Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Making Of THE HAUNTED GARDEN - a DIY Yard Haunt!

If you have not seen or heard of THE HAUNTED GARDEN, first check out the photo gallery of this year's past event by clicking on the picture below:
The Haunted Garden was an elaborate yard haunt held on a beautiful 1/4 acre lot in Silver Spring, MD. Held during the Halloween season, it featured 8 exhibits including:
Altar of the Vampyre
The Cemetery
The Witch's Brew
The Lagoon
The Haunted Woods
The Zombie Horde
The Organist
The Ship of Lost Souls
The whole Haunt included special f/x, music/sound f/x, theatrical lighting and live actors. The 1/4 acre lot (owned by Donna Kerr of Pure Energy Real Estate) really couldn't be any more perfect for creating this kind of experience. Filled with large towering trees, stone paths, a pond, a large gully, woods and even a creepy old house who's legend is known to have housed the famous architect - Frank Lloyd Wright, the creativity was flowing and it all came together for a Haunted Experience enjoyed by almost 2,000 people over the course of 6 nights.
The production itself took us a few months to create. I started in August with the website and the general plans for which exhibits to setup. Once we figured out how the layout would flow and which sets to create, we started buying props from various stores and outlets. The majority of the "design" for this is SET DESIGN with some costume/body work for some store purchased heads. I would like to say I handmade the props, but I am not there yet. Regardless, i managed to document a lot of the creative process so i can provide to you, a Tutorial chock full of pictures and step by step instructions. The creative side, well, that comes from within. But if you are a Halloween lover, i bet that inspiration is inside you already. I hope my tutorial helps and inspires. If you have any questions, feel to free to ask/email. I am very active here and will do my best to give any info possible! ENJOY THE MAKING OF THE HAUNTED GARDEN!
The first and most important part of the exhibit was the front entry sign. The sign is made of wood - cut with a Dremel (my new favorite thing ever), then painted and glittered. The typeface itself was first started in Adobe Illustrator which was then turned into a Stencil using my home computer. I wanted to create the Logo from the website, which was the Pure Energy Real Estate MOON and the typeface for the title. (pictured below)

Tools and Materials:
Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop
Home Printer w/ 8.5" x 11" paper
Black Sharpie
Scotch Tape
Dremel or Jigsaw
Sander if not using Dremel
8'x4' THIN plywood (2 pieces)
4'x4' 3/4" Plywood 
4'x4' 1/4" Plywood
White Exterior Semi-Gloss Paint (Gallon)
Paint Tray, roller & brush
Yard Stick
 2x4s (3)
Silver Metallic Spray Paint (1 can)
Black Spray Paint (2-3 cans)
Spray adhesive (1 can)
Acrylic Sealer (1 can)
Ebony Exterior Stain (1 quart)
Staining Pads (bag)
Clear Satin Exterior Polyurethane (1 quart)
Natural Bristle Paint/Stain Brush (1 or 2)
Paint Thinner
Latex Gloves
Plastic Sheeting
Black Fine Glitter 
Silver Glitter

Step 1: PICK A FONT. For the main title, i chose ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST - created by Chad Savage over at www.sinisterfonts.com

Step 2: CREATE A STENCIL. Figure out the real time scale of the sign. I chose the moon to be 64" in diameter. By creating a 64" artboard in Adobe Illustrator, it allowed me to see the size of my letters. Because this font has different sized letters, i started with the biggest letter and found it to be roughly 18".  

