Sounds like a good entrance for a Halloween haunt, doesn't it? It's easy to transform a normal home into a haunted house. The trick is to tap into the warped sense of humor that lies buried deep inside our adult exteriors. Be brave and turn the key to that door!
House Beautiful it's not - more like Haunted Bat Cave - but it's an effect easy to concoct with some creative odds and ends. Leaves, branches and a rake; clothes from an old chest in the attic; tin cans, brooms, and the chain saw in the shed - now spell "decor."
HalloweenNet.com suggests using a theme to pull off stylish fake mayhem. Kimberly Venose, 33, of Levittown's Crabtree section, agrees. "This year, our theme was `Something Wicked This Way Comes,' which explains the life-sized wizard, witch and killer clown," said Venose, looking over her front yard, riddled with "dead" bodies.
Traditionalists who prefer a more autumnal country theme can load up on pumpkins, black cats, scarecrows, cornstalks and luminaries. Thanks to Halloween's increasing popularity for all ages and tastes, it has become a holiday with a season, rather than just a day.
Kim Kurki of Penns Park has been called "Queen Halloween" by her friends for years because the holiday speaks to her collecting bug. Each year she unpacks 17 cases of Halloween decorations that vary from antique papier-mache pumpkin heads to collectible treat bags from the '40s and '50s.
"Halloween is magic for me," Kurki said.
Whether your taste runs to collectibles or kitsch, decorating on the dark side for Halloween is about illusion and setting a stage. From the moment a trick-or-treating Teletubby steps up to your curb, your home can scream, "Come in if you dare!"
Out in the dark
Create mystery by illuminating the pathway to the house with a ghostly glow - small carved pumpkins, paper-bag luminaries printed with ghosts, even tiki torches.
Fill a tree with dangling ghosts that sway in the wind, or drape a sheet over a pumpkin set atop two bales of hay.
A ghost in each window looking out to the street can be created by tying a sheet over a Styrofoam ball and hanging it from the curtain rod. Or cut large white pieces of construction paper into ghostly shapes and tack inside the windows. Fake cobwebs stretched across the window complete the creepy effect.
Put lots of fake cobwebs in the yard around or over anything that doesn't (usually) move - the more you stretch them out, the more realistic they look. Terry Kilmer, 43, of Levittown, has covered every bush in her yard with cobwebs because "a little goes a long way since, they stretch forever. Bags of it are inexpensive and easy to find in craft stores, garden centers, even the dollar stores."
Next to the front door, float hollowed apples fitted with long-burning tea lights in a galvanized tub filled with water.
Try monster footprints up the driveway. Draw a footprint on a big sponge and cut out the footprint with scissors. Press the sponge in some washable paint and sponge footsteps up to your front door for trick-or-treaters to follow. (Flip the sponge upside down to stamp the other foot.)
Make a giant spider. Stuff a large black garbage bag with newspapers or leaves. Use old black pantyhose stuffed with paper for the legs and staple them to the body. This is another goody to hang from a tree in the front yard.
Make a graveyard out of the front yard. Cut tombstone shapes out of wood (if you're handy) or foam board bought at a craft store. Make them longer than needed and partially bury them with a pile of dead leaves pushed up against them. Spray-paint gray and add dabs of green paint for moss. Think up funny names like "Willy Rott," "Ben Ghon," "B. A. Ghoul" and write them with a thick permanent marker. More than one "grave" makes a cemetery. Place some of them at weird angles and plant a shovel near one for the grave-digger effect.
You can also cast a flickering glow on those tombstones with a jack-o-lantern. Cut a rectangle out of the back of a jack-o-lantern; when placed in front of the tombstone, the candle sheds an eerie light making it easier to read who's buried there.
Lightning? HalloweenNet.com has a trick to add flash and panache with a strobe light. Get a milk crate and attach thin pieces of wood on all 5 sides. Paint the wood brown and weather it to make it look old. Place two strobe lights in the crate, set the strobes up so that they are both very slow, make one a little slower in flash rate than the other. Connect both strobes to a power strip in the crate.
Run an extension cord from your house to the crate - the crate would be out in your yard facing the house. Flash the strobes occasionally for a realistic look of lightning!
And who doesn't love stuffed legs growing in the garden? Venose was stuffing some pants with straw last year and decided to turn them upside down on a stake. Topped with a pair of shoes, they gave the illusion of some poor fellow planted in Venose's garden head first!
Any room becomes a fright house when the lights are dimmed. Set pictures at an angle as if ghostly fingers have moved them.
