I used to be
focused primarily on making realistic props to sit around and "be
scary," but there's more to it than that, and even the idea of
"realism" is sort of misguided. The following are principles or
strategies that guide my approach to decorating for Halloween.
Go big and bold. People
are just passing through; they don't have time to linger. They
aren't expecting a gallery, and 99% of the folks who see your
decorations are not Halloween connoisseurs. You can spend hours
looking to get the fine details right, but that's time (and possibly
money) better spent putting together other decorations.
Make it instead of buying it.
Store-bought props are always too small to have the effect you're going
for. They also will not conform to a cohesive look in conjunction
with other props in your collection. Some things are going to
look too cartoonish when placed alongside your better props.
However, if you make your own things, you're going to achieve a uniform
Think in terms of scenes.
A scene is much more effective than single-prop displays. For
example, I could have set out a single severed foot, but then you'd
just think, "Oh, a severed foot prop." Instead, I placed it in
the bathtub with fake blood, a saw, and a pair of rubber gloves.
The effect: "They tried to get rid of the body after the murder."
Use all three elements.
These can exist independently, but try to think in terms of lights,
motion, and sound. These three elements will turn props and other
decorations into something more real than mere stationary objects.
Lights. At night especially,
things just aren't going to stand out unless your yard is well-lit
already. Target certain props with lights to draw attention to
them. Lights also add an atmospheric effect relatively easily and
inexpensively if you use colored bulbs. Additionally, animated
lights, flicker bulbs/circuits, and/or color-changing bulbs add the
illusion of motion, the next element you should go for. See my
primer on different lights and their uses here.
Animating props brings them to life like nothing else. There are
a number of options you can use as well, depending on your needs:
pneumatics, electric motors, and even computer-controlled interfaces
that can be programmed to orchestrate sequences of movements.
This adds color to the scene. You can do anything from an ambient
backing track of night-time sounds to a full musical playlist.
There are ways of integrating sounds and lights intelligently as well
(e.g., Light-o-rama or light