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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Introducing a systematic approach to help us design a home haunt that will amp up our scares to Level 11! This tutorial includes an 8-part video series but also has additional written tips, summaries and links.

Seven Layers of Scare – Intro

Think of the Seven Layers of Scare as one layer of design built on top of the other.

Hollywood Haunter: HOLLYWOOD HAUNTER
Layer One - ART DIRECTION: Picking an Art Direction sets our haunt’s foundation. We are not talking about theming – we are talking about the look and mood of our haunt – the artistic style. Cohesive Art Direction can also unify disjointed/un-themed haunts. If we combine Art Direction with a theme… WoW! Don’t worry that this limits us - it instead sparks creativity by narrowing our focus and taking us into new and exciting areas. Pictured above you can see that Hollywood Haunter’s Western-themed haunt façade has a saloon, mine, jail, general store, train station, etc. All exciting directions to haunt but still stays within a consistent Art Direction and theme.

Daylight walkthrough to see the amazing Art Direction of Hollywood Haunter’s façade in detail:

Nevermore Productions: Nevermore Productions
Layer Two - WALLS, CEILINGS AND FLOORS: The first area to decorate is the perimeter of the room. Wall design is the most important. It tells the viewer where they are. To convey the message even more, we can also decorate the floor and/or ceiling.

Layer Three - MAIN SCARE: The ScreamLaugh is what you hear when people are terrified (Scream) then realize that it’s safe (Laugh). The ScreamLaugh is the goal in haunting. The Main Scare is the tool to do this. To help us narrow down what kind of scare to pick, focus on one that fits the room we are designing. There are basically two types of scare: the ‘Cheap Scare’ and the ‘Set-up then Sudden Scare’. Cheap scares are fun and easy but Set-up then Sudden Scares are entertaining and what ToTs going through our haunts love to experience and will remember.

Layer Four – ACCENTS: Accents help tell the story. Not only do our ToTs want to have fun – they also want to be enthralled by the little details in the haunt. Accents immerse them into the lush nightmare of our design.

House of Shock: House of Shock Photography by Rogues Hollow: Rogues Hollow Productions - web, video, design, photography Dead House Designs (formerly House of Shock Art Director): Dead House Designs
Layer Five - LIGHTING: Lighting is a critical tool that can illuminate, be an accent or a distraction. There are four aspects of Lighting that can be manipulated: Color, Brightness, Distribution and Movement. There are also four types of Lighting: General, Task, Decorative and Focal that give us many options to enhance the scares.

Layer Six – ATMOSPHERE: Atmosphere is what sets the mood of the room. This could be by using Sound, Light and/or Weather. Sound is a must have – not an option. It is essential to making a room believable.

Thornhill Woods: Thornhill Woods Haunted House - Ontario
Layer Seven - TOUCH AND SMELL: Use this layer to get under their skin, literally. So far, we've used sight and sound but throw in touch and smell and THAT is when you reach Level 11! Seeing hanging bodies and hearing them moan is scary. Making the ToTs brush past and then smell the decay? MUH F’N HA HA!

Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Art Direction

Spending the time deciding on an Art Direction will save us hours in the long run. How many times have we invested a week or even a month of work on a prop only to realize later that it doesn’t fit into what the haunt evolved into? Designing the Art Direction is the base from which everything else springs: wall design, main scare, lighting choices and sounds. If we already have a basic haunt built but it is a mishmash of rooms – Art Direction will help pull it all together.

We can start by designing a theme poster for our haunt. Try to grab elements that would sell the look we are going for. Above is the poster design for a post-apocalyptic vampire theme used for a couple of years in my haunt. That poster became the Art Direction to focus the design style of all the new props and sets that needed building.

Looking at it you can see many design elements that could be used: Stone ruins, broken stained-glass, dark forbidding tone but pops of color (especially red), garbage, mystery, fencing, swords, city ruins, sexy/stylish vampires, tattoos, leather, Japanese influences, silver, piercings, vampire bats.

It is helpful to have the inspiration art nearby while set and prop building. It will nag us to keep our art direction on track and not veering off into time-wasting rat holes.

We can double the idea of Art Direction by adding a backstory. We could then use that story to weave and blend the haunt even tighter together. If we’re blank on picking what Art Direction we want to use for our next haunt, look at movies and video games. They are filed with lush stories and art styles.

A bonus of having an Art Direction is that it focuses our mind to only see props, costumes and décor elements that will only fit our design style we are looking for. For once, we will walk into a Spirit store and be able to only notice the props that fit our design.


