Halloween Themes for Haunts and Hootenannies
Whether you are throwing a party or have decided to join other Halloweeners in the art of a public haunt, the success of your event hinges greatly on planning. The first step, of course, is to decide on a theme.
For those of you who are new to using a theme, or doubt the impact a theme can make, I've included some frequently asked questions under "Dare to Theme" below.
For those of you already sold on the idea of having a theme, I've provided a list of ideas to choose from (some I have done and some I hope to do) in the next section entitled "Ideas for Halloween Themes". Click on the theme names to view or close a full description.
Dare to Theme
Why choose a theme?
Anyone can decorate a room or yard by throwing together a collection of random scary objects, but that's what it ends up looking like: a bunch of scary objects thrown together. There is no cohesive plan to make your guests feel like they've left the familiar and are now immersed in a place or time that is different from the norm. It's the difference between someone saying "neat Halloween stuff" and, as an example, "wow, it's an entire dungeon".
Having a theme reinforces the feel you are going for, and promotes suspension of disbelief. In a random display, I might pass a pumpkin, Frankenstein, a Ouija board, and a skeleton. The only thing that connects these is Halloween. But in a theme (we'll pick an infestation), I am greeted by swarms of bugs covering discarded insect spray bottles and a lunch box, then an exterminator that has obviously had his poisons used against him, and then a cocooned victim being watched hungrily by a giant spider. I am more likely to feel like I have walked into a spooky scenario if each new thing I pass builds on the suggestion I am somewhere else, somewhere specific (and possibly somewhere I don't want to be).
How do I decide on a theme?
Start by brainstorming a list of possible themes you're interested in. Narrow down your choices to two or three, and then start writing down props and decor you would need or could build in order to make the theme come to life.
There are a few things to consider when choosing between your different theme ideas, and here are some factors that always affect my decision:
- Which one is the most appealing to you? The more you are into your theme, the better it will turn out.
- Do you already have some props that could be reused or revamped to fit into your new theme?
- Though interesting, is your list of brainstormed projects and ideas for the theme attainable? Can you actually build/buy/borrow what's needed? If the answer is yes, can you have it ready in time?
- Is the theme unusual or has it been done to death? If it's a common theme (and there's nothing wrong with a common theme), are you coming up with something that adds a new twist?
Isn't having all the same types of props boring?
I'll attack this question from two different angles.
If you've put a lot of thought and planning into your theme, you should have a dozen or so different - yet related - prop/display elements to keep up the interest.
But let me play devil's advocate. What if you could only come up with a theme of skeletons or zombies? Sometimes repetition works to your advantage. There is a huge difference in the impact of coming across one or two zombies, and happening upon an entire crowd of zombies (one or two I might be able to evade, but a small army?). The same thing can be said of skeletons. Sure, one or two skeletons and some scattered bones gives a sense of spooky demise, but imagine walking into a space with a dozen skeletons and mountains of bones. You don't even need an actual monster; let your guests imagine what on earth ended the lives of these poor souls.
What if my last artistic adventure was making a macaroni mask back in grade 4?
Don't let your artistic ability (or lack thereof) stop you from trying a theme (mind you, if you are charging people money to see your display, you may be in for some trouble). Your visitors will appreciate the obvious effort and planning that went into your haunt. Heck, a theme might even help them figure out what a certain prop is if at least the display is put into context for them!
Halloween Theme Ideas
I have to thank the folks on Halloween Forum for this idea. Teams of people on the forum have contributed to this theme idea that celebrates when stories and nursery rhymes don't have a happy ending. Just like the Brother's Grim intended. Ideas include:
- Lay posterboard on the floor designed to look like the yellow brick road covered in blood drops, perhaps leading to an unhealthy scarecrow
- The remains of Goldilocks in the bedroom
- Three large rubber mice, wearing sunglasses, with their tails hacked off and a prop knife nearby
- A pair of striped stocking legs sticking out of the oven as the witch from Hansel and Gretel.