STEP 3: PRINT THE STENCIL: Using Adobe Illustrator or a program of your choosing, start a new file at 8.5" x 18". Type the letter, using the font and scale it so it fits in the artboard's height from top to bottom. Then create a new artboard at 8.5" x 11" and drag the letter into that box. What you will see is only PART of the letter. No big deal. Print. 
PRINT THE STENCIL CONTINUED: Then simply drag the letter up above the artboard's border so you can see what was missing from the first printout. Then print. Adobe Illustrator will only print what is inside the border, making it easy to create a stencil.
STEP 4: CONNECT LETTER STENCIL: Start with one letter. Line up the prints as perfectly as you can. Then using scotch tape, tape the print-outs together. Do this for all your letters. If you have more than one of the same letter, you only need to print this one time. 
STEP 5: CUT THE STENCIL: Using scissors, simply cut each letter, making sure the tape stays secure. 
STEP 6: TRANSFER STENCIL TO WOOD - Place the cutouts on the 4'x4' 3/4" plywood surface. Using Sharpie, trace the letters. If you feel the need to tape the letters down, so be it. I held the paper down as best i could. There is room for error because the Dremel/Jigsaw will make some slight mistakes. The general outline is what is important.
STEP 7: CUT & SAND THE LETTERS - Using your Dremel or Jigsaw (I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THE DREMEL for its precision and sanding attachment tools), cut each letter. Find your groove. This is time consuming...................Once you are finished cutting, then sand all the edges using either the Dremel attachment or if you don't have that, a Mouse Sander or even by hand if you so choose to go that route. Sorry, i forgot to take pictures of the sanding process.
NOTE: It is a bad idea to try and cut costs by buying a thinner piece of plywood for the letters. By using the 3/4", you will get cleaner cuts and more support. Thinner plywood will result in broken letters, especially ones with detail. As you can see, this wood held up perfectly.
Post cut, Pre-finished letters
STEP 8: STAIN & POLYURETHANE THE WOOD - Using the Ebony Stain and latex gloves, stain each letter using staining pads. Let first coat dry, then repeat. Be sure to get the sides, back and the outer edges. You could probably do this faster using black spray paint, but i just really wanted to stain the letters for a natural look. Wait for the final coat of stain to dry, then apply coat of exterior polyurethane. Let dry for 24 hours.
STEP 9: GLITTER TIME - Spray the adhesive on part of the letter, then sprinkle glitter evenly. You can use a lot or a little. I chose to use a light coat. Spray only part of the letter at a time as it dries very quickly. Once all letters are glittered, spray the sealer and let dry. LETTERS DONE.
STEP 10: CUT A CIRCLE OUT OF WOOD - Take your 2 pieces of thin plywood on your makeshift worktable and line them up evenly. Place 2x4s underneath the top and bottom edges as well as the middle where the seams meet. Screw the plywood to them. This will keep the plywood secure and allow you a place for your compass (below).
STEP 11: CREATE A COMPASS: To create an even circle on a large scale, you have to make your own compass. This is actually very easy. Using a yardstick, screw the end of the yardstick into the center of the two pieces of wood , where there is a 2x4 underneath.
STEP 12: DRAW CIRCLE: Since this moon is 64" in diameter, we will measure to 32" from center. Obviously because i screwed the screw into the 1" line of the yardstick, i will measure out to 33". I pre-drilled a hole at the 33" mark for my pen. Then, simply draw your circle moving the yardstick along.
STEP 13: CUT THE CIRCLE: Take off the yard stick and 2x4s, separate the wood and then cut out the circle halves. Set aside for paint.
STEP 14: MAKE THE SWIRL STENCIL - Since i didn't take pictures of this stencil process, i am going to have to explain this. It is very similar to creating the stencil for the letters, just a little harder. Using the same scale process in Illustrator, i moved the swirl around and printed each 8.5"x11" section, then taped each together, then screwed up the alignment process and re-printed some of the pieces and finally got it right. Using a second 4x4 piece of plywood, transfer the swirl onto the wood then cut. 
NOTE: Before finishing the moon, do a pre lineup of your sign to make sure everything is sized correctly and you know how much dimension you want to give it. I originally wanted to backlight this sign until i realized i needed L.E.D.s to make it bright enough. I ran out of money and time, so this was all the dimension it was going to get. 
STEP 15: PAINT AND GLITTER THE MOON AND SWIRL: I do not have a picture of me painting the moon, but it is simple - using the exterior white semi-gloss,  paint the front of the circles, making sure to get the sides. Paint the back with BLACK spray paint so it is inconspicuous. Spray paint the swirl with silver metallic spray paint. Let dry. Spray the adhesive on one section at a time and sprinkle with silver glitter. Repeat to cover entire swirl. Spray with Sealer. 
STEP 16: INSTALL THE SIGN - Join the 2 moon halves together, then screw the swirl and all letters using a driver and screws. I eyeballed this process. Attach sign to archway. I am sorry i do not have a tutorial on making the archway. It was done many years ago. I suppose you could attach the sign anywhere, just know this one is quite flimsy before you give it back support. The support beams went vertically on the backside and then master Carpenter, Mark Trotta attached the moon to the Arch using blocks of wood. 
