A haunted house that focuses on creating ultra-realistic situations will find far more success in scaring its patrons. For instance, a haunted house themed after a serial killer could be horrifying. It is important to choose a theme carefully, and brand the haunted house accordingly. A carnival theme is realistic, but could easily go badly if it is branded as a demonic carnival, or a ghost carnival, etc. A simple abandoned carnival grounds with terrifying characters in it will do just fine. People have walked through carnival grounds before. They can easily picture themselves at a carnival, and so when they walk through the haunted house, they will not be able to use a “this isn’t real” blanket to shield themselves from the scares. Realism is highly important, but the public’s standards of what is realistic are constantly changing. It is important to keep attractions updated, using themes that are relevant and nixing aspects of the show that are no longer scary.
Begin with a drawing of whatever you want to create. This will help you create what is called an armature (framework for whatever you’re building).
Imagine seeing through the prop you want to design, what does the skeleton look like basically? What parts go where and how is it all supported? Draw the base structure out clearly so you know what each individual piece will look like and how they fit together in relation. Plan how you will attach your pieces together and how it will all ultimately take the shape of your desired prop.
Choosing your measurements comes next. It can be helpful to do some research and get the actual measurements on the object you are trying to re-create. This makes the object you’re creating read a lot more clearly to the audience. It would not make sense to have a washing machine that is two feet wide, 1 foot deep, and 6 feet tall because you never see them in those dimensions. Choose your measurements, make your cuts, and then assemble your design.
Finally comes detailing, right now you have a very primitive form of your final product. It may vaguely resemble what its supposed to or not at all but the important part is that you now have your foundation. A good detailing job is what turns a wooden box with a hole in it into a washing machine. Using assorted pieces of metal, nobs, and tubing will really make the transformation possible.
Shellac is alcohol-based, which means that it resists water-based paints. This means that any time paint and shellac are mixed funky things tend to happen. For example, here’s one trick I used to achieve a nasty, dripping mold look. Fill one empty spray bottle with watered down white paint and a second one with shellac. Spray a little bit of the diluted white paint onto a wall until it starts to drip. Then, spray shellac over it. The two liquids will react together to make a gross, curdled-like texture. If that’s not dramatic enough, add another layer of diluted white paint over it. You can also throw in some diluted black, gray or dark green to get the exact look you’re wanting.
Shellac’s second magical property is its tendency to take on different opacities. Dip a paintbrush in a can of shellac and smash it onto a wall. The shellac will run and pool in some places more than others. The places where more shellac tends to settle takes on a darker shade of brown, which adds another dimension of realism to your detailing. This property was especially useful while detailing the trim on household doors. The ridges in the trim allowed the shellac to pool and create darker areas while the flatparts of the door remained relatively light.
Shellac is a material definitely worth investing in. Pick some up from your local hardware store and experiment with it. You never know what else it could be good for.
There are, however, certain downsides to concealing exits in survival type haunts. First, it all needs to comply with fire and building codes. In the event of an emergency, these exits must be easily visible and accessible to all. Second, delaying customers can be extremely disruptive to the flow of the line. On busier nights, this can mean delays, frustration, and a loss of customers. However, compromises can be made to find the right balance between wait time and quality of the show. One solution is to prop some or all of the exits open. You’d be surprised about how hard it is for people to find exits that are only partially concealed. The customers still need to search for the exit, but it generally won’t take them as long to find it. Another solution is to instruct the actors to hint at where the exits are. Chasing the customers towards the right area is also a good solution. However, I wouldn’t recommend that the actors ever break character to bluntly show them the way out. There are always more creative solutions to getting a group through than completely breaking character. Overall, survival-type haunts have been extremely successful recently as long as the right safety and practical measures are taken.
Outside haunts, in my opinion, immediately create a great atmosphere for a spooky Halloween event. Those brisk October nights and dark skies are both plusses. Also, outdoor areas are generally less expensive to rent or buy. However, bolting your haunt walls to the ground can be a bit tricky since the ground has to be the right firmness. At an outside haunt, your business and your customers are constantly at the liberty of the weather. That being said, everything that you use has to be weatherproof, which can take a toll on the budget. Lastly, installing fire sprinklers into an outside haunt can be incredibly expensive. You’d need to hook up to a nearby water line and get overhead sprinklers installed that are completely up to code. Not sure if all of these additional costs would make up for the money saved on acquiring the property, but at least you don’t have to worry about ceilings!
Owning an inside haunt is a completely different beast in itself. Assuming that you are renting a space, you constantly have to think about not damaging the carpets, walls, and ceilings. Detailing a haunt is messy business, and the mess isn’t always easy to contain. Obviously, you can avoid the whole weather deal and most, if not all, of the hassle of the sprinkler system. One downside to having a roof over your head is that the standard white-tile ceiling is hardly spooky. Indoor haunts face the challenge of covering the ceilings without blocking the emergency lights and sprinklers. In my opinion, the biggest con for indoor haunts is achieving the desired atmosphere. Blaring lights, white walls, and tile ceilings can subconsciously detract from the customer’s experience, so indoor haunt owners need to think of creative ways to mask them. Then, he or she can use the walls and ceilings for something spectacular… perhaps a lightshow?
Other ways to achieve a similar effect are using toilet paper and brushing later over it on the skeleton or cover areas of your skeleton in saran wrap and melt holes in it using a heat gun to look like decomposing skin. Once you have your base layer, you just need to add some color to make it look real. Use a combination of fake blood, shellac, and black spray paint and you’ll have the grisliest looking prop that you would spend ten times the money on if you bought it in a store.
The next step to creating a believable haunted house is making sure your actors are professional. The worst thing to see in a haunted house is a couple zombies chatting or laughing about the last group they scared. Along with your actors staying in role, spend some money on making sure their costumes look real. Seeing an actor with some cheap makeup on can completely take away from the experience of being scared to death by the creature hiding in the dark. If you follow these steps you’ll have people lining up out the door to see your haunt.
To start off, you’ll need to make the structure of your mask. If your burlap came in sack form, you’re almost there; you just need to glue down the corners of the sack to make it rounded to fit your head. (Caution: keep mask off your head while gluing, hot glue is very hot!) If you have burlap strips, you’ll need to wrap it around a head similar to a mummy wrapping until you have the right form and then glue it down. The next step is to cut holes for the eyes and, if desired, the mouth. I recommend you use a model for placement of your holes, otherwise you might have a lopsided mask. After you have your mask, now you need to detail it up, think scarecrow from Batman Begins, or find another image on the Internet you can use to get ideas. To make the mask look old and weathered you can use stain or shellac around the edges, eyes, and a light coating all over. The final step is making the mask look creepy. This can be accomplished a multitude of ways, but my favorite are sewing up the eyes or mouth with thread, dabbing some blood(not real please) around any “injuries” your mask has suffered, and creatively gluing your metal pieces on the mask. For example, maybe he has a tire chain running diagonally down his face, or a metal grate or buttons instead of eyes. Just make sure you can see out of your mask, monsters that walk into walls aren’t that scary, and enjoy your creation.
A haunted house is similar to a story in that it should have an introduction, climax, and ending. In the first room or two, you need to set the mood and really impress on the customers whatever theme you’re trying to create. Throughout the haunt, your scares should increase in intensity so you can save the best for last. Customers will often be so scared they’ll only remember the first room and the last room, so make sure they remember the best you have to offer. One more thing to keep in mind when implementing your theme is to make sure it is not too complex. Customers will often be way too frightened when going through to notice any intricate details or concentrate on any storyline you have created. But having a simple theme that progresses throughout the maze will be innately understood and add a nice touch to your haunt.