Two experts share their tips to give your home a macabre makeover
Create a storyline.
First, write a back story, Pickel says. Pick a time period; decide what kind of “evil” has taken over your space, and figure out which “minions” the evil has created. It’s a good way to get yourself in the decorating mindset and keeps you from buying too many random items. Zombies are always crowd pleasers, Pickel says, but stay away from scenes displaying gruesome murder or torture, if you don’t want to upset your neighbors. (Unless you live next door to the Addams Family, that is.) “Think more Scooby Doo than Saw,” he says. You might also try a Victorian mad scientist’s lab or an Edward Gorey–inspired graveyard.
Set the backdrop.
Don’t let those sconces distract from the spookiness. Use camouflage netting ($19, amazon.com) to create a stark and spine-chilling backdrop, Persampiere says. Lay it on the ground, wrap it around trees, or tie it onto roof gutters to hide modern elements like vinyl siding. Place a pop-up canopy ($50, walmart.com) over your front walkway and drape the netting over the top and sides, hanging plastic spiders or glow sticks from the mesh to create a sinister passageway. Come November, simply stuff the nets in a plastic garbage bag for easy storage. They'll keep for next year's “haunt” (what those in the industry call their displays).
Create Your Big Pieces.
Are you envisioning a haunted graveyard? It’s easy to get pre-made tombstones online ($15, partycity.com). But if you want to customize your headstones (by including the names of your neighbors or reflecting your theme), you can make them yourself with insulation boards ($10, homedepot.com). Lowes shows you how to do it here.
Are zombies more your thing? Use a dollar-store plastic skull mask as a mold and fill with spray foam insulation ($9, amazon.com). Once dry, push the foam from the mold and repeat until you have a flight of undead heads. You can paint them, but avoid spray paint, as the skulls will disintegrate. Scatter the heads across the yard, along the walkway or pin to the side of your house. You can find more detailed instructions here. (Note: Insulation foam is flammable, so keep it away from lit candles or jack-o-lanterns.) Complete your zombie apocalypse by stuffing old clothes with newspapers, creating the illusion of scattered dismembered body parts.
Thinking of a Victorian laboratory scene? Use that dingy, broken thrift shop (or dumpster) table as an antique haunted lab table. If that card table is not as scary as you’d like, coat it with rust or silver spray paint or just use a crackle-top finishing spray ($7, hobbylobby.com).
Add Small Touches.
A few eerie details can make a big impact. No matter what storyline you’re following, you can always count on a little arachnophobia. Instead of using the fluffy white packaged spider webs, make your own look far more realistic with a web-caster gun ($45, walmart.com). For your ghoul-ridden graveyard, pick up stuffed animals and dolls from thrift or dollar stores. Darken the eye sockets with a black permanent marker, or matte the fur with red paint or stage blood ($9, amazon.com). Place wilted real or fake flowers blackened with spray paint in front of the graves. Add the suggestion of a mad scientist by placing large glass beakers ($17 for a set of 5, amazon.com) and vases filled with colored water, glass eyes or plastic spiders on the “lab” table. Stack old leather or hardcover books near them and scatter a few across the lawn.
Finish with Lighting.
For optimum creepiness, make sure to light all major pieces ominously. Pickel’s secret weapons are small, battery-operated LED flashlights ($8, amazon.com) angled in front of your tombstones, mad scientist gear or zombie heads, then covered with leaves.
Persampiere recommends switching out your porch and garage light bulbs with green, red or purple replacements, depending on your theme. You can even get flicker bulbs ($4, walmart.com). For an unexpected burst of light, set a laptop in an upstairs window and run an unnerving DVD or YouTube video on loop ($30, hauntedprops.com).