Related to MAKE 03, Halloween Haunted House Controller
Kid-Tested Haunted House Tricks
by Eric J. Wilhelm
October 07, 2005
Eric Wilhelm's Halloween Haunted House Controller project in Make 03 explained how to build a multi-relay controller board that synchronizes lights, sounds, and other effects with soundtracks playing through Winamp on a laptop. This article describes some of the scare scenarios that Eric has staged using this controller, plus some other kid-tested tricks from haunted houses he's built.
One great thing about haunted house props is that because they work in the dark, you don't have to make them look convincing by day. Under cover of night, aluminum foil becomes cold steel, cardboard becomes wood, rigging hides easily from view, and what you don't see (or can barely see) is as realistic as your mind can imagine.
The experience: You see a head in a guillotine, with Darth Maul as executioner. You hear the sound of an angry mob, then a clap of thunder. A guillotine blade falls and someone screams; as this happens, the head falls into a basket and you feel a quick spray of "blood" (warm water). Finally, the lights turn off and you hear maniacal laughter fading into the darkness.
Setup:I built the guillotine from cardboard, aluminum foil, and 80/20 extruded aluminum track for the sides. The laptop hooks up to speakers and the controller board. One of the board's relays feeds a 12VDC car-seat motor located at the top of the guillotine, which drives a round cardboard trigger-wheel, like a gear.
An automotive seat motor with cardboard trigger drops the blade, which slides in the grooves of the 80/20.
Before each "performance," I lift the guillotine blade and hook it onto the trigger wheel. The computer plays the spooky sound-effects sequence, and at the proper moment, turns the trigger wheel to release the blade. The blade falls down, guided by the grooves of the aluminum track, and its momentum pushes a rubber mask stuffed with a pillow into the basket below.
Cardboard and 80/20 guillotine; execution presided over by Darth Maul.
Meanwhile, another controller relay connects to a peristaltic water pump overhead, which draws from a bucket of warm water. Vinyl aquarium tubing conveys the water to squeeze bottle nozzles aimed at the spectators. A moment after the blade falls, the controller triggers the pump to squirt some water onto the horrified assembly.
Red and yellow squeeze-bottle nozzles surround a strobe light above the front door.
A moment later, two more relays on the controller board trigger a webcam and a strobe light, to capture the kids' scared faces. The strobe light acts as an external flash.
After each execution, I offered candy to the kids from a basket that also contained a duplicate mask, stuffed with spaghetti, tomato sauce, and beets. Everyone chose the candy.
The Runaway Truck
The experience: As soon as you enter the haunted house, you hear an engine revving and two bright headlights suddenly switch on, pointing right at you. Just then, you feel an oncoming rush of air and hear the loud squeal of brakes. You were almost hit by a runaway truck!
Setup: In the dark, you often need only to suggest something rather than fully recreate it. I created a soundtrack with a revving engine and squealing brakes, played it on the computer/controller, and synchronized it with two bright white lights for the headlights and a fan for the rush of air. This was enough to evoke the feeling a truck stopping just short of the trick-or-treaters, as they stood at the door.
You'll know you have the timing right when kids come to the door holding their bags open for treats, watch wide-eyed for a few terror-filled moments, and then clamp their bags shut and sprint back to their parents before the candy you tried to drop into their bags hits the ground.
Computer-controlled headlights and fan evoke a runaway truck.
Glowing Eyes Mask
A mannequin with a rubber mask and cloak is almost as unthreatening as a piece of furniture – until its eyes start glowing red. I used alligator clips to connect two laser pointers' battery terminals to the controller board, and "helping hands" clips to direct the pointers at the mask's eyes. At strategic points in the soundtrack, the lasers would switch on, bringing the evil mask to life.
Timed laser-pointer eyes make Darth Maul come alive.
This effect doesn't require the controller board. You can create ghostly apparitions by projecting video onto a thin sheet of painter's plastic. Place the projector low, and aim the light through the plastic up above eye level. It may seem a bit hokey when you're setting it up, but under the right lighting it works beautifully. I used live video streaming from a webcam to turn the trick-or-treaters standing in the doorway into ghosts.
Projected onto painter's plastic, trick-or-treaters become ghosts (that's me, taking this photo).
This is another standalone effect. I discovered that baby Furbys behave very strangely when given half of their nominally required 6VDC. Instead of batting its eye-lashes and making baby sounds, mine moaned and screamed like it was just skinned alive. I completed the effect by actually skinning it, removing its fur, and wiring it up to the controller and a 3VDC source. Almost any skinned animatronic children’s toy will make a great prop, and many of them, such as Teddy Ruxpin, can be hacked to say whatever you want.
A skinned baby Furby.
Power-Tool Pumpkin Carving
There's no doubt that using a Sawzall to carve monstrously demonic jack-o-lanterns can be a highlight of any Halloween. Wood spade drill bits make perfectly circular eerie eyes and mouths, and a good set of small serrated knifes will make long, sharp teeth. Drop a strobe light inside a larger jack-o-lantern when you run out of tea candles.
The author and his wife Christy, in a contemplative moment.
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