8,364 Posts
Discussion Starter #2 (Edited)
Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Walls, Ceilings and Floors

Walls are the most important start in decorating our haunt room. If we can, Ceilings and Floors are the extra bonus. Together they form the perimeter of the room. Following are ‘Quick Ideas’ and ‘Not-so Quick Ideas’

'Quick Ideas' work best as layering. They can be used alone but awesome when combined:

CAMO NETTING: Great base layer and perfect in creating a quick ceiling cover. Can also be cut into strips for jungle vines. Blue camo on the floor is a quick faux pond.
CHEESECLOTH: Buy by the box because it is adaptable. We can pull or shred it. It can be stained and dirtied. Works as shredded curtains, clothes, webbing, pass-throughs.
CREEPY CLOTH: This is basically black cheesecloth but a little thicker and has already been pulled.
JUTE NETTING (AKA – Dorp, Erosion Cloth): Just as adaptable as cheese cloth but in more outdoorsy settings. Also has a great Halloweeny smell.
HAUNT MOSS: Converted jute netting that was dipped in green-tinted latex. Dip into other colors for different looks.
LANDSCAPE CLOTH: Look for the polypropylene style landscape cloth: My favorite is Dewitt Weed-Barrier Pro 6’x300’ Model: 6300: - DeWitt Weed-Barrier PRO Black (3&nbspOZ)
PLASTIC TARPS: Great for pass-throughs, shredded to give an abandoned vibe and can be painted.
CHAINS: Drape like Christmas tinsel
FAKE BARBED WIRE: More Christmas tinsel
SHREDDED CURTAINS: Even more Christmas tinsel
HOSES: Yep, more
ROPES: Yep, even more.
SPANISH MOSS: More please!
LITTER: Easy to decorate the floor with.
HAY: Hay is great for floors too and even adds Halloweeny scent.
WEBBING: Haunter’s crack
FULLER’S EARTH: Think of this as dust – it is what Disney uses to make webbing look very old.

Haunt wall layering examples:

Black background (landscape fabric). Layered with pulled and ripped jute netting. Then layers of pulled and shredded cheesecloth. Finish with fake pulled spider webbing.
JUNGLE/FOREST ROOM: Camo netting. Layered with pulled and ripped jute netting. Then layers of ropes, chains, barbed wire, moss.
TORTURE ROOM: Black background. Layered with pulled and ripped jute netting. Then layers of ropes, chains and barbed wire. Plastic tarps would also look ominous.
VAMPIRE ROOM: Black background. Layered with jute netting and then creepy cloth. Shredded curtains, ropes and spider webs.

House of Shock: House of Shock Photography by Rogues Hallow: Rogues Hollow Productions - web, video, design, photography
'Not-so-quick' Ideas - Prolly need rigid walls for these:

PVC PIPES: Run along walls and ceilings as sewer pipes. Rust up using paint effects.
CHAIN LINK FENCING: No need to line the entire room – use just one to add the suggestion of a jail, cage, school, etc.
FAUX BRICK: Painted, carved into foamboard, store-bought pre-printed wallpaper or store-bought faux brick wallboard.
WALLPAPER: Hung haphazardly
BLACK SPRAY PAINT: Think of it like adding webbing as a final layer. Use for dirtying new things, add shadowing or add smoke damage.
WATERED-DOWN PAINT: Garden sprayers makes it easy to apply thinned paint to the top of walls and letting gravity drip it down for pollution, rust-like effects, bloodstains or other bodily fluids.
PAINT DETAILS: Raw Sienna is a go-to paint color for haunts. It has a rusty, earthy look. Put dabs and vertical streaks on your walls. Then get mossy green and do the same. Finally, add gray and it should look good and evil.
BARRELS, BOXES AND CRATES: Useful for creating passageways or line a wall.
GREAT STUFF: Toxic ooze, icicles in a freezer, alien veins.
MONSTER MUD: This stuff is great to add deeper grime to the walls. Can be tinted in the color needed. If tinted with raw sienna: instant rust. Tinted with brown: Mud, poop. Tinted with dingy yellow: gut pile, puke. White: bird droppings. Green: slime, mold.
GLOSS CLEAR PAINT: Fling it on the wall and it leaves a ‘who knows what’ stain. Paint over lime-green monster mud to make it look like wet slime. Paint over bloody items to make them fresh.
COLOR CONTRASTING: Use between rooms to add an easy impact. B&W in one room and transition to pretty pink in another.

EYE-LEVEL SCARE: Place a scary item like a spider on the wall at eye level.
WALL HUNG DUMMIES: Very intimidating to walk past.

House of Shock: House of Shock Photography by Rogues Hallow: Rogues Hollow Productions - web, video, design, photography
DEMENTED WALL DÉCOR: Great for adding a psychological edge to the room.

Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group: 13th Floor Haunted House Denver
DISTORTION: Warp reality by designing the room to be weirdly oriented. Great for distracting.
FLOOR WALKWAYS: Another area where you can use layering by putting scares under their feet.
CEILING PASS-THROUGHS: The bonus of ceiling pass-throughs is that ToTs must change their defensive position to get under them. Anything can be used as an overhead pass-through: Fallen tree, cave entrance, partially collapsed wall, pipes, etc.

FORCED PERSPECTIVE: Used for things that are supposed to be huge in a small space. It is an architect’s trick using angles that makes the building get smaller as it goes up in height but fools the eye into thinking it isn’t smaller but farther way – thus – still big.
INFINITY MIRRORS/ENDLESS ROOMS: Another great way to distract the ToTs.
GO BIG: Go for a huge set piece to awe thus distracting ToTs.

Haunt Wall Ideas:

Dirty up plywood walls and then nail up wood boards haphazardly. Hang rusty items and bits of moss/greenery. Hay on the floor.
BOILER ROOM: Rusted up PVC pipes along walls and ceilings for sewer pipes. Empty conduit and electrical boxes to help give the room an industrial look. A few rusted signs would look great here.
CAGE/PRISON: Attach a section of chain link fence up on the wall and overhead. Throw on a sign or two. Of course, garbage on the floor.
MORGUE: Cut out and shape morgue doors out of foam and attach to the walls. Paint the whole wall to blend in. Go back over with black paint to add shading and definition. Paint blood and other bodily fluids on the floor
EGYPTIAN TOMB: Line walls with foamboard and carve in hieroglyphics. Splatter with acetone to age and then paint. Be sure to add jute netting, jute rope and webbing.
TOXIC: Great Stuff is great stuff. Starting at the top of the wall, build it up and then make it look like it is spilling down. Paint fluorescent green and add some rust paint effects.
FREEZER: Mix in some coarse texture additive for paint into monster mud. Tint the mud to be a whitish gray. Roll it on the wall. It will make the walls look frozen. For extra detail put some Great Stuff in cracks and dripping down a bit. Also put in some empty electrical conduit and paint all that to match the whitish gray. Never tried this but perhaps spray some iridescent glitter to give it a light reflective frosty look?
GARAGE: Brickwork would be key. Dirty with black spray paint. Add some graffiti and a fake backlit window.
HAUNTED MANSION: At Home Depot, they sell paintable wallpaper that is thick. Paint wall gray and then loosely attach wallpaper and paint mossy green. Then, rip some from wall but leave attached at bottom. Hang pictures at an angle and finish with webbing.
LED LIGHT WALL WASH: Lighting is a fast way to color a wall and set the mood. A red wash implies murder, fire. Green washes are toxic, alien. Blue is night, cold. Purple is Gothic, vampire and yellow is forest, rampage.

Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Main Scare

Before designing a Main Scare it is important to understand fear and the fun it brings.

FEAR: We’ve felt our instinctive survival motor kicked in when startled. Our body was getting ready to do the FIGHT or FLIGHT reaction. It’s easy to understand fear but what about the joy part?

JOY: Once ToTs realize it's safe and they are just in a maze in our garage, all that adrenaline is still in their system. That's the joy. It's a high (AKA: Adrenaline Rush). Once someone has experienced it, they come back for more. Ever wonder why kids will no sooner exit the haunt and jump right back into line? DANGER MAKES YOU HAPPY That's why we hear the famous 'ScreamLaugh' in our haunts.

We create ‘ScreamLaughs’ with our main scare. But to achieve the ScreamLaugh we must carefully design an effective Scare. There's a couple of things that already help us in our design. When a person is scared, their body's reaction is no different between a real or imagined threat. That makes it easier for us. Reality & imagination are the same. Our ToTs don't have to BE at risk to FEEL at risk.

Another thing that helps bring out the panic response in our victim is to use their peripheral vision monitoring to our advantage. If we come behind them at 135 degrees from their front vision (90 degrees is beside them, 180 degrees is behind them) we will bring on the panic response easily. Again, it's their instinct, they can't help it. A human being is constantly monitoring things in front and at the sides of them. Especially in our haunt. So, if we can come at them at just the right angle - not too far behind and not too forward to be seen easily, we’re in the sweet spot.

A consideration when designing our Scares: Time them to last about 5 seconds. Shorter than that they won't have enough time to process the Scare and will think to themselves, "What was that!?" Longer and they have enough time to see that it's just fake and the atmosphere has been ruined.