Once the Sign was installed onto the archway, i decorated the archway using vines from the yard, gourds and a prop i got on Ebay. He is obviously trying to escape - which is NOT HAPPENING (silly ghoul). And last but not least:
STEP 17: ILLUMINATE THE SIGN - Using a Par 38 and a BLUE gel, i lit the sign from the side to create some shadow. 
Tools and Materials:
Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop
Home Printer w/ 8.5" x 11" paper
Black Sharpie
Scotch Tape
Dremel or Jigsaw
Sander if not using Dremel
8'x4' THIN plywood (2 pieces)
4'x4' 3/4" Plywood 
Walnut Colored Exterior Stain (1 quart)
Natural Colored Exterior Stain
Staining Pads (bag)
Clear Satin Exterior Polyurethane (1 quart)
Red Satin Finish Exterior Paint (1 quart)
Natural Bristle Paint/Stain Brush (1 or 2)
Paint Thinner
Latex Gloves
Step 1: PICK A FONT. This one is titled You Murderer BB - found at www.1001freefonts.com/YouMurderer.php
Step 2: MAKE A STENCIL & CUT THE LETTERS - Repeat everything from the first tutorial. These letters were slightly larger, maybe 20-22" in height. the font itself is larger as well.
STEP 3: STAIN & BLEED THE LETTERS - This time i used a Walnut finish for stain as this was for the Woods and required a more natural feel. I also wanted to make it look like it was bleeding. I dipped my fingers in the red paint and scraped my fingers along the top edge, letting the paint drip down the front. Some areas, i smudged it. I totally freeballed this process and i suggest you do too. Makes for a great creative process. 
STEP 4: POLYURETHANE THE LETTERS: Once finished bleeding the letters, apply 2 coats of polyurethane and let dry. 
STEP 5: CREATE THE ROTTED SIGN FRAME - Take your 8.5"x11" plywood, your Dremel and just start cutting. The look is an old rotted sign, so there is no technical to that. The Dremel is really great for this. You really just press the button and move it roughly around the perimeter, going deeper into the wood along the sides. Does that make sense? I had no idea if it was going to come out or not, but to my surprise:
STEP 6: ILLUMINATE THE SIGN - Par 38, red gell and a tree.
So this will not be so much a tutorial, but just a walk through of the Haunt itself and some detail to how it came to be. There is so much improvising that goes on. Maybe it's because i'm not that organized or the time constraints get me. Whatever reason, I always manage to find things to make it all come together.  I will start with the first exhibit:
Upon entering the Haunted Garden, your first exhibit to see is the Altar of the Vampyre. It all started with this really large Demon i found at Party City a couple years ago. He is probably 12' tall if not bigger. Last year we used him for the Altar of Sacrifice, which turned out amazingly. So I decided to add to it, using some new Vampire heads we found on Ebay.
Cara Hunt and Jenn Clark (Pure Energy Design Team) made the bodies using wire and fabrics. They bought some hands, and then sized them down with some alterations. They did an awesome job on these!
We added a Banshee from Party City.
We had a table we created for a parade from some years ago (the purple pedestal with gold swirl in picture), added a table top and some Burgundy Crushed Velvet i had from my nightclub days to create the ALTAR. 
The Altar consisted of a body we created using a head from Spirit, a wig and a costume dress stuffed with newspaper, logs for legs, and severed body parts, also from Spirit Halloween. We added candles, spiders and other odds and ends for detail. 
We had 2 fountains so we added fake blood (watered down) and some eyeballs. We also used tapered candles(IKEA) for our candelabras and tiki torches. At some point i added dry ice to the fountain, but i could never keep up with it. 
We used a Par 38 with red gel shining up behind the altar itself and localized music of Monks chanting. The sound effect really made the whole exhibit come to life. The Song Title is called Alpha Monks by Gunnar Muhlman from the Album - Behind Monestary Doors {found on Itunes}
After seeing the Altar, patrons make there way to the Cemetery - a dead end underneath a super creepy weeping pine tree. 
I stretched spider web throughout the entire cemetery area, giving it a cavernous feel. Spider web is one of those things where you need to find your groove. But it is VERY important that you have the GOOD spiderweb - Spirit's SUPER STRETCH {do not be fooled by imitations!} and good sticky hanging/attachment points. Because i was working underneath this wonderful tree, stretching the web was fairly easy. We had a few days of rain here and there, but i only needed to repair it slightly.
I basically put tombstones throughout, each with their own low voltage landscape light. For one grave, i put some arms in the ground - reaching up to create the look of a zombie digging its way out.
The cemetery led to a dead end, where patrons had to then turn around and make their way through the main part of the Haunt. The signs were made from old pieces of wood i found in my barn. Paula Trotta then free handed the Zombie Holocaust Font in silver glitter glue onto the wood. 
At night they lit up beautifully under tiki torches.
The nighttime effects were created with fog machines, one black light, and for the tree itself, a Source 4 Par with amber gel. Cemetery music was created using an ipod, a Bose player and the tune Cemetery - Scary Halloween Sounds Monsters and Wolves by Monster's Halloween Party from the album The Ultimate Scary Sounds and Music for Your Halloween Bash - also found on ITunes.
As you make your way out of the Cemetery, you have to enter a stone pathway through more tombstones and what i call The Guardians of the Garden. This is when the Haunt really gets going. 
