Category Archives: how-to

Big Scream TV: The Boo Tube


As noted in my last review of a video decor DVD, although the concept (and commercially available) existed in the age of VHS, it wasn’t until DVD technology entered the picture that Halloween video decor really took off. One of the biggest and most influential titles to take advantage of the technology was the Big Scream TV series by Lightform Productions.

The concept behind the series is simple: a looping series of spooky talking heads that seem to float in nothingness that can easily be done at home. The DVD-R starts with a quick credits screen that notes the following performers: Bill Lae, Mike Ziemkowski, Tim Peyton and Teresa Shea. We then go to a graveyard-themed menu with looped scary music and wind effects. Three tombstones give us the following choices: “Here Lies the Untame,” “Here Lies the Tame,” and “Here Lies Scary Tips and Illusions.”

Choosing the “untame” option starts a fourteen minute and thirty-three second long video of numerous spooky faces. The faces, realized using a combination of makeup and computer generated effects, pop up onscreen for a few seconds to either growl, laugh menacingly or make some comments before vanishing. The transitions are very well done are aren’t just simple fade ins/outs. For example, the mouth monster shown on the cover is spat out and gobbled up by a giant disembodied mouth and demons appear and disappear in explosions of flame. The CGI effects also add extra touches to the fiendish faces. Frankenstein’s monster shoots sparks from his electrodes, a three-eyed monster wiggles its ears and shoots steam from his nose and lots of other neat little touches that I won’t spoil. Although there is some pretty creepy stuff here, it should be noted that several monsters ham it up for their performances and tell corny jokes. Also, despite the “Untame” name that implies use for teenagers and adults, several monsters makes references to children and candy, for reasons that will become clear in a bit. In a nice touch, the track loops automatically and each face has its own chapter stop (for a total of thirty).

Selecting the “Tame” plays most of the same material from the “Untame” loop. In fact, the only difference is that the demons, rotting corpse, mouth monster and exposed brain guy scenes have been removed, making the running time only seven minutes and 38 seconds before it automatically loops. It also cuts the chapter stops down to fourteen! Don’t be fooled, though. There’s still some material that will scare kids. Although I’m sure some of the jokes (especially the mummy that injures itself) will help them cope.

Selecting the “Tips” option will play a four minute video about the basic set-up, how to use the DVD in displays and decorating suggestions. There are a lot of great tips here, like how to adjust brightness and contrast to reduce light from TV (in order to hide the fact that a screen is being used). There’s also an explanation of using the DVD to create an amazing Pepper’s Ghost effect, which is clearly explained in simple terms and is actually very easy to set up using Plexiglass and household items. In a nice turn of events, the thinnest and cheapest type of Plexiglass is actually the type that works best for the effect! But even if you aren’t able to do that effect, you can still play it on a TV with decorations around it (I recommend putting a frame around the screen) or put it in a darkened window. If you have to go that route, might I suggest putting in a dark room that people can’t enter, thanks to the open doorway being blocked off? You can use stacked boxes, fake nailed-up boards or warning tape to both keep people from getting closer and to add to the effect.

Despite being a DVD-R, Big Scream TV: The Boo Tube has an excellent transfer. Sadly, there is no submenu for the individual chapter stops or loops for individual characters. Although somewhat understandable since this 2004 DVD was the first release in line, it would have been a welcome feature. It is possible, however, to program your DVD player to do that (or to make your own custom mix of characters). That might be the best course of action for those using it in a haunted house. The mad scientist segment alone would be a perfect introductory video to explain the rules of a mad scientist-themed haunted attraction. Depending on your tastes as to how the characters look and act, as some might not like the dialogue directly referencing Halloween if the haunt runs throughout October, then this might be the best option. Those using this on Halloween without a specific theme for their house should be easily satisfied, and use of the Pepper’s Ghost effect will almost guarantee that their house will be the talk of the neighborhood. That said, I wish the loops were longer in length. I know that Trick or Treaters probably won’t mind, seeing as how they’ll only see a few of the faces as they visit, but I can imagine that this could get old after awhile at a party. Having this on a factory-pressed DVD would have been nice, as those tend to be more durable than recordable media. In any case, I certainly know what will be making an appearance in one of my future Halloween displays…