Bet you’ve noticed that there are basically two main ways to Scare. The ‘Cheap Scare’ and the ‘Set-up then Sudden Scare’.

The ‘Cheap Scare’ brings up the pure panic response. Like an Air Cannon Blast. Easy to use for pure freak-outs. Unfortunately, they get aggravating and are a cheap shot. Plus, we want to entertain them as well as being scared. That leads us to the other version of a Scare.
The ‘Set-up then Sudden Scare’. This type of Scare puts their body on high alert, draws out the fear and then WHAM! In a way, we can think of the Set-up as the first act.


There are many ways to Set-up our victims: Very spooky set, disorientation, distractions, decoys, delays... Distractions are very effective Set-ups and should be a go-to for us. Some more distractions:

LAME PROP: Set off a lame prop and a few seconds later, blast 'em with the real scary prop.
HIDDEN ACTOR: Have one live actor engage the ToTs but have a second hidden actor come at them from almost behind.
THE DELAY: Now for seasoned ToTs, we can do another neat Set-up called The Delay: Wait until they think that it's safe, there's no scare to be found in the room and then fire it off.
DISORIENTATING: Laser Tunnels, Mirror Mazes, Dot Rooms, Vortex Tunnels, Strobing and 3D rooms
HORRIFYING DISPLAY: Any scene that's gory
MIRROR ILLUSIONS: Endless Pits, Endless Hallways or the Man-in-half prop
MOVING FLOORS: Sliding Floor Tiles, Rope Bridges, Motion Platforms, Squishy Floors
SPOOKY DISPLAY: (Any scene that is especially spooky) Graveyard, Possessed Library, Attic, Basement or Boiler Room
TUNNEL: Moving hallway, Spinning tunnel
WHISPERING SOUND: Voices next to ears

Sudden Scares

Props also can be somewhat categorized. Note: Use this list to help us pick a Scare that fits our Art Direction or at least tweak it to fit.

AIR BLOW: Cannon, Whips, Guns, Air nozzle, Fog blow
BANGING: Picture Frame, Door, Shutters
LIVING WALLS: Axe-blade door, Stretchy wall fabric and video projections
ANIMATED PROP to REAL ACTOR: Create an animated prop where it looks like the actor is a lame prop. When the actor springs – TERROR!
CRACKERS: Any type of prop that uses electric firecrackers. Extremely loud and crackling bright lights. Great for fuse boxes, cattle prods, electric chair.
CRAZY FURNITURE (Animated furniture) Drawers opening, table bolting, Rocker rocking
DROP PANEL: In a wall, in a box
DUMMY PROP OR REAL?: Have an actor dressed exactly like the other dummies in the room.
HOPPING: Barrel, Box, Bug, Coffin
JUMPER: (anything that jumps up or grows in height) Skelerector, growing tree monster
KNOCKER: Wall knocker, Pneumatic air hammer on metal

Haunted Overload: Haunted Overload
LIVE ACTOR: The Preferred Scare IMHO
LOUD: Air horn, Train horn, Buzzer, Pneumatic ratchet
LUNGING/ATTACKING: (anything that propels forward with or without a hiding cover) Werewolf, Rat from box, Car, Train, Zombie behind shutters, Dinosaur from cave, Spider from lair, Ring girl from TV
MONSTER-IN-BOX: Crate, Coffin
OVERHEAD DROP: Monster, Bats, Spider, Heads
OVERSIZE: (Huge animated anything) King Kong, Dinosaur, Minotaur
PEPPER'S ILLUSION: Ghost, Crusher, Two-way illusion
POP-UP: Easiest pneumatic prop to make and very scary.
SHAKING/MOVING: (anything that moves in place) Zombie, Dead body, Scarecrow on pole, Tortured person, Kicker, Hanging, Peeper tombstone, Undertaker swinging shovel
SLAMMER: Slammed against plexiglass, Trapped person, Slamming against fence
SPITTING: Snake, Spider, Toxic, Exploding toilet
STROLLING: (actor-activated spring scare) Barrel pop-up, Baby carriage pop-up, Shopping cart pop-up, Wheelchair pop-up
SWINGING OVERHEAD: (anything that swings out from a hidden space) Demon on rope, Clown, pirate, goblin
HIDDEN: Ghillie suit, Wall-matching costume, Scare box
TRASH CAN TRAUMA: (Anything that pops out of a container) Zombie from barrel, Clown from Jack-in-the-box, Aliens from storage boxes, Skeleton from tombstone, Demons from piano
TILTING: Stack of barrels, Falling tree, Broken telephone pole, Leaning zombie high on wall
TOUCHING: Hanging fishing wire, Claustrophobic walls, Dripping water, Dropping insects, Shock mats
WALKER: Old person violently shakes holding walker


8,364 Posts
Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Accents

House of Shock: House of Shock Photography by Rogues Hollow: Rogues Hollow Productions - web, video, design, photography
The little details - the Accents - tells the story of the room. They are critical elements that cement what the room is, what happened in the past and forecasts what may happen in the future. These details are what adds the 'creep' to the haunt. Having an Art Direction helps us pick Accents that follow our storyline or theme.