Arrange dead tree branches in pots strategically placed around the room to look like spooky "skeleton hands" reaching out. Spider webbing pulled from branch to branch increases the ghoul factor.
Scatter dead, wilted flower arrangements around the house.
Replace the bulbs in a few lamps with soft flicker bulbs available at hardware stores. Replace regular light bulbs in other lamps with blue or black lights.
Helium balloons covered with old. tattered sheets or large pieces of cheesecloth with painted, scary faces make great ghosts to bob in a dark corner of a room.
Cover furniture with the inexpensive black fabric used for lining clothing. Shred with a single-edged razor and cut hems unevenly to give the appearance of age.
Or take old white sheets and wash them in black dye. Rinse and wash them immediately so the sheets will look gray. Tatter the edges here, too, and drape them over chairs and sofas (and outside on the porch) for the "haunted house" look. These tattered sheets also add drama when draped over the dining-room table - then get a package of spider webbing and pull out the web until it covers the whole table. Tug down the edges and hang a plastic spider or two.
Fake spider webs make everything appear musty and old. For instant creepiness, pull them around pictures and the dining-room chandelier.
Glue fall leaves or cutouts of ghosts, skeletons, and witches onto sheer black fabric and hang in a doorway from a tension rod to create a dramatic entrance to a haunted room.
Scatter little spooky pumpkins that have been hollowed out enough to hold tea lights. Tiny lanterns placed up a staircase or down the center of a table make a memorable decoration.
For a pumpkin-pie smell throughout the house, rub cinnamon on the inside of a jack-o-lantern top. When the candle is lit and the lid replaced (partially, so it doesn't burn), the cinnamon fragrance will fill the room.
Create a haunted-house walk
The traditional haunted house is a dark or black-lit room. It can be in a room of your house, in a basement or a garage.
Lead your guests through and ask them to touch various "dead body parts." Be sure to tell them in a spooky voice what they are touching. All these "body parts" should be cold and oiled. Eyeballs: peeled grapes or olives. Ears: dried apricots. Nose: Carve a nose out of a potato. Guts: coooked spaghetti or cold pork and beans. Liver: a canned peach half. Fingers: chalk or cold hot dogs cut in half lengthwise. Skin: a soft, oiled flour tortilla.
To heighten the mood, play a homemade tape of creepy noises.
Fog bog: Break up a few pounds of dry ice (several chunks about the size of soup cans) in a large metal washtub. Be sure to wear heavy gloves when handling the dry ice! Add 3 to 4 pails of warm water. This gives off a wonderfully thick fog as it melts in warm water. Put a small fan near the dry ice to spread the fog around the room. Play a tape of spooky swamp sounds and add two dim nightlights with green bulbs at floor level for tremendous weirdness.
Fake fire: Cut or tear strips of orange and yellow chiffon fabric in about 16-inch lengths, to make them ragged. Build your fake fire by attaching the ragged strips to the edge of a large pot or tub using duct tape. Place a hair dryer inside the pot and tape it so that it blows upward, causing the chiffon to flutter like flames. Position a string of red Christmas lights so that they shine up on the chiffon as it flutters. The effect will look like large flames dancing in a pot.
Cockroaches: As your guests pass through the darkened room, tell them to be careful not to step on the cockroaches because they squish. Your guests will swear the place is alive with crunchy, creepy crawlers when they step on the peanut shells you've scattered on the floor.
Bed of spikes: Paint a large piece of corrugated cardboard with black poster paint. With a ruler and pencil, mark the places for the "spikes" - four rows of nine spikes running the length of the board. Tear off aluminum foil about eight inches long and wrap them around pointed ice cream cones. Smooth out the wrinkles so the cones look like metal and tuck the extra foil inside the cones so it sits flat when hot-glued to the board. Prop the spikes up against a wall or suspend it from a ceiling.
Giving out treats? Put candy inside a witch's "cauldron" or a plastic skull along with a green emergency light stick to give off a green glow.
Your decorating possibilities are only limited by your restraint. Halloween is indeed a time to let our imaginations run wild and to play trick or treat with our inner child. It's magic and mystery and things that go bump in the night. Boo!
MAKES YOUR OWN SCARECROW Family Scarecrow Making workshops are held on Saturdays and Sundays throughout October, at 10:30 a.m. and noon at Snipes Farm and Nursery, 890 W. Bridge St., Morrisville, Pa. The cost is $10 per scarecrow; you bring the clothes, Snipes provides the other materials.
Call for reservations: 215-295-1138.