The success of The Boo Tube led to two more installments in the series, Funny Bones and Crystal Ball. Lightform Productions has also gone on to release a how-to DVD called Xtreme Haunted Home Make-Over, along with more traditional video decor products like Halloween Scarols and Terror Eyes. I strongly suspect that the success of these titles is why several cheap video decor DVDs started flooding the market in the following years.

Special thanks to Lightform Productions for the review copy!

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Living Dead Live!

Although there are tons of materials devoted to the various aspects of creating of haunted house, one topic remains mostly ignored amongst all the how-tos on prop-making and setting up a haunted house: scaring people. Far too many people think simply wearing a mask and yelling “Boo” while jumping out of a dark corner is all you need to do in order to scare people.

So when I discovered Living Dead Live! while perusing through Amazon, I was pretty excited. Especially because of the names I saw listed on the cover. I was familiar with Jim O’Rear due to his acting work and presence in the Halloween/haunt community and Rich Hanf is a pretty big name in the haunted attraction industry. In fact, he is a professor at Halloween University! This was clearly put together by guys who knew their stuff when it comes to scaring.


The film opens with Rich Hanf speaking outside his 2002 “House of the Living Dead” haunted attraction. He’s very energetic, animated and quick to make a joke, like an 80’s wrestling manager “cutting a promo.” We learn that this is actually a sequel to a video from 1997 called Live on Horror Hill and that, just like that video, we’ll be going through a haunted house, room by room, to examine how the scares are achieved. After a reprise of a gag from Live on Horror Hill (presented in a way that’s still funny to those who haven’t seen it), we get the opening credits. Said credits are played over footage of people getting scared as they go through the haunt, and certain footage is reused many times over the course of the film.

Right from the beginning, Hanf shows the viewer how a scare can be used to force people in a certain direction. In this first example, he uses a rattling, chained-up door prop to startle people into running further down the hall at the beginning of the haunt. It’s positioned by the doorway that customers use to enter the haunt, and it doesn’t start moving until the customers are partway down the hall with their backs to the door. This is followed by footage of the scare in action, which occurs after the initial explanation of each scare.

Oddly, the footage used for the next scare (involving a giant rat and a killer clown) only seems to show the clown scaring people. The asylum room is truly inspired and jam-packed with scares, featuring numerous instances of a single actor providing multiple scares. My favorite involves a jailed inmate startling someone by suddenly appearing in a cell and rattling the bars. This gets the customer to back up towards the opposite wall, which contains an actor behind a hidden drop panel. When the hapless victim turns around to see what made the loud noise behind them, the first actor removes the bars from his cell and starts to climb out. That way, when the customer(s) who get scared by the drop panel turn back around, they’re surprised by the freed prisoner coming after them and are forced towards the next scare. As our host notes, using scares to direct people are important, as it helps keep them from aimlessly milling about for too long and clogging up the flow of customers.

The next few scares are mostly based around distracting people prior to hitting them with a scare (which greatly enhances the effectiveness of said scare), the first of which involves an actor who has already provided two other scares. Getting the most scares out of one actor is a constant theme throughout Living Dead Live!, be it by having the same “character” reappearing elsewhere or by having them secretly trigger an effect in a nearby room. Other distraction and misdirection-based scares include a room which takes advantage of the fact that people will assume that everything in a room that mostly consists of painted figures on a wall is merely a flat painting and another involving a corpse behind glass. On the non-distraction front, there’s also a scare designed to tempt (and nail) people who break rules like “no touching.”

