In two of my reviews for last year’s “Music to Haunt By” series, I briefly discussed ways to use certain tracks in variations of the old “touch and feel haunted house” setup. Maybe it’s just me, but I think this sort of haunt is a dying art. While it was once the main method discussed in books on how to make a haunted house, now it’s all but forgotten. Granted, traditional haunted houses are awesome and it’s fun to stock up on cool props and costumes, but I think it’s kind of sad. I understand that a lot of its discussion back then was due to it being much cheaper and simpler than the alternative, especially back in the days when animatronics and such weren’t readily available. I imagine that the potential for stains and allergy issues are also a factor. It also doesn’t help that so much of the ideas (spaghetti for brains, peeled grapes for eyes, etc.) are so commonplace that almost everyone knows what’s going on. As any haunter will tell you, what often impresses people the most are the effects they can’t figure out. So for today’s article, I’ll be discussing how to update the concept.
Let’s start with changing things up a bit. Spaghetti can be more than just brains, it can also be used as guts, cat intestines, worms, snakes and veins. If you’re using it as intestines, be sure to coat it in olive oil. To throw your guests off, try using a cooked cauliflower, a fresh tomato or a “grow a brain” toy. Or you can do as this book suggests and use a balloon filled with warm water and coated with strawberry jelly.
If you’re sick of peeled grapes, why not use olives as eyeballs? A severed hand can be made using a rubber or nitrile glove filled with cold water, ice or mud. Alternately, you can use a few chicken bones (cleaned using the method described here) or cooled (but cooked) hot dogs. Instead of using spaghetti for intestines and “guts,” why not try pumpkin guts or hot dogs? I recommend using ones that are linked together, sausage rope style. Some suggest using a cow’s heart or real liver to represent their human equivalents, but I recommend using something else in order to avoid potential health issues. I recommend using a “grow toy” for the heart and Jello for the liver. I also recommend using only one grow toy per display. If more than one item feels the same, you lose the shock factor. Dried corn kernels make great teeth and you can find suggestions on what to use for the nose, ears and blood here.
If you really want to change things up, use items that suggest animals. Kid Concoctions, Creations & Contraptions by Robynne Eagan has suggestions for “Bat’s Blood,” “Poison Ooze,” “Goblin’s Stew,” “Spider’s Web,” “Fighting Spiders” and “Rotting Matter” while this book suggests using raisins soaked in warm water to represent rat brains. According to Dan Witkowski’s How To Haunt a House, the following would go great in shoe boxes with holes cut in the lid: a wad of cotton batting to represent a bee’s nest (complete with audio of buzzing bees), fake fur and growling noises for a wild animal and…well, I won’t spoil the other two. What I will say is that the person operating the final box can also move lengths of garden hose in another box to act as “snakes.” That, and I also recommend the Friedhoffer method of drying a few drops of glue on the fake fur to acts a “claws” and “teeth.” Luffa sponges to represent cat’s lungs? Why not?
Come to think of it, why not do your own alien autopsy? In addition to sponge lungs, vinegar and green food coloring can be stinky alien blood, while marshmallow fluff and/or Silly String can be “guts.” You can use “grow toy” caterpillars as mysterious organs, along with boiled potstickers covered in slime. Remember those worm fishing lures that wiggled if you got them wet? Stuff a bunch of them in a balloon with some water to give your guests something to really squirm about! Add or subtract a finger and double up on hearts to create a more inhuman feel to the “corpse.”
Walking people over to the “body parts” while they are blindfolded also provides some great opportunities for tactile terror. While some books suggest using peanut shells to simulate stepping on foods, I recommend using Fritos or tortilla scoop chips in order to avoid potential allergy issues. Using dried leaves and twigs can simulate a walk in a haunted forest. I suggest covering the floor in plastic or old sheets beforehand in order to make clean-up easier. Be sure to hold the guests’ hands while navigating them to the touching station. A gentle brush of a rubber chicken over the face (especially one that’s been moistened or chilled beforehand) can be very creepy, as can a quick brush with a feather. Walking under threads hanging from the ceiling feels like spider webs while warm water flicked in their faces suggests splashes of blood.
Another great way to enhance the overall effect is to greet the visitors in a waiting area decorated to suggest the theme you’ve chosen while in costume. Your touch and feel haunt can be based around a rogue medical student’s hideout, a morgue, a mad scientist’s lab, a witch’s (or wizard’s) workshop, alien autopsy in a top secret installation, a shack full of cannibalistic rednecks or a killer’s lair. You can explain the blindfold as a way to keep the identity of the person(s) responsible for the experiment a secret, in order to shield the guests from sights that could rob them of their sanity, etc. Let your imagination run wild! You can also skip the blindfolds and use a decorated set with the touchable hidden from view in boxes, wall-mounted holes or under a plastic sheet with slits cut in it. I remember a home haunt where the body parts were enclosed in a “skeleton” made from celery stalks toothpicked together, along with halves of a squash for the shins. A person wearing a mask sat at the end of the table with their body covered with the same kind of material used to cover the fake body. When everyone was finished touching everything, they’ve spring to life and chase people out of the room! Other ways to enhance the mood include using scary music and creepy smells.
If you decide to do such a haunt, be sure to have an area nearby where people can wash up and dry their hands. Be sure to check about potential allergy issues ahead of time, in addition to warning them about them possibly getting wet.
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