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Suggestions for family-friendly "haunted theater" theme?

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I'm participating in a community charity project called "Trick-or-Theater" this year. In a nutshell, it's a citywide project in which the participating locations (private homes, businesses, organizations) open their doors to the public on Halloween night and screen movies in exchange for donations to the local food bank. Each location is to create a festive theater-type atmosphere in which to screen the movies, offer seasonal refreshments, and run games and drawings for the kids. Since this will be my first year to go "all out" in general, planning will be an especially daunting task. This also marks my first year of working with a true theme, so at this point I basically need all the help I can get. ^^;

The trick-or-treaters and guests will be entering through my front door, which leads into the living room, and from there they'll have access to the kitchen, dining room, den, and one bathroom (the back part of the house will be blocked off). I'd like to make the decor as family-friendly as possible, yet reminiscent enough of an actual theater and intriguing enough to capture the attention of the adults.

I'm currently picturing the walls nearest the living room entrance being lined with handmade "posters" of enlarged scenes from the movies being shown, illuminated by seasonal twinkle lights. The donation/ticket booth would be nearby, comprised of an endtable draped with a sparkly cover and surrounded by donation boxes. The living room and den would each serve as a separate viewing area for its respective age group (under or at/over six) and have folding chairs (possibly draped with cobwebs) arranged in short rows facing the TV. A few costumed friends and I would wear badges identifying ourselves as ushers, along with the theater's name (Paranoid Pumpkin Pictures) and the text "How may I haunt (slashed through) help you tonight?"

I'd like to base my movie choices on unfamiliarity to the viewers, so they wouldn't know what to expect (no "Great Pumpkin"-types). Just to be safe, I'm going with a late-80s-to-mid-90s time frame, with maybe a couple of family-friendly 70s specials to hold the parents over (Paul Lynde Halloween special, The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, etc.). Here's what I've come up with so far for each age group:

Under 6: Spookley the Square Pumpkin; Eureeka's Castle: It Came from Beneath the Bed; Richard Scarry's The First Halloween Ever; Lumpkin the Pumpkin; fairy tale-themed episode of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog

6 and over: The Halloween Tree; Hanna-Barbera's The Last Halloween; Tiny Toon Adventures: Night Ghoulery; The Haunted Pumpkin of Sleepy Hollow; Pinky and the Brain Halloween special

Each of these will be preceded by a brief "intermission" consisting of retro Halloween commercials and mini-games (Halloween trivia for older kids; "spot-the-difference" pictures and so on for younger ones).

I've already gotten great ideas for the concession stand from your menu posts, and I especially love the idea of the candy bar. We'd have a tabletop popcorn machine at the ready and use plastic gloves ("monster mitts") instead of popcorn boxes. I also thought of lining orange and purple plastic pencil trays with Halloween napkins and using them as concession trays.

Despite how much information this may seem like, it truly is just a start. Please reply with any and all suggestions and feedback, as I'd love to be able to pull this off. =D
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Devilishly Dutch
5,920 Posts
Sounds like you have a pretty good start! Can't think of much to add since I do adult parties and most of my suggestions probably wouldn't apply to the age group!
I do have one suggestion though. You could look for some old red velvet type curtains to open and close when the movie starts and ends. Would give it more a theater feel and also give the kids a good signal for the start, intermission and the end.


312 Posts
You could do it Oscars or Hollywood premier style with a red carpet and paparazzi (real or cutouts with flashing "camera" lights, reporters, and "stars" to pose with who could also usher people towards the right rooms. This guy did a great Paparazzi costume one year. I

Last year we did a Hollywood theme for our Halloween party and it was great - I got these 12' film strips with stars hanging from them and looped them all along the ceiling with 3M strips (came off great - I used them for EVERYTHING last year) - they make a big impact and the ceiling is often a big blank space.

I also got these hanging swirly decorations and liked them a lot.

I also made a giant Hollywood sign (if you have a bigger yard/retro theme you could go for Hollywoodland, but that's all I could fit) out of foam core and spread it across my front yard - pics on my blog here.