When picking Accents let’s try to add as many authentic ones. The best places to find them are at antique stores, garage sales, Craigslist (good for large accents) and thrift stores. Picture your set like scenes from horror movies. The sets are realistic atmospheres that are filled with junk and not typically filled with latex props. If a little stuck, Google pictures of the scene in the time we are trying to recreate.

House of Shock: House of Shock Photography by Rogues Hollow: Rogues Hollow Productions - web, video, design, photography
House of Shock were masters for it’s over the top set design. Truly the definition of ‘Stunner’ rooms. It’s best to start with a base layer of our large Accents like the casket, pulpit and pews in the picture. Add smaller items to finish filling the room like the mourning flowers and candles. If we don’t have that much room - use bookcases and shelving. Also, collect a lot of small Accents so they look cluttered. It is delicious distracting eye candy.

Arrange Accents like they were just being used and/or working: Machinery lit, A book laying open, chair pulled out, cigarette in the ashtray, the desk lamp on, TV on a static channel, a radio playing, etc. If the item has a light – try to use it as the source light in the room. If the item makes a sound, like a radio – have the broadcast be the sound in the room.

The Butcher of Provincetown: Brad Goodspeed
The Butcher of Provincetown was a Canadian home haunt that was a master at using Accents to really creep the kids out.

It may be hard to see but the picture is screwed onto the wall. Important to do when there are lots of people going through our haunts. We can use Liquid Nails, bailing wire, zip ties. Safety first! Also, dirty them up.

Now – back to the creep - notice the simple trick of replacing the picture glass with a remaining shard of plexiglass is ‘creepy’ defined. In another room a picture has the faces scratched out. This is adding weirdness to an everyday thing. It is off-kilter and not right – the perfect questioning we want the audience to have.

Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Lighting

Lighting is one of the most powerful but least appreciated elements in setting up a haunt. Lighting will also take a small budget haunt and make it look top-dollar and scarier.

There are four aspects of Lighting we can consider using: Color, Brightness, Distribution and Movement.


Lighting using COLORS are powerful enough to grab the emotions of our ToTs. Plus, it’s fun picking through colors to mess with their minds:

BLUE: Ethereal and mysterious.
RED: Violence, gore, fire or intensity.
GREEN: Strange and unnerving.
YELLOW: Savage
WHITE: Shock
BLACK: Evil and powerful.
PURPLE: Exotic and unnatural.

Transworld Show photos taken by Alyssa Schipani: Design By Aly - Photography, Website Development, Graphic Design
We can also combine colors. Consider that the more vivid the color, the more intense the mood.


How bright will our Light be? This is important to consider because CONTRAST is as powerful as color. A bright small light will create dramatic shadows. Also, look for anything in the room that we can shine the light through (slats, fencing, etc.). This will filter the light breaking it up into scary shadows. Cookies/Gobos/Cucoloris are small physical filters that are easily made that are placed right up to a spotlight. Here’s a great tutorial video:


House of Shock: House of Shock Photography by Rogues Hollow: Rogues Hollow Productions - web, video, design, photography
Types of Light like a ceiling light, table lamp, candles, etc. are options to consider for our room. These lighting choices can be classified into four types of Light distribution: General, Task, Decorative and Focal.

GENERAL LIGHTING: Used as the overall lighting in the room. For haunters, we may consider not even using general lighting because it kills shadows. But there is some general lighting that is useful like large strobe lights, black lights and fire/water illusions.

TASK LIGHTING: These are usually the Accent pieces in the room. A desk lamp, undercounter lights, work lights, etc. Be sure that they are lit (to add authenticity) but dimmed if too bright.

DECORATIVE LIGHTING: Is fun to add in the haunt. Wall light washes, moonlight, wall sconces, sewer lights, etc. Candles are powerful mood setters as well as being decorative. Fire is easily replicated using silk flame lights.

FOCAL LIGHTING: The BFG lighting trick. Aiming a focal light onto something we want the ToT to look at (AKA distraction) is the perfect bait. Try positioning the focal light so it isn’t straight on the subject. It’s a bad habit when we use straight-on lighting. It flattens the object and isn't that interesting. Think of how we can reveal the object.