A still from reading “Words from the Press” takes us into a long segment featuring numerous clips of local news footage promoting “House of the Living Dead.” These are frequently mind-blowing, featuring things like a newscaster in bleeding “Jason” mask, multiple uses of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and a segment where things keep popping out of walls until the room fills up like a reverse clown car. It’s all gloriously bizarre, although watching all of the clips does give away a large portion of the attraction. All of this footage appears to have been recorded at home although certain flaws, like the very high contrast footage featuring Rich Hanf’s wife seems to be the fault of news crew and not the people behind the DVD. There’s also one segment where the footage seems to “flash,” but I can’t say if it’s an error or merely an attempt to simulate a strobe light.

Then we’re taken back to the scare tips and explanations. More creative misdirection scares are discussed (the ones in the haunted mine and hanging room are truly brilliant), as are the psychological effects of black curtains, the importance of showmanship, and what sort of scares to use for promotional news shoots.

Another still takes us to a lengthy segment devoted to the actors and actresses. Mr. Hanf and a series of various employees sit in a meeting room and discuss the room they appear in, how their scare works (often followed by footage of the scare in action), memorable customer reactions, how to improve the room and (of course) general tips. There is a lot of great advice here, like “get your scare and get out of there” and the importance of actors taking control of their room, often by
singling out a person to get them more involved in the experience.

After that, the viewer is taken on the final leg of the haunt break-down. There’s plenty of old standards, such as a graveyard, strobe room and laboratory, along with more original material like the “Hall of Doors” (the scares aren’t as obvious as they sound). Of course, the old standards always have a new twist, such as how the mad scientist is able to get multiple scares at once.

But wait, there’s more! Before the credits roll, there’s a ton of videos of people going through the haunt and some interviews with scared customers. It’s interesting to see how the character in some rooms are rotated and seeing some actors do scares that weren’t previously mentioned by Hanf. The customer reactions are, as you’ve probably guessed, quite a hoot. All the classics are here, from people losing shoes to people who go in acting brave getting scared silly.

This 2003 DVD-R release has no menu or chapter stops, which is quite annoying given that it’s about an hour and 43 minutes long. There aren’t any special features
(there is a funny joke about this on the back cover), which is a shame since the news footage segment could have easily served as a bonus feature without removing essential from the film. But, in all fairness, this appears to have been the first time those involved had ever released a DVD.

The transfer is full frame, camcorder quality with the occasional rainbow/tape lines and artifacting. To be honest, the quality doesn’t both me, as I find it much less annoying than flat, overly bright Mini DV transfers you see on direct-to-video crapfests like The Tomb. What did annoy me, however, were the longish black pauses between haunt footage and Hanf’s segments and the squeaking noise that first appears several minutes into the movie (and occasionally pops up later on). I asked Mr. O’Rear about this and sadly, this was present on the master copy. He was not sure as to exactly what caused it, but theorized it could have something to do with a low battery. Unfortunately, it pops up at points where simply removing that portion of the audio track and replacing it with ambient noise or redubbed dialogue would be impossible (as would simply not using that footage).

The same can’t be said for the long breaks between footage transitions, however. That really should have been fixed in post-production or, failing that, replaced with graphics outlining the scare tips made from the previous segment (not unlike the scrolling subtitles from time to time to emphasize a point or provide further hints). Another thing that could have been taken care of in post is the order of the segments, as the constant breaks from the main dissection of the attraction’s scares is rather distracting. In my opinion, it would flow much better in the following order: step-by step through the haunt, actors, live haunt footage and maybe the news promos (if they weren’t used as an extra).

Any other issues can mostly be chalked up to Living Dead Live!
As this was more or less made by two guys using only one camera on the final night of the haunt’s run (Halloween), there was no time for multiple takes. Thankfully, Rich Hanf rarely flubs his dialogue and those are limited to the interviews with performers. And even then, the others (including cameraman Jim O’Rear) seize upon the opportunity for some good-natured joking. Likewise sometimes the camera angles used during the “live” footage might not be to everyone’s taste, but the fairly narrow portions of the haunt were designed to keep scared customers moving forward and not for filming. Especially filming by a cameraman who was taking care not to get in anyone’s way.