- Little Miss Muffet wrapped up in a spiderweb
- A large, red eyed, angry looking mother goose to greet guests
- A giant eye looking in the window for the Giant from Jack and the beanstalk. Consider building a beanstalk nearby.
- One big tombstone for Snow White, and 7 little ones for the dwarfs.
- Rapunzel's hair hanging from a window
- hree little pigs, with one rotating on a spit
- For "Four and Twenty blackbirds baked in a pie", a pie with a fake crow coming out of it
- Make a leg out of paper mache or wood, and place it in a wood pile so it appears Pinocchio is kindling
- 6ft tall lollipops for the outside entry (Gingerbread house).
- Three Little Pigs in Blankets (mini hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls)
- "Eat Me" cupcakes and "Drink Me" test tube shots
- Snow White's Poisoned Apples ( apple slices with caramel dip)
- Wicked Witches Fingers - Cookies or Breadsticks
- Happy Little Bluebird Wings - Buffalo Wings
- Humpty Dumpty's Parts - Devilled Eggs
Any fans of the series might appreciate my mini BSG themed party for two I threw together. You can take a look at it on my blog post.
Essentially, it was about food shaped into BSG items, metal cups, things with the corners cut off, liquor, and memorable visual cues. Oh, and a toaster wearing an eye patch.
This is a fun theme that you can really make elegant if you wanted. Tell your friends it's a Monster black-tie event. You could request that guests should dress as classic horror movie icons as well.
- Have lots of candles (pillar candles, tea lights, battery powered tapered candles)
- Have a candelabra and/or a chandelier adorned with plastic jewels
- Decorate with statuettes, busts and ornate frames (for mirrors and/or paintings)
- Have some classical music playing when the guests arrive to set the mood
- Make a monster string quartet or 3-piece band
- Get lots of dried flowers and have them in urns
- Wine glasses/champagne flutes (filled with alcoholic/non-alcoholic drinks, or dessert items like puddings) should be served on silver platters along with dainty h'ordeurves
- Announce guests as they arrive
Take your friends back to the wild west.
- Set up a bar with loads of alcohol bottles (adorned with spookified labels) lined up against the wall
- Be sure to have a zombie sheriff
- Create a fake piano out of particle board/MDF and seat a skeleton at the keys
- Find old black and white photos and hang them around the room in antiqued frames
- Create wanted posters
- Arrange some cards and poker chips on tables for guests to play
- Ask guests to arrive as outlaws, good ol boys, preachers, Sunday school teachers, saloon gals, the town drunk, or any other common character that comes to mind when you think of this genre
Your choices are only limited by your imagination. For inspiration, watch a classic John Wayne or Clint Eastwood western. Make note of how the sets are decorated.
Baby Billy acting strangely? Little Lizzie throwing more extreme tantrums that usual? Perhaps it's the nursery school you're sending them to. This theme was originally suggested by Daddy's Little Corpse and has been expanded by the twisted minds on HauntForum.com.
- Corpsified little darlings on swing sets
- Sandbox with hands reaching up and out
- A skeleton on the trike
- Twisted tea party
- Alphabet blocks that spell out disturbing words
- Old-fashioned strollers
- Spooky nursery music
- Playpen covered with moss and spider webs, red LED eyes peering out, hands reaching through the bars
- Kid's fort
- Disturbing meals at 'snack time'
- Demented care taker (demon? Ghost woman? Corpse?) reading from a big darkly-themed story book
- A Wall of baby dolls
If you thought prom was scary the first time around, you're in for a long night when you find yourself slow dancing with the undead. Now I'm all about giving credit where credit is due, and I got almost all of these ideas from someone on a forum but forgot to write down their name. If I can track them down, I will post who it was.
- Zombie Dj prop
- 'Spiked' punchbowl (actually have fake spikes around it)
- Lockers in your entrance way..perhaps with skeletons or corpses inside
- School lost and found box..with body parts that have dropped off the zombies
- Corpse or Zombie chaperons
- Kitchen/dining room set up as a cafeteria complete with lunch line, lunch tables, bulletin boards
- Gym floor tape and basketball net with crepe paper streamers and a disco ball
- Photo op area to take the prom picture
- The bathroom: take cardboard and make a stall around the toilet. Leave a marker for guests to write graffiti.