This was one of the kid's favorites. He is from Spirit Halloween. Got him discounted as he was the last one on display. We used Orange string lights to line the pathways. Fog machines throughout.
The lot is filled with MASSIVE trees, so we took our 3 biggest props, got on some really big ladders and attached them to the trees. We had 3 big Guardians. One at the entrance to the Cemetery, one in the Haunted Woods and one directly in the middle of the haunt. {Pictured below} 
The head was purchased from a local store, along with giant hands. Cara and Jenn had to produce a body using a lot of fabric. We attached the head to the tree first, then using 2x4s, attached the hands. By attaching the hands to the 2x4s, then screwing the 2x4s perpendicular to the tree, it gives the illusion of arms. 
I hang a flaming cauldron from pretty much every hanging prop throughout. This Guardian, however, got a special cauldron i found on Ebay. 
This guy got a Source 4 Par with Amber Gel. The Source 4s are more powerful then standard Par 38s, bringing the light further up the tree. The height on this is around 20'. 
The height the Source 4s reach goes even further, giving such brilliant beauty to these trees.
The next exhibit on the tour is The Witch's Bubbling Brew. This gets the most oohs and ahhs from the patrons. It is unexpected and has a lot of impact. Behind the house is this great little pond with a rock wall. The pond is typically covered in green gooey stuff.  So what better to use it for then a Witch's brew! 
We bought 30lbs of Dry Ice per evening. We broke up the dry ice, added a block or two at a time and had to maintain it throughout the night.
This year, we got the Animatronic Witch from Spirit and put a TRY ME button on a table to give the kids some interaction. I find that putting step pads and buttons like this throughout the haunt provides a world of fun for the kids and also makes them feel more at ease. The sign above is made from a corrugated board and free hand sharpie. 
Behind the witch, i stretched black spandex across the house, spiderweb in front of the spandex and some witch brooms for detail. I threw in some more eyeballs into the pond, the dry ice and 2 Par 38s each with amber gel - 1 for the witch and 1 across the pond.
Once the patrons pass the witch and make their way to the end of the stone path, they will see the signs directing them to the Woods. I found that people had so many things to look at, they had a hard time figuring out where to go. We even needed staff in certain traffic points to keep people from going the wrong direction or missing certain exhibits all together. Before they go into the Woods, they see a huge gully in the middle of the lot, which i turned into the exhibit - THE LAGOON.
The Lagoon was the most inhospitable working location of my life. It is situated at the bottom of a neighborhood hill, covered in ivy and then filled with swamp water. It was a major undertaking. Totally worth it however as the impact was nothing short of awesome. 
We got a friend's boat, Spirit's Gatekeeper, a ton of ultraviolet sensitive spiderweb, double black light fixtures from Home Depot, 1000 watt fog machine {never buy the small ones - more on that later} as well as Demonica and a friend's handmade wooden kayak for the 2nd leg of the Lagoon {as it extended up into The Haunted Woods}.
Demonica was originally purchased broken. Thinking i could fix her, I never got around to it. Regardless, she has always made a great still prop. She fit snug in the kayak. 
The Gatekeeper broke pretty much within the hour that he got installed. His metal stand simply broke in half, so here was where improvisation came in. 
Instead of repairing crappy metal made in China, i got a big log from the yard, drilled a hole in the center and stuck the pole from the Gatekeeper inside it. It worked brilliantly. As for the spider web, well that was another story. We were open 2 weekends and in between the two, we had some heavy rains. This spiderweb got damaged to point of no return. The spiderweb in the Lagoon needed to be off the ground for the black light effect. The rain not only sunk it into the marsh, but it was completely covered in leaves. So it was time for round 2. JOY.
It was a blessing in disguise really. I wasn't happy with the first spider web install anyway. So i took it all away and started over. The right way. The best way to achieve the most out of your spider web, is how you stretch it. Upon opening the bag, take the end, stretch it a bit and attach the corner to the far point you want to cover. Slowly stretch some more, attaching a little more at a time.Once you have a good anchor, take the whole spiderweb and walk backwards opening the whole web, stretching and attaching as you go. Once again, this is the Spirit SUPER STRETCH. I sound like the Spirit poster child at this point. I have a love hate relationship with that place. Some of their products break every hour, while some are irreplaceable. 
The gully was challenging for spiderweb attachment points as there basically were none. I used some Rebar and any sticks i could find, stuck them in the ground where i needed them, and stretched away. 
This picture doesn't even do it justice. When the fog was rolling, it was magical. A Par 38 with blue gel up lights the Gate Keeper. 
The Haunted Woods was the part of the exhibit i rated as PG-13. It is where ALL the screams came from. I told parents to use discretion for the whole event, but if they thought they had a chicken on their hands, the Haunted Woods was not the place to go. Unfortunately for the chickens, if they didn't go through the WOODS, they would miss the Zombie Horde. 