Although primarily intended for those already familiar with the haunted attraction biz, home haunts can still pick up some great tips from this. However, the entertainment and educational value is marred somewhat by the presentation. Thankfully, that’s nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a little editing and a “Living Dead Live: Reanimated!”-type reissue of the title.

Special thanks to Jim O’Rear for the review copy!

Tricks and Treats

A Halloween How-To: Costumes, Parties, Decorations, and Destinations by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne has tons of easy tricks to pull during your next Halloween party or haunted house, with my favorites being the dropping spider and half man gags.

Here’s something to do when you’re bored while on Twitter: Tweet the phrase “Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice” and wait for the fun to begin.

Remember the “giallo movie generator” from last year’s countdown? Well, here’s something similar devoted to Clive Barker’s love scenes. Is it NSFW? You’d better believe it!

Gravedigger’s Local 16 favorite Barrett’s Haunted Mansion put up a cool offer on their Facebook page: They’re giving free admission to the haunt (but not the “Buried Alive” attraction) to any customer who was born in October!

I highly recommend looking up haunted attractions in your area and then checking their Facebook/Twitter/etc. pages for discount coupons. I’ve found ones for the Factory of Terror in Fall River, MA and the Century Haunted Hayride in Auburn, MA so far and I bet you can find even more.

Have a bunch of walnuts and aren’t feeling hungry? Then make some hobgoblins using the notes from this 1943 issue of Popular Science.

Dryer lint. A worthless byproduct or an awesome free source of fake moss for Halloween displays. Read the Amazon preview for How To Haunt Your House by Shawn and Lynne Mitchell to decide for yourself.

Speaking of Amazon previews, the one for Halloween Crafts: Eerily Elegant Decor by Kasey Rogers and Mark Wood has creepy clip art and instructions on how to make things like fake candles.

Finally, the Google books preview for The Halloween Activity Book: Creepy, Crawly, Hairy, Scary Things to Do by Mymi Doinet and Benjamin Chaud shows you how to make monster mirrors and ghoulish garlands.

Head-Shrinking Made E-Z

Although associated with African jungles and voodoo in American popular culture, shrunken heads are actually a product of select South American and Melanesian tribes. Most reference material on the matter focuses on the Jivaro, a collective term for the Shuar, Achuar, Huambisa and Aguaruna groups. The purpose of the shrunken heads is simple: When an enemy is slain (especially one that has killed a family member), their head is removed and shrunken in order to keep the spirit trapped inside. That way, the ghost could not seek revenge and any fallen family members were both avenged and honored. Despite the importance of their creation, many of them were discarded after they had been completed and their purpose had been served.

How were the heads shrunk? Obviously the head gets cut off after the initial ceremony, but then the skull (and muscles, fat etc.) are removed after the skin has been split via a cut made starting at the back of the neck. After objects have been inserted in order help the head keep its basic shape during the shrinking process, the eyelids and mouth are sealed shut. Once fully sealed, the head is boiled in water mixed with special herbs. The head is then dried and further shrunken in hot sand. After any final molding of the face, the shrunken head is rubbed in ashes and sometimes decorations are even added. As the person preparing it had to fast during the process, a big feast was held after completion and the head was displayed there.

Although shrunken heads were relatively rare at first, the interest generated by travelers to those areas resulted in a huge increase in the number of shrunken heads being produced. Apparently killings increased and bodies were stolen to meet the initial demand, but later monkeys and animal skins were used to manufacture artificial ones.

If you want a shrunken head and the store-bought rubber ones just aren’t enough, there is another (and legal) way to get one. All you need is an apple, a few household items and at least two and a half weeks (don’t worry, you won’t have to work for that long). You can find all of necessary directions here. For those of you who don’t have that much time, this site has and alternate method that can yield faster results at the cost of the head’s quality. But hopefully my posting this information early on in the Halloween countdown will give you all more than enough time to have your shrunken head(s) ready in time for the big day.

