But, let's be honest, while the quality and creativity of these run-of-the-mill store-bought effects have improved over the last several years, they are still a far cry from being either realistic or being effective at evoking an entire scene. Throwing a lot of orange and black cutesy things around may be fun for a party, but they won't trick your visitors into thinking they are in an actual haunted home.
If you want to go that extra mile, though, you don't have to go so far as to build all your décor from scratch. There is a middle ground. You can cherry-pick the effects available at the general stores and then leverage the style and creativity they have into creating a more holistic scene for your visitors. Borrowing a term from Walt Disney, with a little work, you can "plus" the stuff you buy at the store to make it even spookier.
Here's an example. Target this year has some clever talking statue busts that are pretty cool. If you liked the singing busts from Disney's Haunted Mansion attraction (or, less likely, the movie of the same name), they do a reasonable job approximating that effect for a mere $25. But if you were to just place them on the floor or table, they would be novel, perhaps, but not exactly spooky. For them to become spooky, they need to be part of an environment.
That's where "plussing" comes in. You've got the core mechanical effect that would be difficult to recreate easily - light-up eyes, a mouth-motor that moves in sync with the sound, and a latex rubber head of a bust that surrounds it all. Now you just need to flesh out the effect. Here's what we came up with this year:
This is the presentation of one of these simple busts from Target - we've turned the bust from a small curiosity to a large attraction. When it's all lit up with creepy lights, it's going to be even better.
And it wasn't difficult, either. Anyone can do this stuff with a little creativity. What you're seeing here is a cardboard column mold from the local hardware store attached to a flat piece of wood on the ground with "L" braces. The top lintel was made out of two squares of pink foam gorilla-glued together with a circular piece of foam underneath to set the lintel snugly in place on the cylinder. Then, we painted it black, and used a paint sponge to add in the marble effect. We then surrounded the entire column with cheap iron fencing units from Lowe's.
Not shown here are the name plaques (made out of pink foam, natch) that will be affixed to the lintels, giving each bust both a name and a birth-and-death range, which adds personality and gives visitors something to read.
We're actually doing this for all three of the busts we bought, and each one will have a different fencing unit, one of which we are making very cheaply from scratch using PVC pipe and wood. Each bust will bring its own character to the scene, each will stand boldly on its own, and each will help set the mood for their intended purpose: to lead our visitors through the Blackwood Family Graveyard.
So plus it up with your own Halloween décor! You don't have to go to the extreme lengths that we went to here, but don't be satisfied with the way your props come out of the box at home. Plopping the prop on a table will not get you the biggest bang for your buck - spend a little time on the environment these store-bought props will live in, and they will end up looking a whole lot better.