Upon entering the Haunted Woods, you have to go through some thick trees. I filled them with heads and flying characters and a fog machine to disorient people. 
Coming out of the trees, you run into Michael and in the distance you see my West Virginia inspired Inbred Goblin Torture Shed. Michael was lit with a Par 38 with red gel. I ended up turning his music off since we had our own Woods Music Sound F/X. The music in the woods was one of my favorite finds. I had been looking for many years and i finally found all the sound loops from Resident Evil 4! I was so excited! It is my favorite video game of all time, and i must say, the sound f/x from it were super scary!! Some guys over at Screw Attack took the time to create hundreds of loops! http://www.screwattack.com/news/resident-evil-4-game-sound-effects-download 
The torture shed was first emptied out from its year round storage use and then filled with a variety of fun things i found in my barn. {I live on an old farm in West Virginia with a crazy barn filled with bizarre old rotting treasures}.
The barn is what inspired me to create the Torture Shed. I found an old grinding table, an old window, a fan blade, a bunch of old mason jars, corn stalks and a HORSE SKULL{WTF i know right?}
Add that to some body parts, a tortured dude, some chains and other random bits and you get instant torture shed inventory.
It came together nicely with a Par 38 with red gel, bloody spiderweb, a strobe and the most important part of the whole Haunt - the actors! 
I found this amazingly disgusting mask at Spirit. I didn't know who was going to wear it. Or what i would do with it. But then we found Peter Cook!
Peter Cook is a local neighbor who {lucky for us} called us up interested in acting. I found actors to be the hardest to find and rely on. Peter was amazing. He was a subtle actor. He stood outside the shed, very still. Patrons would stand there, wondering if he was real. He would then move just slightly, luring them into the shed. He was the highlight of the haunt. 
Then Rob Fitz-William showed up when a group of his friends came through one night. As an avid Halloween lover and haunter himself, he was eager to get involved. He showed up in his Wolfman gear and scared the living daylights out of EVERYONE! The Inbred Ghoul and the Wolfman were everyone's favorites this year! LIVE actors is where it's at!
Once finished in the Torture Shed, you have to make your way past the Guardian through a dark path past the last part of The Haunted Woods and one of the most amazing props I have ever seen in my life:
This beautiful prop is what's called a Flying Crank Ghost. It is life sized and attached to a motorized rig - from www.ghostbuilders.com 
The ghost is uv sensitive, and the company suggests using black lights either above or below it. We rented a 400 watt long-throw UV flood called a WILDFIRE FX. I would have a dozen of these ghosts on a zipline if it were up to me. Their animation is extremely life like. HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!
As you make your way out of The Haunted Woods, you come to my favorite exhibit of the Haunt - THE ZOMBIE HORDE. It included 7 Zombies total, 4 of which were animated.
We got Spirit's brand new for 2011 Flesh Eating Zombie. Like many of the other animatronics, they come with motion sensors so they only animate when someone walks by. The problem with that is the motion typically needs to be too close for a haunt. One of our crew members from PDC Systems actually created timers for all of our animated props. I really wish i had taken a picture of the timers. They are basically these little electric boxes that loop anywhere from 1 minute to 60 minutes. They plugged into the sensor outlets in replacement of the motion.
Deadlift Zombie was fantastic. His voice f/x were the best. We gave him a tombstone and had to attach his base to the ground using rebar and tie line. He was illuminated with a low voltage landscape light.
I forget what this guy's name is, but he was just AWESOME. He attaches to a fog machine, where he then moves his head back and forth and blows smoke out of his mouth. 
She is my favorite Zombie. A still prop with so much detail. Got her from The Party Warehouse on Brookville Rd in Silver Spring. Great store with tons of props! 
Twitcher Zombie from Spirit Halloween
A couple more still props. These are very lightweight so they fall over easily. I basically tied staging tie line to 3 points and then anchored them down using yard stakes. These are lit with Par 38s and amber gel.
And how could anyone not love the Spirit Halloween Zombie Babies? 
The Zombie Horde in full effect.
I knew i wanted an organ and an animated skeleton guy with cool organ music. But i didn't have any of those items, then last minute we managed to get our hands on a piano. I know i know, it's not an organ, but it was good enough. So we got a pose-able stuffed dummy and i went to get a robe and a mask (which couldn't have been more perfect), some candelabras, tiki torches, a music player and, well, organ music! The music i found was a collection of songs downloaded from ITunes; some of which are the following albums:
Scary Halloween Music
The Church Organ All Stars
The Classical Halloween Collection
The Dead Matter: Cemetery Gates
The Ship of Lost Souls was the very last exhibit as you exit the haunt. There just happened to be a boat in the driveway, so why not turn it into a pirate ship? We got a large pirate from a local store in Rockville, a pirate flag i got from my travels to Cape Hatteras National Seashore, some random skeletons, a pirate bat, and one of the coolest haunted ocean soundtracks ever from an album - Nature Sounds Relaxaton and Tibetan Chakra Meditation. The song is titled Ocean Waves with Tibetan Bowl for Massage Therapy. You can find this on ITunes. It is the perfect sound track for a pirate haunt. Subtle and creepy. I could totally get a massage to it too.