SIDE LIGHT: Side-lighting helps showcase the form of the object.

UP LIGHT: Use an up-light to make a face appear even more monster-like, grotesque and taller.


8,364 Posts
Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
UP & SIDE LIGHT: A sidelight mounted up high will reveal the top side of the head and upper torso... good for muscular monsters.

Nashville Nightmare: Nashville Nightmare Haunted House
TINY LIGHT: A pin spotlight can be used just light the scariest part of the prop.

FearFest Haunted House: Fear Fest Haunted House
BACK LIGHT: Backlighting is a great focal light. It makes the prop or actor stand out from the background and seem even closer.

When designing a prop scare consider using a backlight from where the monster is attacking as pictured above. Also, think of using colored backlighting. The blue used in the picture helps make the room appear much deeper.

Here’s an idea: Light spider webs hanging on the ceiling in purple and wash the wall in red. Doesn't that say VAMPIRE? Though back-lighting isn't technically a focal light I think it's almost a necessity.

FearFest Haunted House: Fear Fest Haunted House
We can add more impact and drama by using a lot of contrast and hard light.


Do we want the Light to move or change, strobe or dim, change color or flicker? Light movement helps make a somewhat scary prop come to life. A strobing light is excellent for making unmoving objects appear to be moving. If the object is already moving – it will make it appear to move faster.

Dimming or brightening Light adds drama. Add color changing and that helps tell the story. Flickering light makes fake candles look real, flashing white flood lights in the graveyard look like lightning and fluttering silk looks like fire. A simple rotating beacon light can give a sense of alarm or put us in a prison yard.

Mini-LED spotlights are a great tool for haunters to use in our haunts to add color and spotlighting. If shining through a glass item, it now become decorative. One source for mini-LED spotlights can be found here: https://www.shop.minispotlight.com/Mini-Barrel-Spotlights_c3.htm

Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Atmosphere

Finally, the layer where we add the magic to the haunt by setting ambiance, mystique and feeling to the room.

Three elements are used to create immersive Atmosphere: Sound, Light and Weather. In a swamp room there could be sounds of insects/frogs (Sound), twilight (Light) and wispy fog (Weather).


Haunters instinctively add sound as it would be missed and is a no-brainer. Let’s focus on the aspects of sound to consider. How many sounds? Speaker type? (Surround, stereo, mono) Loudness level?

Not quite an Atmospheric element but since we are talking about sound let’s talk about prop speakers. It is important to use a high-quality speaker instead of the tinny ones usually found on store-bought props. Sometimes the sound of the prop can scare more than the look of the prop. It is worth the extra effort to do the more difficult set-up of using a prop controller. Look for controllers that can put out CD quality sound. Some controllers have internal amplifiers, but I like using the MP3 storage on the controller hooked up to external powered speakers. Here’s where the controller becomes an Atmospheric element: Many controllers have the option of a passive sound (runs when prop is not activated) in addition to the active scare sound. That’s where we could run background sounds like buzzing insects, moaning zombies, grinding machine sounds – things like that.
Basic MP3 Controller: PicoBoo MP3


Light (or lack thereof) can be used as an atmospheric effect – like flickering overhead lights in a hospital. Every room of our haunt has an appropriate light level that helps set the Atmosphere. But if it's normally light...darken it as much as we can.

Atmospheric Light Ideas:

No lighting AT ALL is as Atmospheric effect. Everyone fears absolute darkness.
BRIGHT: A sudden blinding light is terrifying.

Attic Hatched: Attic Hatch
STRANGLY COLORED: Colored light combined with fog gives a fantastical vibe to a haunt.
LIGHT WASHES: Use LED light washes that emerge out of a hidden area.
LASER CANOPIES: An excellent way to add a surreal Atmosphere.
LIGHT VORTEX TUNNELS: For an acid trip Atmosphere, lol
LIGHTNING MACHINE: Haunter’s go-to


Revenant’s Theater of the Mind segment on Hauntcast provides terrific insight into haunting. In Hauntcast 15, he focused on the effect weather has on all of us: Man is instinctively afraid of the weather. We know it's too big to fight or control, so it's feared. For some – it’s a phobia. Too bad haunters never exploit people’s phobias… ? Here’s a link to the entire Hauntcast episode 15 (give the whole show a listen) but The Theater of the Mind segment is at timestamp 55:30. https://www.hauntcast.net/episodes/2018/9/26/episode-15-rebirth-of-sick

