Keeping Halloween decorations scary

Written by ben myers
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A few frights and some old fashioned thrills can be had in your garden with some high tech Halloween hijinks

Keeping Halloween decorations scary
(jenifoto/iStock/Getty Images)

People have gotten desensitised. Things that would scare you 19 years ago are laughable today.

— Dwayne Sanburn, owner of the 13th Gate haunted house

The pumpkin on your neighbour’s front porch boasts meticulously crafted fangs that earn the accolades of passers-by. And your other neighbour’s kids think they are little rock stars, with all the ogling over their cheap supermarket-bought vampire, ballerina or other unimaginative costumes. Good for them. They are having fun. And sure, Halloween is supposed to be fun. But something is missing. Your neighbours forgot the terror. That’s where you come in. Someone has to keep Halloween real. And going high tech can be a scream. “You got people that want to decorate and make everything look really cool or you got those who want to scare people,” said Randy Bates, owner of the Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride. You’ll need to “screw with people’s minds” to fall into that latter category, Bates says, although the art of scaring people is more complex than it once was.

Inside the haunted house

Keeping Halloween decorations scary
(victor zastol`skiy/iStock/Getty Images)

Halloween technology has advanced in step with pop culture so messing with people can be easy.

"People have gotten desensitised," said Dwayne Sanburn, owner of the 13th Gate haunted house. "Things that would scare you 19 years ago are laughable today."

So stepping up your game is critical and getting there is possible through a little high tech. Start by deciding whether you want your neighbours to lose it on your front garden or in your front room.

This is important because you can deploy animatronic characters if you choose to freak people out indoors. Lisa Barr, creative director at Spirit Halloween, advises, though, to not use them outside.

You can choose from any number of frightening centerpieces from a site like, which specializes in costumes, decorations and other assorted accessories.

For instance, you can make your home the real-life scene of a horror movie with Lying Regan, modeled after the "Exorcist" character.

The animatronic Regan starts out on her back with arms spread like she’s possessed, then slowly rises, her eyes blazing. Place her on a couch off in a corner somewhere and disguise her like a napping child. Then, at the appropriate time, use a step pad -- sold separately -- to make her rise, and make anyone standing nearby jump.

Or try the Wolf Spitter. There’s nothing realistic about this devilish canine gnawing on a fake leg, but he is sure to draw people near. Then as people chuckle over this sensational display, you can make the wolf spit water.

“Depending on how much of an enthusiast you are, you can add red food coloring to the water,” Barr said.

Outside the haunted house

Keeping Halloween decorations scary
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There are plenty of ways to ornament the outside of your home in ways that passers-by will find unpredictable.

Light up your walkway with strobe-lit skulls that come with sound effects. Your neighbours will think they've walked straight into the heart of darkness. Or try the Hanging Green-Hooded Reaper, a 5-foot, chain-shackled death herald in a tattered robe with motion-activated lights in the eye sockets.

Not into all of the prefabricated warehouse products? Bates suggests purchasing a £80 film projector and special-effects DVDs that display shadows. Hang a sheet in your window and project the image on your window.

“It looks like a murderer walking across your house,” Bates said.

And if you must have something patrolling the front of your place, there is at least one animatronic figure that can work outside. That is, if you don’t mind the risk of it malfunctioning because of rain or other outdoor elements.

Zombie Girl on Swing is an intriguing choice for two reasons. First off, if you can manage to hang it from a tree branch, it will simply look like any child on a swing from afar. But as passers-by approach, they will notice the child is wearing a cultish-looking dress, bears ugly splotches on her arms and legs, and is smiling like a drunk angel of doom.

And, of course, this particular doll happens to be topical as scattered reports of face-eating maniacs crop up around the country. It’s a rare opportunity to bring the zombie apocalypse to your own neighborhood.

Scare the daylights out of 'em -- but do it safely

Keeping Halloween decorations scary
(Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

When turning your home into a mini-haunted house, you’re aiming to create genuine fright. Palpitating hearts and screaming are part of the allure. But professional haunted-house operators are highly attentive to safety, and you should be as well.

Bates said that real homes are unlike haunted houses in that they are not specifically designed to scare people in a safe manner. So be sure to closely inspect the physical space in which you intend to perform trickery.

For example, if you scare someone on your porch, be sure to do it away from the steps. Any indoor maze should have an easy escape route. Additionally, Bates says, be extra careful with flammable products such as plastic sheeting.

“It’s great to have fun and everything else, but you’ve got to use common sense,” Bates said.

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