I stretched uv sensitive spider web all along the sides of the boat on both sides. This spiderweb is wonderful as it creates the effect of water. Put black lights underneath and you get instant ocean.
We had a Par 38 with blue gel up lighting the pirate. The pirate had his own flaming cauldron of course. A red gelled up light went inside the cabin and we threw a couple strobes in for added effect.
At the end of the Haunt, situated between the Ship of Lost Souls and The Organist was a large open area we decided to turn into the kid-friendly campfire area. This was specifically to provide a scare-safe section for children, a place to warm by the fire and let the children leave the haunt feeling happy. We also allowed people to enter through the exit if they wanted to wait for the rest of their party to go through. This was valuable for many, especially the children. 
We had a large stack of wood for the fire, so we wrapped it in spiderweb.
We setup 2 campfires with logs and chairs for seating.
We provided marshmallows on sticks for everyone. The kids loved it and we probably went through 80 bags throughout the course of the event.
We put the Zombie Barrel at the end of the kid-friendly area. MOST of the kids had a blast with it. They got a kick out of clapping their hands. This prop took a beating and held up really well through the thousands of people.
The haunt had something for everyone at every age. My 4 year old hung out in the haunt during the day while i set up, but he refused to go through at night. I saw many small kids handle it really well though. But at the end of the day, the adults probably loved it the most. The fact that so many enjoyed it is what fuels my obsession with haunting. I hope i didn't scar the children too badly, although their screams really gave me a sense of joy in some weird twisted way!! 
I took the time to photograph ALL THE STUFF if you are ever looking for info on how to do a D.I.Y Yard Haunt. We spent over $10,000 this year with labor and added inventory. We have been building up the inventory for years though. I started collecting a decade ago when i was decorating special events in nightclubs. Now that we are haunting, we just keep collecting. Soon we will venture into the world of building our own and possibly going pro. 
We had over 30 large freestanding/hanging props, a dozen or so body parts, heads, skeletons etc.
We had a dozen or so flaming cauldrons and strobes.
These are the working fog machines
These are the broken fog machines. I will also mention that they are BRAND NEW. This was my biggest learning experience this year. First of all, never buy the crappy 400 watt fog machines from the stores. In fact, I should always buy professional grade fog machines with the good Juice.
 I will give it up to Spirit Halloween though. Their 1000 watt machines hold up really well and their juice kicks ass. We had 7 working machines in the haunt. And the fire department was called on us for smoke complaints, so yeah, the 1000 watters do their job and then some.
Photo by Diesel Photoworks
The fire department took a tour and told us to carry on! LOVE THEM!
We went through 12 bags of uv sensitive spiderweb and a case of the white.
Donna was the mastermind behind the signage for the streets. These were made with corrugated boards, sharpies, paint and glitter. The county ended up taking them all away as well as some nasty neighbors who stole them or threw them in the woods. 
Source 4 Par
Par 38
Cable, cable, cable
Gel holders
These were made out of cutting sheet metal and then spraying them with black spray paint. The purpose for these was to get rid of any escaping light from the Pars. Sometimes the light would come out of the sides where the gel holder meets the top of the fixture and it was driving us crazy, so yes we hired a guy to cut these for every single light because we are insane.
We spent over $1000 on theatrical lighting from Atmosphere Lighting in Silver Spring MD. We rented 16 Par 38s and 7 Source 4 Pars as well as one Wildfire UV and 2 Lekos for projecting the company logo for the sponsor - Pure Energy Real Estate.
We were forced to aim it at the ground as the county was fining us for shining it on the house. 
We used these with red bulbs in them inside the house for the window decals that Paula made. They were awesome!
She made these out of poster board, free hand because she is just awesome like that.
We worked really hard this year, tirelessly for months. The 2 weeks prior to opening we worked 17 hour days of non-stop physical labor. We spent tons of money. Throughout the course of the production we were visited by the county, the fire marshal, the sound decibel department, the fire department and the local police. We had a controversial article written in the Washington Post and were featured on News Channel 8. We were slandered, bashed and complained about by some grumpy neighbors and it made the creative process rather difficult. But we prevailed and we had thousands of visitors who loved it. We have heard they are thinking of passing legislation to prevent us from doing it next year, so we are currently looking for a new venue. We have a ton of support from so many wonderful neighbors, but we may be calling on you for more letters and love! 
Until then, the demons will go back to their dark caves to rest for next year - wherever that may be. 
If you read this far, i salute you! Thanks for visiting and see you next year! 