- Balloons & streamers speckled with blood and bloody handprints
- Dead boutonnières and corsages for guests
- Crown a prom king and queen
- Brain/body part themed food and drinks
The theme for 2007 was "The Monster Hunter Lodge", a safehouse for hunters to come and relax and share stories.
Exhibits of strange items collected from around the world
Busts and photographs
Silver table settings
Mounted heads of monsters
The Weaponry Room:
Rare collectible display case
Notice board with wanted creatures
Monster Hunter kits
Whips, manacles, ropes and weapons
A chained creature
The Holding Cells:
A room with captured creatures
If you would like to see some pictures of these items, they are posted in the Art Ghoullery.
I did this in 2005. I wanted a more classic party, and what better way than throw a martini party in hell. "Mephistopheles Martini Manor" is what I called it. I was Lilith, the hostess. Items included:
- A demonic dj, equipped with turntable
- Food that was served out of the body of a corpse
- A coffin coffee table with an unfortunate soul inside
- Blood dripping down the walls (I cut drips out of that red cellophane used for wrapping gift baskets)
- A bloody skeleton creature bursting from the floor (with a martini glass in hand)
- A bloody tree with intestines in the base
- A bust of Namaah (a specific demon)
- A fireplace with trapped souls in the stones
- A "Hall of Flame", where I had photographs/headshots and autographs of all the famous people I imagined would frequent the place
- A fluorescent sign that read "Mephistopheles Martini Manor"
If you would like to see some pictures of these items, they are posted in the Art Ghoullery.
2004 was the year I did the infestation. I assigned sections of the house to different types of critter invasion. These included:
- Spider section with a cocoon victim, skulls in webs, and spiders everywhere
- Rat section, where trash bags had heads and bones sticking out, swarming with rats
- Missing posters with pictures of different exterminators on them
- Various poison, radiation, and your general warning signs throughout the place
- Cockroaches all over the kitchen cabinets
- Snakes slithering out from under tables and chairs
- Birds perched up high
- A caged exterminator
- An exterminator burned by his own solutions
- A fake news article about what had happened at the house
- An animal carrier cage with a decapitated head in it
- A giant bat creature peering down from the rafters, and smaller bats hanging out with him
If you would like to see some pictures of these items, they are posted in the Art Ghoullery.
If you would like some ready-made signs and labels, they are posted on the Printable Props page in the "Resources for the Wretched" section.
"They're coming to get you, Barbara..."
We've seen it in every zombie picture ever made: zombies coming through windows, crawling along the floor, coming out of floor boards, peeking out of fireplaces, peering over chairs. Simple.
Just thinking about this creeps me out. It would take a lot of scavenging to get inexpensive props to mix in with your completely homemade ones, but I think you could pull it off brilliantly. The scene would either be a toy factory or toy shop, abandoned and haunted. Items could include:
- An entire section of dolls. Heck, I think most dolls are creepy as they are, but a few minor adjustments (whitening the eyes, removing a limb, dirty up the face and hair, a little blood on the dress) can turn these little darlings to be demons. I went to a doll museum once and the entire section was antique dolls behind glass with lights over the displays and with a dark walkway. It makes me shiver just thinking of it.
- Puppets. You could make some really creepy marionettes. Human-size ones at that. Skeletons/victims could be caught up in the strings of one or two
- Jack in the box. Another prop that could be human-size. Something with big teeth, deep black eyes, big open smile...*shudder* nice
- Counter and cash register of course
- Perhaps missing employee flyers
- Tools, aprons, gloves, goggles
They used it in "The Thing", and I think it would work as a Halloween theme. It would open up all new doors, and make the creator think outside the box. Besides, white is a great background colour to showcase blood splatters. Items could include:
- An abominable snowman. Making that prop alone would be an interesting challenge. Stock up on fake white fur material.