Weather Tool Ideas

Graveyard, Haunted mansion, Swamp, Forest, Jungle
FAN: Wind effects for anything- Storm, Spirits, Machinery, Tunnel, Cave
HEATER: Hell, Boiler room, Swamp
SNOW MACHINE: Artic, Blizzard, Krampus
HAZER: A hazer is a junior version of a fog machine. Provides a misty look - good for Swamp rooms, Showers, Freezer, Boiler room
WATER: Rain, Jungle waterfall, Sewer, Cave
FOGGER: Can be manipulated by cooling mist so it hangs low. Use fast-dissipating fog juice combined with blasts of air to create steam escaping from pipes. Bog fluid creates white-out or smoke conditions. Froggy’s Fog: Fog Juice Fluid, Haze, Snow, Bubbles, Scents, UV, Tekno Bubbles - Froggys Fog

A Haunt Atmosphere Checklist: Questions we can ask ourselves to help add immersiveness with Atmospheric effects.


8,364 Posts
Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Deep Dive into the Seven Layers of Scare: Touch and Smell

Of all the Seven Layers of Scare the last layer is the one we can really surprise them with. Touch they fear the most and Smell is unexpected. This also the layer that will haunt them long after they leave. We remember touch in a haunt.

Thornhill Woods: Thornhill Woods Haunted House - Ontario
Touch can be used not only to scare but also to unnerve. Of all the scares in our haunt, ToTs are most terrified of being touched. We’ve noticed (and prolly done ourselves) how they tuck in their arms and crouch as they go through. Yes. it’s bad practice to just grab them but there are other and better ways to Touch in a haunt. Yay!

Wisconsin FearGrounds: Wisconsin Fear Grounds: 2 Haunted Houses, One Location! Waukesha Expo Center Grounds in Milwaukee, WI
PASS-THROUGHS: Put things in their path that they have no alternative but to touch them. Pass-throughs can made up of anything... plastic curtains (which you can glue bugs to), hanging dirty underwear, body bags, shredded tents, body parts, alien eggs. The list can go to infinity and the perfect customizable item to fit into our theme.
WATER SPRAYS: In the dark, water can be anything: toxic ooze, blood, acid, barf, urine, toilet water... anything that's wet.
TOUCHING WALLS: Make the hallways so narrow that they must touch them as they pass through.

Fright Props: Halloween Props, Animatronics, Decorations, Controllers, and Pneumatics - FrightProps
SHOCK MATS: Shock mats only administer a static jolt - but in a haunt it’s unexpected and frightening.
DARK: Having a section of our haunt completely dark where they must reach out and feel their way out is terrifying.
MAKE THEM MOVE: Short slide, crawl under an obstacle or swing over a log. If the ToT must move their body differently from their preferred defensive position and must touch things... that is unnerving.
CHANGE SPEED: Nothing makes people move faster then hearing the rip of a chainsaw starting...

The Darkness: The Darkness Haunted House St. Louis, Missouri - America's Scariest Haunted House
BLAST OF AIR: Air cannons, Pop blasters, Puffs of air (Airzooka) are examples of air being able to touch. The room pictured above combined water with air. It had small streams of water draining down the sewer walls THEN it was blasted at you from tiny pop blasters. Yuck!

Oh, and I don't care who you are...if you were in front of this...heart attack time:


Photo courtesy of Cinnabon Franchisor SPV LLC: Cinnabon®
The smell of cinnamon rolls…. Everyone remembers that time in the mall when the first whiff of those delicious buns hit them from the food court. No wonder Cinnabon is in high-trafficked areas. Who can resist those smells?

The haunter opposite of that? Dank, musty, moldy. Both types of Smells - happy and unpleasant - are powerful. The sense of Smell is the only sense we have that is directly connected to our brain. Not just any part of our brain... the part where our memories and emotions are stored. The scent molecules wafting through the air touch special tiny hairs in our nasal cavity. These are connected directly to our brain. In many ways, it's our quickest and most powerful sense.

Haunters have long ago discovered the power of Smells. Luckily for us, we can buy the Smell of a basement, boiler room or Haunted Mansion. Two companies that I’m familiar with are Sinister Scents and Froggy’s Fog. The key is using a small fan to have the scent pushed out into the haunt. In the picture you can see a scent packet zip-tied to the front of small fan. Froggy’s makes a discreet distribution fan. We can also bravely spray the scent onto our costume. “Whee, I smell like a zombie!”
Froggy’s Fog: Scents - Froggys Fog
Sinister Scents: Sinister Scents - You can smell the fear - Sinister Scents

Back to Sinister Scents. I ordered four of their scents once: Haunted House, Campfire, Earth, and Burning Electrical. This was the impression they gave me.