  1. Not only read all the way thru but enjoyed every minute! Super job, interesting to see how you took the props I've seen in local stores (and own some myself) and used them in your haunt. Most of all loved your creativity. Thanks for the blog!

  2. Next year you're coming to Ireland.

  3. Very impressive! You have given my wife and I alot of good inspiration. The Pumpkin head will be an addition to our ever growing collection. Thanks for sharing your creativity and good luck with the local anti enthusiasts!

    1. Thank you so much! So you guys are going to build one? Please do share when you are done!

  4. Fantastic! I think this is my new favorite home haunt.

  5. Hi Rania, I love your "Haunted Garden!" I also haunt my back yard, it is called "The Walk of Terror". I am so glad I found you. I really think we are kindred spirits. I have shared my photos of my haunt on Facebook. I have been trying to relay the same message about the smaller fog machines to my partner in horror but he keeps having to buy new ones each year. The only one that has lasted is our 1000 watt. You have inspired me in so many different ways you can't possibly imagine. If you would like to see my pics please friend me on Facebook to see them. Hope to hear from you soon!

    1. Hi Diana! Thanks for the kind words! I tried to find you on Facebook but i couldn't seem to find you or your haunt. You can definitely find The Haunted Garden on Facebook though, do try and find us so that we can connect. I have moved on to the professional fog machines now that I visit the Haunted Attraction trade shows. They are definitely worth the money. I would love to see your haunt! This blog post is from years ago when we were still a yard haunt. I am currently looking for a new home to open as a professional attraction. Anyway, find me on facebook www.facebook.com/thehauntedgarden and www.facebook.com/raniapeet

    2. I friended you on Facebook, hope to hear from you soon on what you think of my haunt. I want to open a professional haunt also. The only thing holding me back is money. If I could charge for one year in my yard haunt I would be able to go forward in a professional haunt.

  6. You are my new hero! So many brilliant ideas here.