From their nightmare factory in Greeley, husband-and-wife team Ed Edmunds and Marsha Taub-Edmunds have been making elaborate monsters and masks for more than four decades.
Their company, Distortions Unlimited, then dispatches the creepy cast of artfully crafted characters — like animatronic circus clowns, life-sized werewolves, and a toothy 11-foot-tall “Sleeping Giant” — to commercial haunted houses, theme parks and corn mazes.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, an interesting trend emerged: Homeowners began taking an interest in the Hollywood-quality monsters and props and incorporating them into their own front-yard haunts. Direct-to-consumer sales in the past few years have shot up by roughly 200%, Taub-Edmunds estimates. Each one costs anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
“People weren’t able to go to haunted houses during COVID, and they weren’t handing out candy, so they really got into the spirit of decorating,” she said.
Retail stores got into the spooky act as well, and lighting props and projectors that were once mostly only available to haunted houses are now sold widely at places like Home Depot and Walmart, said Amy Hollaman, regional manager with 13th Floor Entertainment Group, a Denver event production company that operates haunted houses and other Halloween happenings.
“Now you can make it look like there’s ghosts floating on the front of your house or spiders creeping out the windows,” she said. “That’s something simple that gives the whole facade of your house a makeover.”
As a result, many homes are leaning into the macabre, and decorating for Halloween on the same scale as they would Christmas (or even more), creating haunting scenes in their front yards and on their porches. In fact, decorating for Halloween has levitated into a $3.4 billion annual business, according to the National Retail Federation.
Want to turn your home into a haunt? Here are some tips from the Halloween pros.
Go Big With a Theme
Denver-based Interior Designer Jess Knauf, principal at Jess Knauf Design, said she loves the trend of simple, spooky decor en masse.
“My house has a large front window, and we place one giant 6.5 ft spider front and center, who really steals the show,” she said. “I lean toward focusing on one item, and going big.”
Knauf has also seen people use transparent fishing line to hang tiny witches hats by the dozen so they cascade down a single tree for a chic and fun scene. Or they’re taking things to new heights: “A single skeleton or witch on the rooftop can be a super fun addition to your decor,” she said.
Get Creative With Lighting
Hollaman has been in the Halloween industry for 18 years. But long before she was working with professional haunts like the 13th Floor, she and her friends charged their parents $1 admission to the “mad scientist laboratories” they set up in their basements.
One of her favorite ways to set a scene is with spooky lighting. You can DIY a candle that looks like it’s been melting for centuries with some PVC pipes, a hot glue gun and orange string lights.
Hollaman recommends going to a home store and buying 2-inch-wide PVC pipes cut at varying heights so you can create a cluster of candles. Use a hot glue gun to drip hot glue down the pipe and once it dries, dab the candle with a wood stain to give it a brown, weathered look. Go heavy around the edges of the glue and use a light wash on the rest of the pipe. Tape or glue a string of orange lights to the inside of the pipe.
Another idea: You can buy some long-burning tea lights, Knauf says, which are small enough to put on window sills, table tops and tucked in bookshelves and provide a lot of spooky ambiance. Options include flameless, LED lights that have a warm glow.
Flameless candles are a great option outside, too, Knauf says. You can find waterproof pillars on Amazon that come in all different sizes, and can be used to light pathways, inside lanterns or pumpkins.
“I think lighting is central to the charm of Halloween,” Knauf says. “Turning down the lights, and adding tons of luminary bags to your pathways or porch, can change the whole mood of your space.”
Shop Second Hand
When Lexi Healy was looking to buy decor for Honor Farm, the cocktail bar at 1526 Blake St. that she co-owns, she wanted oddities to match her building, which she described as having “seen more action than a soap opera.” (Built in 1863, the two-story structure is supposed to be one of the most haunted buildings in downtown Denver, Healy said; in fact, Honor Farm created a shrine for Lydia, one of the resident ghosts, when it took over the space last year.)
Healy’s tip: Shop secondhand for vintage items at places like estate sales. That’s how she found a collection of 100 owls, many of which are now on display on Honor Farm’s backbar. “Sometimes you can get lucky and find vintage Halloween stuff,” she said. “It gives off such a creepy vibe; old stuff can be so strange and unsettling.”
To wit: Old dolls. Honor Farm also has a Shirley Temple doll with a spider web that has grown over her head. But you can make your own spider webs as well. There’s a prop called a cobweb gun that outshines the traditional spider web material that you’ll find in bags, she said. The device is for sale on The Horror Dome, an online store that sells all kinds of spooky special effects like a whirling ghost projector and attic lights with short-circuit effects.
Make a Soundtrack
Halloween is a multi-sensory holiday. Did you know that it’s common for haunted houses to use scents to help set the spooky scenes? Online prop stores sell spritzers that smell like everything from dentists’ offices to swamps to fairgrounds. You probably don’t want your home smelling like a haunt, but you can solidify the spooky vibe with a great playlist.
Once you’ve heard enough “Thriller” and “Monster Mash” for the season, check out LVCRFT, Hollaman suggested. The spooky-obsessed band posts “slaylists” from which you can stream songs that are both fun and scary — and perfect for dancing along with.
Hollman also loves classics like Peggy Lee’s “Fever” and Kay Starr’s “The Headless Horseman.”
“The piano makes it sound like someone is sneaking up on you,” Hollaman said.
Get Gory With Props
The Thirteenth Floor and The Curtis Hotel in Denver have teamed up to create a scary movie-themed hotel package, and, you guessed it, the room is on the hotel’s 13th floor. Available through Oct. 31, the package comes with VIP tickets to the 13th Floor’s annual off-site haunted house and other goodies like a curated playlist and “Poison Apple” cocktail from the Corner Office.
The themed room features décor from previous 13th Floor attractions, and it’s like a design showroom for those who love a scary good time. We’re talking severed fingers on the TV remote, a flickering light bulb, framed crime stories, apothecary jars and crime scene tape.
Some of the well-placed props include a skeleton in the closet and a monster under the bed. The space is packed with DIY ideas that, dare we say, could follow you home.
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