It’s only May?
Halloween season doesn’t start for another 5 months, unless…
you are one of us – muWAHAHahahahaaaaa ! !
We know you’re a serious Halloweener. Maybe it’s time you threw yourself off the tallest gable of the mansion to become, not a mere shambling Halloween zombie, but a fiendishly enlightened Halloween mad scientist – a Halloween Creator! Make the leap! Join us!
This is the year you design and build your own haunted house, maze, yard display, fully interactive party role-playing game thingy or escape room or whatever. You’re tired of lame decorations and half-assed gatherings. YOU and your pals are going deep, and you’re going to make something amazing. But you have to start soon, or you will miss some key opportunities.
You may think, “Well, why would Dwarf and Giant or The Last Bookstore care about my Halloween plans? Don’t you guys just sell books?” Well, surely it is obvious that we at the Last Bookstore are all about creating spaces. After all: we are a space. But also, reading a book should never be passive. When you read, it motivates you to do things. Thought => action. Idea => action. Inspiration => action. And we are absolutely enablers. We want you to take your reading and create weird science with it — muwaaaHAAAhahahaa !!
But tick tock – you have to start soon. Here are three immediate steps:
1. Start getting your squad together. Gather your cohorts now; you can’t do this alone. Find them what are as crazy as you, eh?
2. Go to Midsummer Scream (or similar), to take classes and get hooked up with material resources. The super legit Halloween events happen in Summer, for the hardcore – not during Fall (pffft – dilettantes).
And this is the one we can help you with:
3.Get your theme!
Knowest thou not how full we are of all manner of scary stories?
Caveat: the thing with themes is you have to be specific and disciplined. If you do vampires, for instance, you can’t just stick a mummy in there. Your elements have to be part of the same world and connect to each other. You can combine things, of course, but then make that part of your theme, eg Monster Squad or Cabin in the Woods. Get it? So do your research – the fun kind of research, where you read books and see movies and look at art. You want to dig up tons of cool details.
Let us not hold back with the cowards – plunge we now into the darkness, unafraid and undaunted!!
Halloween 2017, submit thou fiend unto our magnificent plans and designs. [waves arms in dramatic “conjuring” circles] MUWAHAHAHAHAA[cough cough]ha haaa…
– ok, let’s go….
H.P. Lovecraft! Let’s start with our best bud, ol’ Howie LC. This one is good if you’re going pro with your event, because there’s instant name recognition and he’s in the public domain. Plus… lordy, there’s a lot to draw on. You can do a cosmic thing, like “The Colour Out of Space” or maybe something with reanimation, like “The Thing on the Doorstep” or something with monsters using Cthulhu or “At the Mountains of Madness” or…. ok, there’s a lot. Look thru our Lovecraft Overview. Or maybe have a birthday party for Howie.
Let’s talk vampires. Please, for the love of all that is unholy and undead, do not go the “everything is black and we have plastic teeth” route. There is so much great vampire material, dig a little deeper and create something amazing. Please. Check out this Modern Vampire Overview to find some material you might not be aware of. How about secret agent alien vampires? Necroscope. If you want to give your participants/guests a wide variety of character choices, check out Anno Dracula. The point is: Dracula is great, Twilight is great, Count Dracula from Sesame Street is great — but there’s other stuff you can check out.
Feeling ambitious? How about recreating the Arctic (or Antarctic – they look pretty much identical)? Of course you can do something with Frankenstein as the Monster has fled into an icy landscape, and – again, Lovecraft – but have you read Dan Simmons’ The Terror? The Terror is one of two British ships that were lost in the frozen north, seeking the Northwest Passage. Long story short, they get stuck, crazy, murdery and cannibalistic and get chased by a monster. It’s pretty epic. You could start with some low-lying fog and painting everything white, plus some nautical accents. Splash the “snow” with blood. This could be a maze or a survival/escape game. And if you build a ship of some sort, save it for next year and do a pirate thing. See? Planning!
