Counting down to Halloween, there’s still time to plant a cemetery in your front yard to scare the creeps out of your peeps. If you don’t have the time or inclination to work the graveyard shift now, then consider this your blueprint and shopping list for 2011; stock up on all the decorations that will be half-priced come Monday.
This is how I turn my own yard into the scariest one in the neighborhood.
Step One — Choose a spot that won’t die on you.
While that might sound oxymoronic for a graveyard, grass will croak if covered for days at a time without sunshine. Vampires thrive in darkness, plants don’t. Use a gravelly place, patio, front porch, driveway or somewhere you’ve given up growing grass anyway.
Indoor graveyards are absolutely possible. Take it from someone who once built a cemetery inside the lobby of a Studio Movie Grill for a horror film festival.
Step Two — Old cemeteries have curves.
Real graves might be flat but monster movie-style graves have humps where the bodies are barely buried. Pair a bag of mulch, potting soil, or yard clippings with each of your tombstones and then camouflage the bags with leaves or pine straw. Piling up leaves alone works, but Mother Nature tends to flatten them. (Use old sheets or painter’s drop-cloths to protect flooring if you do this indoors.)
Step Three — Add character.
Mix in crosses, pedestals, and statuary (craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby are great sources, as are Tuesday Morning and Marshall’s; Texas Art Supply is primo for all things creative). Statuary should look old. Age it by praying with faux stone paints (grays, moss greens, rust). Rub on some dirt. Drape Spanish moss here and there.
Step Four — Don’t be afraid of “found” objects.
This is Texas. Go foraging on the range — or at the flea market. Weathered cow bones, cow skulls, bird feathers, antlers and twisted, gnarly branches are authentically creepy and definitely don’t scream “drugstore Halloween aisle.” Make a “stone” mount for your find from a Styrofoam cooler sprayed with faux stone paints. Toss on some Spanish moss (in the floral supply department of craft stores) and top with your objet trouvé or a white pumpkin. (White pumpkins are less friendly-looking than orange.)
Step Five — Fence ‘em in.
A tame white picket fence from the hardware store, sprayed black and enhanced with moss, will keep your creeps corralled. You can build your own mummy’s coffin, too.
Download a pattern from Halloween sites on the Internet but instead of using plywood, use Styrofoam insulation sheets (also, from the hardware store; usually in cute pink or blue) and cut with a matte knife. Construction adhesive glues it all together fast and it’s weather-proof. A wine-red interior makes the mummy a stand out, and faux stone paint covers the outside. Drape fish-netting (in the luau supply section of party stores) over the opening because it just looks eerie.
Step Six — Hang ‘em high.
Throw a rope over a branch and hoist up your favorite ghoul so he can blow with the breeze and stop traffic. Heavy duty fishing line is less visible than rope if you really want to do it right, but it’s harder to work with.
Step Seven — Light ‘em up.
When darkness falls, dramatize your other-worldly scene with lighting. Spotlight receptacles on a spike, the kind used for illuminating holiday yard decorations, are perfect. Hide them behind tombstones so the light source isn’t visible.
Galvanized spikes (like giant nails) are great as a post to prop a tombstone and easier to hammer into our hard gumbo soil than a wooden stake — save those for killing vampires. (Use only outdoor-approved lighting, bulbs, and electrical cords and be aware of placement so no one will trip!)
Step Eight — Accessorize with free-standing spirits.
You don’t even need a bone yard for a standing ghoul, just plenty of white fabric. Goodwill and Value Village are great resources for bargain-priced white sheets and gauzy sheer curtains. Use a tripod, extended to its highest point, for the “spine” or drive a tall stake into the ground.
Thread an old shirt onto the stake and tie it off at the waist. Stuff a bunch of grocery store plastic bags into “the body” and tie it off at the neck. For the head, ram a round Styrofoam ball on top of the stake. Layer sheets over the ghoul-to-be. Cut the bottom edges of the sheets to look ragged. Top with a layer or two of the sheer fabric. Rag the edges. Add a Halloween mask and then tie a “kerchief” of sheer fabric over the head to secure the mask.
Step Nine — The final nail in the coffin.
Foggers, bubble makers (for boiling witches’ cauldrons) and dry ice are nice sinister touches, but music to-die-for is totally necessary. Selections from famous films are my favorites; an album called “Chiller” by the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra features the overture to The Phantom of the Opera, theme from The Bride of Frankenstein, and three selections from Psycho.
What more could a Halloween lover ask for?