- Sheets of cotton for snow (the kind you use to fill pillows) or burlap covered in latex paint, pulled over pile shapes for something more durable
- Give any reflective surface that frosted look. You could even pick up an extra can or two of fake snow at Christmas. Mind you, these days they are selling Christmas things before Halloween so you might be able to get some anyway! But I think you could come up with something cooler/more authentic looking for the windows. Spray glue tiny salt rocks or light blue bath crystals to pieces of plastic and put those on windows and mirrors...something like that. Interesting. Or even just drybrush blue and white paint on cellophane/clingwrap...you get the idea. If you don't want to keep the items you are transforming, apply it directly to the surface
- Frozen skeletons or corpses..icicles coming off them...big goggles and parkas
- Ice pick (not the little dainty ones you use with your champagne set) or pick axe
Hmmm. This one definitely needs more thought. But the cool factor of coming up with something totally unexpected would be the big payoff.
Perhaps it's because of the recent rebirth of backwater/middle of nowhere movies like 'The Hills Have Eyes' but this theme has been making the rounds lately: Hillbillies from hell. Almost all of the following ideas need to be credited to Tallula G and her "Hellbilly Haunted Hootenany & Body-Q" theme.
- Cannning jars for cups
- Scary scarecrows
- Hay bales for seating with blankets splashed with red paint for blood
- Human head on a plaque (a la deer hunting trophy
- Clothes line with bloody sheets, overalls and body parts hung on it
- Moonshine barrel/still from hell (coloured light and fog machine inside)
- Picture Board for guests to stick their head through and take their pictures as Undead American Gothic
- skeleton on a target with hunting bows in him
- Bbq with body parts cooking (over red lights for flames)
- Have a Chili cook off or King and Queen of the Trailer Park
- Skeleton playing the banjo
- Zombie sheriff
I don't think I even need to give ideas, do I? You could take a circus approach, or do a nice "Clown Hell" theme, as if it's the dressing room for clowns in hell...clown dolls, full size clowns, a makeup area with interesting tools, a nice clown zombie putting on his wig to cover the hole in his skull...you get the idea.
Who should it be? The devil and his bride? Zombies? Ghosts? Corpses? A nice wedding reception. Items could include:
- Bouquets of dead flowers and petals spread around
- Either make a nice spread at the main table of actual edibles, or create fake foods that have gone mouldy and maggoty
- Bride and Groom of course. And a preacher would be nice. Perhaps a willing one, or someone bound and gagged
- Your usual reception table fare: centrepieces, place-cards, napkins, those little bundles of mints (or mice..or eyeballs...). Just visit the wedding section of a party store!
- The present table. Perhaps the packages are all wrapped in reds, blacks, oranges, purples and greens. Perhaps they are torn, blood-smeared, or even have something escaping from them
- A ghoulish photographer. Demon? Zombie? Skeleton? You choose
It's a simple idea. Piles and piles of skeletons and bones. Create a large mound and cover it with bones (saves on how many bones you actually need). You don't even need a monster. Just leave it up to the imagination of the viewers to fill in what may have eaten all of these people.
A theme I have never attempted, but I am seeing more and more props being sold that can jump start the idea of having an entire butcher/restaurant theme where people are the main dish. Items could include:
- Butchers prepping either in a kitchen or perhaps hanging corpses on hooks
- Pots of limbs and eyeballs etc
- An interesting menu, and perhaps take out menus
- Skeleton bones on dirty plates
- Chairs and tables like one would fine in fine dining, only gored up a little
- Finger foods (ha!) and appetizers
- Zombie waiters
- Buckets of discarded bones by each table
- Chalkboard with specials written on it
- If it's a haunt, I think it would be cool to have live people behind a cage. Livestock, you see. You could make dummies for them instead if it's a static display. I just find normal humans to be hard to create and make realistic (dead ones I can do!)
- A chef, of course
- An open fridge with more goodies showing. Same with a pantry (if you don't happen to have an old fridge)
- There could even be a bar/lounge area that was ritzed up but ghouled out. Have the guests get the sense they've walked into a normal atmosphere, with tiny tweaks like eyeballs in the martini glasses, perhaps a bloody hand print, a recording of screams and power tools playing softly...