, chunky, and oh-so-obviously fake, use a nearly invisible thread.
You will need:
- Large spool of black sewing thread
- Duct tape
- Measuring tape
- Probably a step stool or small ladder
- An assistant
- Measure from the top of your entryway—say, the front porch, or stairway entry—down to about head-height of kids about age 10 or so.
- Take lengths of thread that are twice that measure and add about 5 inches.
- Lay out the threads flat on a counter or table, you will probably need an assistant to keep the threads evenly spaced (especially if you have "help" such as toddlers, or cats). Use enough to cover the width of the entry, but not solidly: you want them spaced about every 3 inches or so.
- Cut a length of duct tape the width of the entry, and lay it across the center point of all the threads.
- Now, take it out and stick the tape up to the underside of the entryway. The threads will drape down and be almost invisible under your altered spooky lighting. This will be sure to send screeches into the night as visitors think they've walked into a spider web.
(Note: you may need to also use small tacks or staples if the duct tape doesn't want to stick to the surface.)
Fake Spider Webs Effect
Have a Screaming Good Halloween!
That's All There Is To It!
The above are some basic ideas to get you started on a fun, budget-friendly Halloween the whole family can help with, and all have fun together.
Have fun, play safely, and have a very happy HOWL-O-WEEN!
© 2011 Liz Elias