How to Make a Scary Cheap Haunted House

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Welcome guests with a live ghoul to set the tone.
Welcome guests with a live ghoul to set the tone. (Image: Antonis Liokouras/iStock/Getty Images)

Creating a haunted house doesn't require a big budget. It's important to plan wisely and make effective props and decor. Regardless of how much is spent, know who the attendees will be. No one wants screaming toddlers or groaning teens wandering through their house of horror. Have an appreciation for the audience and create an ambiance to match.

Map the Route of Horror

Consider how to best utilize your house's twists and turns. An unfinished basement can be turned into a creepy dungeon with just the right lighting and homemade fog. A mantle covered with "bloody" candles can have a bone-chilling look. Planting costumed ghouls around a corner always gets a shriek. Carefully mapping the route enables the organizers to build frights with every step.

Plan Ahead for Scary-Good Bargains

Shopping for decor the week after Halloween will yield the biggest bargains. This means preparing a year in advance and also having storage space for the props. Luckily, most Halloween decor never goes out of style. Easy ideas include:

  • Covering furniture with cobwebs, which can be purchased by the bag.
  • Blot cheesecloth with bloody red dye and drape it over lamps.
  • Tape black garbage bags over windows to create a disturbing scene.
  • Make white candles "bloody" by dripping red wax over them.

Buy Haunting Decor at the Thirft Store

Browsing through a thrift store can yield unexpectedly creepy props. Framed black-and-white family photos can be made into spooky imagery by blacking out the eyes. Painting vintage baby dolls with a ghostly pallor morphs them into mini zombies. Score a life-sized dummy or skeleton and drape it across the lawn as an ominous warning to all who enter. Even old glass bottles and vases can be filled with red dye to suggest a bloody pact with evil spirits.

Create an Aura with Light, Fog and Sound

Change the mood of an entire room by replacing standard light bulbs with red, blue and black ones. It's amazing how creepy a kitchen becomes when the overhead lights are no longer white. Paint props and decor with glow-in-the-dark paint for an otherworldly effect. Guide attendees through a pitch black room by just illuminating the way with a flashlight. Remember it's the unknown that's often the most frightening, just make sure the path is clear of anything they might trip over.

Filling a room with the white clouds from a dry ice or a fog machine conjure the specters that roam the earth.

Don't forget how compelling a good sound effect can be. Playing recordings of doors slamming, chains dragging and distant wailing can rattle anyone's spine.

Fill the House with Goons, Freaks and Monsters

Dress up your family and friends as monsters and goons to help turn the haunted house into living graveyard or zombie haven. Even the cheapest makeup kit can illicit howls from jaded hearts. Place the undead at unexpected points throughout your house and space out the guests so they don't know what's coming. Houses that have a dummy or two strewn across their lawn can plant a "live one" for a fun surprise. Be sure and warn any actors not touch the attendees.

Test Your Haunted House

After mapping the route, adding the decor and placing any ghouls, test the haunted house with a walk through. It may seem like everything will add up to shrieks and giggles, but it never hurts to double check. A bit of decor that was brilliant a few days before Halloween might wind up being goofy. It never hurts to ask friends and family for input.

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