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How to Make a Killer Haunted House in Your Garage

Image for article titled How to Make a Killer Haunted House in Your Garage

Photo: Nick Shoe (Shutterstock)

Halloween 2021 is shaping up to be a big one as revelers seek to make up for the mid-pandemic bummer of last fall. People are vaxxed, masked, and ready to embrace jump scares instead of the very real terror of the past year and a half. It’s all the more reason you should create a haunted house in your garage to give your neighborhood kids—and adults!—a Halloween they’ll never forget.

Spend your creativity, not a ton of money

We all have those neighbors who go all out for holidays, with light displays that probably cost a fortune in electric bills and hyper-realistic decorations. That’s cool and all, but it’s also unnecessary, at least for your purposes here. Embrace camp! Go cheap.

Think about it: A haunted house is dark. Most of the illumination probably comes from strobe lights and black lights. Focus less on realism and more on quick scares. Don’t drop hundreds of dollars on decorations when what you really need are some basics. Hang sheets from the ceiling to create a maze instead of buying partitions. Dollar store spider webs and spooky lighting are sufficient. What will wow your attendees is creativity, not money.

Check out a local thrift store for unique, inexpensive decorations that will stand out from the ones the rest of your neighbors are picking up at the big box stores. Music streaming platforms are full of scary playlists that you can access with your existing subscription.

Enlist your family and friends to help you, too, and hire out for paid talent only if you must. No haunted house is any fun unless there are some masked terrors running around. The costumes don’t need to be extravagant, but the people wearing them do need to put in a little effort. Make sure you lock in helpers you can trust.

To add bodies even if you’re understaffed, dress up some plastic skeletons or create a few standing dummies. There’s a secondary benefit here: Some of your real, live characters can stay still for a while so people think they’re dummies, then animate suddenly to give attendees a fright. Think creatively!

You can even charge a few bucks for donations or some candy to go through the haunted house. Just be sure not to stress yourself about a budget that you might not recoup. Focus instead on putting your heart into a fun endeavor.

Advertise your haunted house

No one’s going to show up to your big event unless you let them know it’s happening. Put posts on Nextdoor, Facebook, and your local newspaper’s advertising section. This is going to be more fun if there are a bunch of people involved, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

Make sure your ad really covers all the details your neighbors need to know. Not only do you need to include the hours of operation and the address, but because this has the potential to be very scary, you need to describe what your haunted house involves. (Here’s a guide on how to tell if kids are ready for a haunted house.) Be clear about what ages the event caters to, for instance. If it’s a relatively chill maze, feel free to brand it as a family attraction. If your haunted garage and yard has fake chainsaws and people in masks chasing after attendees, it’s not quite a family-friendly one, so don’t lie. It’s not cool to lure people in under false pretenses, and it’s even less cool to traumatize little kids.

With that in mind, consider—if you have the bandwidth— designating kid-friendly hours. You’ll have family, friends, or hired ghouls frightening people in your haunted house, but you can easily instruct them to ease up during the kiddie portions and go harder for blocks of time aimed at teens and adults.

Finally, you should also be clear about what your haunted house uses for effects. It might seem like a mood-killer, but pointing out if your haunted house features common phobia triggers like spiders or snakes can save you and any unsuspecting visitor a lot of stress. The goal is to frighten, not terrorize. Keep in mind, also, that fog machines can cause issues for people with breathing problems and strobe lights are a no-go for people prone to photosensitive seizures. Just be open and honest about what you’re including.

Pick a theme

You can have a standard theme for your haunted house if you want. Play the “Monster Mash,” have your helpers dress like werewolves and vampires, run your strobe lights, and call it a night. Or, you can pick a theme! Maybe your setting is an abandoned hospital where the ghosts of patients past warn the living to turn back. Perhaps you favor a crashed UFO teeming with hideous aliens who want your attendees to show them what Earth is all about.

For now, consider steering clear of a compromised lab that is threatening to infect everyone in the area with a deadly disease, but keep in mind for sometime in the next few years, OK? Have fun selecting a simple but effective theme for your event. This will make your haunted house stand out and keep people coming back year after year to see what you come up with next.

Finally, clean your garage

Cleaning the garage is one of those tasks you swear every spring you’ll get around to this summer. It’s fine if you haven’t done it again this year, but you do want to keep in mind that your lawn mower or old bikes kind of take away from the whole “haunted house” thing.

Using your sheets or partitions, create a maze, but also create a division between the part of your garage that actually houses your real-life possessions. Sweep the floor, wash up any oil or other spills, and just get the place ready for company. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it can’t be a mess, especially if people are paying to get in (even if it’s just candy or donations).

And replace the bulbs in the garage with blacklights for a more eerie effect—and to further mask the fact that it’s, well, a garage. Dimness is your friend.