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Easy animatronics? Tips/ideas for "satanic forest" theme?

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Hi guys, I'm a newbie here and would like some tips/opinions.

I was thinking of throwing a birthday/Halloween party for my younger sister as we both enjoy Halloween and literally every year for the past five or six years I've tried to plan my own Halloween party but always ended up too busy/lazy to pull it off. Last year was the closest I got, but there were some family issues that kind of exploded literally the week before Halloween and our party got cancelled last minute. This year I figured I would dedicate myself to doing something for my sister, as thirteen is a pretty important (read: absolutely terrifying) birthday. I've literally always wanted to do a haunt, and I figured this year I could finally pull one together as I have a lot of unused stuff lying around from previous Halloweens.

We have three acres of thickly wooded land, with a nice clear walking path that goes in a big loop. Originally I wanted to do a freakshow themed haunt, but to make it work the way I wanted it would've required assembling walls and a lot of building and in the end I realized that not only was it going to be too much work, but I just wasn't really into the theme. Instead, I've chosen to take advantage of my woods and do a sort of haunted trail type of thing.

I'm using Mexico's "island of the dolls" as a big inspiration as well as other creepy or abandoned places, and the movie The Blair Witch Project. There will be lots of creepy dolls, witchy stuff, stick men/scarecrow type things, and a large shrine/altar area. I'm going for an abandoned, unsettling, demonic vibe. I guess I'd call the theme "satanic forest"? The thing is, while I'm confident in my ability to make it super creepy, I don't know how I'm going to scare people. I don't really have the money for store bought animatronics, and none of my friends are willing to be actors for me, so I'm pretty limited here. I have plans to use strobe lights in some areas (strobe lights are my number one enemy in haunted houses, they freak me out more than the props/actors lol), but I want to make people jump. This is going to be a group of teenage girls; I'm not sure how impressed they're going to be unless something sends them screaming. I was thinking of trying to do some kind of simple DIY animatronics with a few of the stick men, and had an idea about making some kind of moving demon/creature to go in the shrine area, but I really have no experience there, so I guess I'm looking for any advice/tutorials on how to rig something up that won't cost a ton of money or require a lot of time and skill to put together, or any simple ways to achieve a good jump scare. Any tips? Suggestions? Easy or cheap props/effects/ideas that could bring this theme from creepy to frightening? Anything would be much appreciated. :)
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211 Posts
Hi there-

While I admire your willingness to do a haunt for your sister's birthday, it sounds like it would be best to keep it as a straightforward, atmospheric type of haunt. If funds are tight and timing is an issue, I would take some practical solutions that can create an automatic atmosphere.

Fog Machines, sound effects (that you can find on YouTube and then burn your own sound effects cds, sticking with your theme.) Rake piles of leaves, and give the illusion that something is under them, maybe put pants and shoes sticking out from under to look like victims of a sacrifice. Some red or eerie green spotlights are effective ways to create mood lighting.

Snakes hanging from trees with some hissing or rattling noises would be perfect.

Similiar to Blair Witch, tie up some twig dolls and hang a bunch in varying lengths from some trees. Maybe even make a really large one as a focal point. Use nature to your advantage. Maybe gather some rocks and pebbles and form them into crop circle shapes or into 666. Upside down crosses are also a staple in horror movies dealing with the supernatural.

If you have a space that you could make a tent or a teepee, that might be a great place to have fog coming out of with some growling sound effects. This could take the place of building a large dummy and could be just as eerie.

Without any actors or supervision though, it would be wise to test all electronics to ensure they work properly because you don't want to put anyone or anything in danger of a fire.

Sometimes the fun of haunted houses and hayrides is the anticipation of something or the feeling of being watched. If you can at least get some people to help you with other props, I think you could put on a great little haunt adventure for your sister. Good Luck!!
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