Wanna do something really scary with your physical space? House of Leaves. The titular house is larger on the inside than the outside: foreboding hallways seem to lead straight out from the house, but can’t actually be seen from the outside; doors inside small closets lead to very large rooms; spiral staircases come out of nowhere. And the house seems to grow. This is a great choice for a designer or geometry enthusiast – like, who isn’t into geometry? I have not the slightest notion of how you would pull any of this off, but damn – if you could, it would be legendary. You’d basically have to turn whatever space you have into a labyrinth — who would be crazy enough to make a labyrinth? Plus there’s a soundtrack from Poe, who happens to be the author’s sister. This is another one for the ambitious.
Speaking of houses, it you have a hankering for those which are haunted, you could go the gothic route (from Mysteries of Udolpho to Daphne du Maurier) or something more modern (no mixing!). Look at Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Richard Matheson’s Hell House, for starters. In the Jackson, the house itself is, uh… alive; this book is a masterpiece. In the Matheson, the haunting is much less subtle, and the incidents are all based on real ones Matheson had studied. You can double your insight by checking out the films for both of these – make sure you get the originals, not the pathetic remakes.
Never be fooled by large budgets: a warning and an encouragement to you creators-of-great-things. Money is nice; innovation is better.
You could do your own version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion! (If it’s just you and your pals; like, you couldn’t do this one for money.) Play the soundtrack, dress up like the characters, try to recreate a few scenes. Could you do a Pepper’s Ghost effect? Sure you could. How about knocking on the inside of closet doors Get me outta here! Get me out! (Or from inside a coffin – you know what I mean.) Pop-up ghoul heads? A cobwebby attic? The Haunted Mansion has everything. This slim yet comprehensive volume from Jeff Baham gives you a peek behind the scenes.
And on the subject of things that seem family-friendly but are actually pretty sinister, I bet you could dip into the YA classics you grew up with: Goosebumps, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark – Oh! And this is not scary, necessarily, but in that YA vibe, why not distend your storytelling muscles and do some kind of Choose Your Own Adventure experience? Yes, distend – because trust me, trying to develop a branching story in your Halloween maze/experience/party-time role-playing or whatever it is you are doing, will absolutely over-stress your brain. But you could create any kind of space, almost any genre – based on whatever you dig or is available – just add some flexible story mechanics like in Choose Your Own Adventure. You know what? It occurs to me that this could work for some sort of Dungeons & Dragons thing — !
ISN’T THIS AWESOME?! We only have five months!
Do you have an agressive garden? Or just a bunch of ivy? What about fake ivy and/or plants? Scott Smith’s The Ruins could be a source of inspiration for a botanical bloodbath. In a Yucatan ruin, deep in Mayan country, hapless tourists become trapped in an archaeological dig covered in monstrous vines. Why not recreate that? Fill your space with wavy bits of plant that mimic your guests and, you know, attack them. I bet you could do something with pneumatic tubing wrapped in green leafy bits. It would be a one-of-a-kind experience: challenging to make, but unforgettable.
Clowns. Of course, Stephen King’s It. Also, have you read Ramsey Campbell’s Grin of the Dark? (Have you read any Ramsey Campbell??) There are psycho-killer clowns in Will Elliott’s The Pilo Family Circus. Neil Shusterman’s extremely cool YA novel Full Tilt puts you in an amusement park context, which could be a nice backdrop for your carnivalesque mayhem. You’re in clown territory with Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury, duh) and underappreciated Dean Koontz’s Twilight Eyes. Oh, and hey: The Joker, as in Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke. A quick sympathetic note for folks who adore clowns, and all the joy they bring folks with their wacky antics: They’re evil, you fool.
How about an abstract theme? We did one called “Surreal-O-ween”. Why did we pick this theme? Cuz it’s cheap. We had a garage full of the detritus of many past projects (“Alienettes & Astronauts”, “Zombie Cruise”, et al), and we decided that surrealism would allow us to use what we already had. So, we flipped thru books on surrealism and developed those images and concepts. My favorite room was completely full of picture frames you had to move through or around: am I stepping into or out of reality? It’s not a scary environment, but you can definitely make it an interesting experience without having to spend much money.
Of course, you don’t have to be completely literal in how any of this backstory affects your design; there is such a thing as swallowing as much as you can, and just seeing what you can, er… vomit out. (Gross. Sorry.) Be clear about one thing, though: developing your project is a process, so don’t dilly-dally. Do as much research as you can now, get yourself and your crew to Midsummer Scream, and then start pulling the thing together. If you wait until October… it will be too late….