- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Almost 20 years ago, Mark Torsani created a haunted scene in the front yard of his Bowie home for Halloween.

The thrills he created caused such excitement that he has partnered with the Bowie Baysox at Prince George’s Stadium for the last five years to create a haunted house in the stadium’s upper-level suites. This year’s event is called “Fear University.”

“I personally don’t like horror movies,” says Mr. Torsani, a partner in Tulip Gulch Productions of Bowie. “I wish I knew why people like to get scared. People like the feeling of being uncomfortable. They like the feeling of not knowing what is going to happen.”

For the at-home haunted house, creating one scene, either on a porch or in a garage or basement, is usually best, Mr. Torsani says. For instance, he used to transform his front yard into a graveyard. One year, he actually dug a grave, and asked someone to hide in it.

Looking in other people’s trash is a great way to find treasures for haunted houses, such as old fencing, says Mr. Torsani.

If digging through garbage doesn’t sound like fun, he suggests sticking broken tree branches in the ground around gravestones. The tree branches will look as though they have been growing up from nowhere. Gravestones can be made from painted plywood or dense foam.

For greater thrills, he suggests asking someone to hang in a climbing harness from the porch, or having people in costumes fly out of trees to the porch on cables. Fog machines can help to set the scene.

Cheap costumes can be created at secondhand or thrift stores, he says.

“One year, when I was scrambling, I dressed up in a costume and sat in a chair on the porch with a bowl full of candy,” Mr. Torsani says. “My costume was so big you couldn’t tell I was there. I put a sign that said, ‘Sorry we couldn’t be here this year. Please take one.’ And then I came to life.”

Haunted houses can be scary or family friendly, says Allan C. Bennett, president and owner of Bennett’s Curse Haunted Attractions based in Hanover, Md.

Pick a theme and build around it, he says. Once established, everything in the haunted house should fit the theme.

For a zombie or ancient monster theme, old clothes can be distressed and aged to look authentic by burying them in the yard. Dig a hole in the ground large enough for the clothing. Place cotton clothes in first, followed by wool clothes. Pour in old pond water for a rotting agent and cover the clothes with dirt. Wait as long as possible before digging them up for Halloween, preferably three months.

“Be original, and be creative, and most of all have fun with it all,” Mr. Bennett says. “Retail stores are selling more and more Halloween items for home displays, and it is getting more and more sophisticated each year. If you have a creative mind, a trip to the local Home Depot can be just as inspiring.”

The best haunted houses affect all the senses, says Brenden McDougal, technical director at Adventure Theatre at Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo. In past years, he has designed haunted houses for his church.

Low-wattage light bulbs help make an indoors setting as dark as possible, he says. Black, dark blue or red bulbs allow enough light so a person can’t see very well but still pick out objects.

In low light, cold spaghetti, peeled grapes and Jell-O can imitate brains, eyeballs and guts.

A soundtrack of classical music or spooky noises should play from a hidden location, Mr. McDougal says.

The smell doesn’t have to be anything specific, but it shouldn’t be an everyday scent, he says. Even cheap incense would be a good solution.

“Nothing about the haunted house can be normal,” Mr. McDougal says. “We want to put the person on edge the second they come into the environment.”

For haunted houses inside homes, brown tarps and black garbage bags can be hung on the walls to darken the room. The tarps can be painted with fluorescent paint.

The main idea is to surprise people in a way that they wouldn’t expect, he says. For instance, visitors can be led into a dark room, and then a really bright light could come on for a split second to reveal something scary.

“One year, we had a prisoner in an electric chair that would get shocked,” Mr. McDougal says. “A person in the corner is incredibly still wearing black. As soon as the light comes on, he jumps up and runs out, wearing a mask.”

Little ghosts made from Styrofoam balls and cheesecloth can hang from the ceiling of the haunted house, says Latasha Smith, sales associate at Michaels Arts and Crafts Store in Falls Church.

Styrofoam balls should be sprayed with spray starch. Then place a cheesecloth over the balls, and spray the entire item, she says.

“Halloween brings out the kid in everyone,” Miss Smith says. “It takes you back to the time when you went door to door for candy.”

Cakes and cookies can even be shaped as headstones or body parts, says Jennifer Brown, designer at A.C. Moore Arts and Craft Store in Falls Church.

“Every once in a while, we need to be reminded that we’re human, and that we get scared,” Ms. Brown says.

Costumes and imagination are the best part of Allhallows Eve, says Diann Hohenthaner’s of Alexandria. Each year, she and her husband, Tom, transform their home for the holiday. The goal is to bring magic and wonder to the trick-or-treaters who visit the house.

This year, she and her husband chose a killer bee theme, and Mrs. Hohenthaner will play the queen bee.

In previous years, she has created a full haunted house, where she dressed as a vampire. Neighbors dressed as Frankenstein and Mrs. Frankenstein. Mrs. Hohenthaner also has used the themes of Christmas, “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

When creating “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown,” she featured a 14-foot, two-dimensional pumpkin in the front yard. She placed it on the front of the porch and backlit it and then put glow-in-the-dark pumpkins across the yard. She dressed as Lucy and her husband as Charlie Brown. A cardboard Snoopy sat in the yard on top of his doghouse.

For future years, the couple is considering a “Lord of the Rings” theme.

By the morning after Halloween, the decorations are gone, and trick-or-treaters are left to wonder whether they actually experienced any magic at the Hohenthaner house.

“My husband, Tom, and I have always enjoyed Halloween as kids,” Mrs. Hohenthaner says. “There was always one house on the block that did Halloween really big. When we bought our house in 1999, we decided we wanted to be that house.”


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