Also I just recently blogged about my "wall of unfortunate demises" where we had mock gravestones with names of stars & the unusual ways they died - Peg Entwhistle jumping off the "H" in the Hollywoodland sign, Auntie Em smothering herself with a plastic bag. I'm not sure if this still meets your "family friendly" theme, but it was really interesting for adults.

For a similar (but non-Halloween) Oscar's event we used Alphaloons to spell out "OSCARS" - see images here. We also got the cheap Oriental Trading red carpet - not recommended, this is crap. A local movie store donated an Oscar standee and people posed with it for pictures.

For theme food you can always do popcorn - personally I think it sounds like a nightmare with kids, but if you're patient and have a good vaccuum, have at it. We got these cheap little retro boxes to serve white and cheese popcorn in last year, there are a ton of different versions available. Maybe you could rent a popcorn machine or borrow one of the little carts that have become so popular lately?

There are also a ton of scene setters for a hollywood theme, but I have no patience for smoothing them out and always feel like they look too plastic-bag-like. But some others on HF had done wonders with them.

I agree on creating a curtain around the screen - even if it is not functional, this would really set the tone of a theater.

1,073 Posts
Sounds like a fun time, wish you lived closer.
Party City does have movie themed decorations, etc. for sale. Buy your candy for the candy counter in bulk from Sams Club. They also have the complete line of popcorn supplies for your popper for cheaper. Home improvement stores sell "up can lights" for that movie theater lighting feel. (they are used all the time in "Designed to Sell" show on either A&E or Bravo channel)

I like that you decided to use little known movies to show. Other movie suggestions:

Ghost & Mr Chicken
Private Eyes
The Little Vampire
Worst Witch
Mad Monster Party
Darkness Falls
Blood & Chocolate

Please keep me posted & take lots of pics to share. I'm a total movieholic so, this really appeals to me.

119 Posts
I did a family-themed party for 4 years. I don't know if you can work this into your theme, but I always cover my furniture in white sheets - old or new, either works. This really helps with dropped-and-sat-on Skittles. It is more of a "haunted house" effect, but maybe crimson sheets would make it look more like a theater.

Small crafts are a good diversion at intermission. The sticker scenes from Oriental Trading are cheap and no mess. Choose crafts that need no glue or paint.

I use the cheap, purple incandescent "black lights" (they aren't real blacklights) to replace bulbs in all the rooms. You can still see, but it is much darker.

Other movies:
Casper the Friendly Ghost
Scooby Doo (the original cartoons)

308 Posts
I'm a big fan of the family Halloween party, so I wanted to add my 2¢.

For your hosts, I immediately thought it would be cool to have classic Halloween characters in usher uniforms. I'm envisioning stuff like Frankenstein in a retro but tight red jacket with a flashlight and little flat cap. If that will be too scary for the little ones, consider a scarecrow.

I really like the previous idea of the red curtains opening for the show. Will you be using projectors to present the movies? If you don't have any available, perhaps it would be possible to borrow a couple from a local school (since this is a community event). If not, consider asking a local electronics store for the use of a couple display projectors. In exchange for the loan, you could include coupons for the store in any goody bags.

Make a mock concessions booth for the kids to get their treats before the show starts. Find a way to take short, counter-heigh shelving, attach a piece of clear plastic to the front, with a drape on the backside. If possible, angle the shelving toward the patrons with the goodies on top, and have some battery operated lights inside the booth. Put another monster in costume behind the booth. See if you can get a retro popcorn maker for the night. (Maybe have a prop hand popping out of the popcorn.) Since it is for charity, you might be able to get it donated by a local rental shop. Again, offer to hand-out their coupons in exchange for the favor.

Big movie posters at the entrance is also a cool idea. Making them look like actual theatre displays may be expensive, with backlighting and marquee lights. Perhaps you can find inexpensive frames and surround the border with with traveling Christmas lights.

How well lit will you have the movie area? You'll probably not want it dark like a real theater, so consider black lights. You may want to find white rope lights to run around the floor corners to indicate the areas where people are allowed to walk in your home, as well as simulate that theater look.

This sounds like a real fun idea. I'm currently restoring the original Disney Halloween Treat (out-of-print) movie for such a future idea. Please post picts of how everything turns out.
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