HAUNTED HOUSE: Smells like mildew, wet wood, stinky perfume and a bit musty.
CAMPFIRE: Exactly the descriptive word for this smell.
EARTH: Strong smell of rotting wet leaves, hint of cedar, dirt, and an elusive smell that I would guess would be what an old corpse would smell like. Perfect for a graveyard.
BURNING ELECTRICAL: It's got a strange sweet smell, smoke, ozone and what that magic blue smoke smells like when you fry your amplifier...

These smells weren’t tested but could give us some ideas to try:

ANIMAL: Werewolf
BAD BEER: Hillbilly, Bar/saloon, Dead dorm
BARNYARD: Farm, Hillbilly
BOILER ROOM: Freddy, Industrial
BUBBLE GUM: Toy room, Clown, Evil carnival
BURNT FLESH: Hell scene, Torture, Apocalypse
CITY ALLEY: Riot, Apocalypse, Urban scene, Zombie
DECAY/COMPOST: Zombie, Graveyard, Dead bodies
FOREST: Werewolf, Deep forest, Witch
GAS/OIL: Garage, Mad Max, Apocalypse
GOTHIC: Classic monsters
GUN SHOT: Militaristic, Western, War
HELL: Demons, Exorcist, Fire
HOSPITAL: Nursing home, Medic tent, Asylum
LEATHER: Western, Barn, Slaughterhouse
LOW TIDE: POTC, Ghost ship, Swamp
MILDEW: Zombie, Graveyard, Basement, Vampire, Cave, Tunnel
POPCORN: Evil carnival, Movie theater
PUMPKIN SPICE: Younger audience, Whimsical area
SWAMP: Witches, Swamp monster, Hillbilly
SWEAT SOCKS: Locker room, Prison
WINE CELLAR: Vampires, Haunted mansion

The End.

Whew! The Seven Layers of Scare gave us a lot to think about. Thank you so much for sharing in my journey learning how to make a killer haunt. Hope this gave you new ideas in terrorizing your ToTs. Remember, they'll love you for it.

11 Posts
Wow...thanks for bringing this back to us in such an elaborate post.
I will definitely be rereading this on many occasions ...
My mind is buzzing with ideas right now...need to go over this again and take notes :)

8,364 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Wow...thanks for bringing this back to us in such an elaborate post.
I will definitely be rereading this on many occasions ...
My mind is buzzing with ideas right now...need to go over this again and take notes :)
That is so nice to say! I did put a lot of work into this tutorial and am hoping it is helpful.

1,015 Posts
These tutorials were some of the very first we stumbled across when we went looking for information about how to make stuff for Halloween. It's so nice to see them back and revised. Our haunt looks so much different than yours, but if you look at the underpinnings, you can tell there is a very strong influence from your advice and suggestions running throughout. Thanks so much for taking the time to restore these tutorials.

8,364 Posts
Discussion Starter #10
These tutorials were some of the very first we stumbled across when we went looking for information about how to make stuff for Halloween. It's so nice to see them back and revised. Our haunt looks so much different than yours, but if you look at the underpinnings, you can tell there is a very strong influence from your advice and suggestions running throughout. Thanks so much for taking the time to restore these tutorials.
It is my pleasure to do this and it cheers me up that it has been helpful in your haunt.

Back when I started there were precious few Halloween tutorials. But the people that wrote them were so giving of their time and knowledge that it formed a habit in me to always record and publish what I made in order to continue to grow the tutorial stash. Fast-forward to 2020 and there are so many tutorials that it seems luxurious. That is awesome and I'm a little jelly of the newbie haunters out there now ;)

1,015 Posts
It is my pleasure to do this and it cheers me up that it has been helpful in your haunt... Fast-forward to 2020 and there are so many tutorials that it seems luxurious. That is awesome and I'm a little jelly of the newbie haunters out there now ;)
I love the fact that we have such a wealth of people willing to help us with all things haunt related. I am carrying on a conversation here at the forum with others willing to guide me into using power chair batteries to run our lights. The Internet has been a bane for civility in some circles; but for the world of haunters, it has given us a way to reach out to fellow haunters who live far too far away. We get to see their wonderful work, and watch their videos telling us how it all works.

We read your tutorials and watch your videos, and we find the stuff that haunted dreams are made of. Others add their spin and we never seem to run out of ideas for new projects. Every year we find something new and different that sends us off exploring ways to make our vision of a haunt come true. We will be forever newbie haunters out here on the Intertubes, because we will never cease to be amazed by what others have done.

We may not have the pedigree of the author, but we certainly feel the same way about our little haunt. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Isaac Newton
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