Modern Halloween…Sanity?

I might goof on Halloween articles from old issues of Popular Science in the last few Halloween countdowns, but I should be fair and show some modern examples of their material. After all, things are certainly much safer (and saner) nowadays, right?

Sadly, Halloween articles seem to be few and far between these days and what few they do publish are very short. This page from the October 2003 issue has a write-up about a nifty $50 motion sensing gadget that can record up to 20 seconds of sound effects. It’s a great all-in-one device for those who don’t want to build their own motion-sensing device using plans found on places the Monsterlist (which cost less and can be connected to a CD player so you can play longer clips).

The “Scare Tactics” article from the October 2006 issue has more meat on its bones despite the single-page length. The tutorial about how to make scary sound effects go off when a person walks by a certain area using a Mac laptop, webcam and a few downloads is very cool. The only remotely bad part (other than the seeming uselessness of the article to PC laptop owners) is the suggestion of where to download sound effects. I’m shocked that they don’t tell Mac owners to take advantage of the free sound effects available through imovie (which came free with most Mac products at the time of that article’s writing) rather than dump them onto some “free sound effects” site that was probably the first result in a quick web search on the matter. Since they didn’t do it, I will…link to a preview of Keith Underdahl’s Digital Video for Dummies that tells how to do so (which also tells how to record a few sound effects of your own).

But the three bonus “Haunted Hacks” at the bottom are a different story. The one about ripping off the face of a robotic chimp and using it as a creepy face mind sound crazy, but it’s not that bad of an idea. Just imagine how this would look in dim lighting. I know of a guy who did something similar with a modified, skinned Furby for a home haunt and the results were pretty creepy. Sadly, the instructions for turning an old laptop into a projector in order to cast horror movie scenes are far too short to be of any use and there are no warnings about handling or keeping people away from the dry ice fog necessary for the projections (dry ice can be dangerous, but nowhere near as dangerous as stuff from old-school Popular Science article). Speaking of old-school Popular Science Halloween articles, the suggestion to mix liquid soap and liquid nitrogen to make a bubbling witch’s brew is a bizarre flashback to those days. I guess it really is true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Freaky Tiki Surf-ari: Arts & Crafts

With all of the music reviews that are being done for the Freaky Tiki Surf-ari, odds are that some of you have developed a hankering for some Tiki stuff of your very own. The appeal of Tiki bar decor is very understandable, whether you want it regular or spooky. With that in mind, I have put together a little selection of projects you can make at home. Some might need to be altered a bit to make them more freaky, but that’s hardly a big deal.

Page 168 of Matt Maranian’s Pad: the guide to ultra-living by Matt Maranian shows you how you can turn a Tiki mug into a cool lamp.

Retro Mania!: 60 Hip Handmade Cards, Scrapbook Pages, Gifts & More! by Judi Watanabe, Alison Eads, and Laurie Dewberry shows how to make a Tiki greeting card (perfect for inviting friends over for drinks) on page 35.

This twopart article from a 1961 issue of Popular Mechanics shows how to construct a wooden Tiki idol.

The sections on the “Safari Cube” and “Tiki Cube” on page 94 of Cube Chic: Take Your Office Space from Drab to Fab! by Kelley Moore tells you both where to get Tiki goodies and interesting ways to turn a room into a Tiki bar-style environment.

Finally, for those who prefer their Tiki tutorials to be spooky from the get-go, here is a collection of links from HalloweenForum.com:

Haunted Luau
Halloween Luau
Aether’s Album: Tiki
Haunted Tiki Island 2009
Haunted Tiki Island 2008
Hosting a Haunted Luau for my Birthday!
Why I haven’t been around… (Tiki Tutorial :p)

Enjoy!

As noted in previous “How-To” posts, Gravedigger’s Local 16 is not to be held responsible for the content on or anything that may occur (be it good or bad) as a result of visiting any links on those sites (or constructing a project that’s detailed on them). Attempt at your own risk.