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Part of series: Seven Layers of Scare: http://www.halloweenforum.com/blogs/terra/528-seven-layers-scare.html

Detailed look at layer six of Seven Layers of Scare....


It's time to set the ambiance, mystique and feeling of the room. Layer six: Atmosphere, is where you add the magic effects that amaze and confuse. "Am I really in foggy London?" "An insane asylum?" "An evil carnival?" You've already completed the first five layers of scare and transported most of your victims to where you want them to be. For the last few holdouts...creating atmosphere is your ultimate weapon. Who can possibly resist believing they are in a swamp when there's wispy fog and the sounds of buzzing insects all around them? Or that they are in a boiler room when they see steam billowing out of broken pipes and hear the far off sounds of huge grinding machines?

To create atmosphere you have three elements under your control: Sound, Light and Weather.


Remember when you first upgraded your TV's built-in little speakers with real external speakers? Perhaps even surround sound? Oh yeah...and a sub-woofer? WOW! Movies at your home became as immersing as they were at the theater. Bet you ran right out to the video store and re-rented old favorites to test out this new awesome sound experience. We were in the X-wing firing the photon torpedoes with Han Solo watching our back. The sounds of the screaming Tie-fighters, Darth Vader's evil breathing, blasts from the towers put us right in the action. And the soundtrack made us feel like we were heroes.

Flip-side of that: Our terrified ToTs don't want to be in such a realistic environment. They don't actually want to be transported to the insane asylum. That's just too scary. But, they will...oh.... they will. You are going to put them smack dab in the middle of that asylum - whether they like it OR NOT! Using sound. Still not sure? Grab a pair of headphones and listen to this famous YouTube clip, Virtual Haircut:

Questions to ask yourself when adding sound: How many? Surround, stereo, mono? How loud? How soft?

A fun way to answer these questions is to imagine being in the setting you are trying to create. Let's use that swamp were were talking about earlier:

A swamp would certainly need a background soundscape with buzzing insects, a hawk screaming here and there, crickets and frogs. The soundscape would be best presented with a speaker in each corner of the room. To go extreme, surround speakers would be very impressive but probably not practical...darn.

Let's add another layer of sound to our swamp: mysterious water swishing around at their feet. You know, like an alligator's tail in the water? Here's where a guitar amp would be great. Guitar amps have deep, amplified sound and usually have an input for an IPod. Just load up a 20 minute loop of your alligator sound and you're set. Having a specific sound in a specific spot not only helps convince them of where they are but amps up the fear and suspense. Bonus!

We talked in the Main Scare Layer about the importance of the sound matching the scare which matches the scene. Just to add another point to that: Use a GREAT speaker and crank it up! Nothing ruins a prop faster then having one of those crappy tinny speakers that comes with those cheap props you can get at the store. An amplified mono speaker generally works well here.

Quick suggestion for adding ambient sounds: Some prop controllers have the option of a passive sound (runs when prop is not activated) in addition to the active scare sound. Could have a lot fun with that.


Goes without saying: Night is better than day. Dark is better than light in a haunt. But, to what degree? If we are in the insane asylum you'd expect some overhead lights. But, since darker is better, how 'bout making them flicker or paint them over in spots with black paint to dim the light?

Every room of your haunt has an appropriate light level that helps set the atmosphere. But if it's normally light...darken it as much as you can.

Consider one of your rooms to be utterly dark. Everyone is scared of absolute darkness. When you force the ToTs to grope their way through a room...they are instantly terrified. Want an easy scare? Spring a bright light on them suddenly. Can't fight instinct. Dark is scary. Sudden bright lights are scarier!

Other ways to use light/dark to create atmosphere: Laser canopies, light tunnels, sparks and my fav... a lightning machine.


If you haven't listened to Revenent's Theater of the Mind segment on Hauntcast http://hauntcast.net/category/show/, you are missing a treat. His Hauntcast 15 segment focused on the effect weather has on all of us. He brought up a point I'd never considered before. Man is instinctively afraid of the weather. We know it's too big to fight or control so it's feared. All we can do is find safe shelter. Pull those ToTs from their safe shelter and into the middle of a storm and you've got them. Bad weather or the threat of bad weather easily helps amp up the fear factor.

View attachment 478393

Lightning machine, fan, heater, hazer, water, fog machine: tools that you can use to control the weather in your haunt. Lightning machines are great for a graveyard but you can also place it outside a window of your room so it gives the illusion of a bad storm outside. Spritz some water on the window for an additional weather effect.

Weather effects can also be used indoors. A boiler room would have steam and a misty look to it. Use a hazer for the mist and a fogger with fast-dissipating fog juice erupting from a broken steam pipe for the steam.

Let's explore some more on how to decide what type of weather effects to use by going back to that swamp room. What is the surrounding air like? Is it windy or calm? Is it clear, misty or rainy? Is your swamp bone-chilling cold or clammy hot? If you think 'clammy hot' would be hard to pull off in a garage haunt in October, don't forget, you can mount a garage heater unit up on the wall. Oooh, another thought: Use a lightning machine set on low in a far corner to suggest an approaching storm. What'd I say, love those lightning machines. :D

Well, hope you have a lot of fun designing this layer. I'll leave you with a checklist to help you decide what atmospheric effects to use. Thanks for reading :)

Haunt Atmosphere Checklist

Musical Soundtrack? Subtle or forward? Speaker type:
Background Soundscape? Speaker type:
Action Sounds? Speaker type:

Day/Dusk/Twilight/Dark? Light type:
Dim light/Fairly dark/Completely Dark? Light type:
Laser sky canopy/Firelight/Light tunnel/Black light/Lightning machine? Light type?

Lightning/Blizzard/Dense fog? Weather tool:
Calm/Breezy/Windy? Weather tool:
Clear/Misty/Foggy? Weather tool:
Dry/Drizzle/Rain/Snow? Weather tool:
Hot/Normal/Chilly/Cold? Weather tool:
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