©iStockphoto.com/Yuri Arcurs Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/Yuri Arcurs
"Halloween doesn't always mean breaking the bank," says Ian Thompson, chair of Creepy Caledonia, a family Halloween festival and ghost tour in Caledonia, Ont. "Sure, the hardware and department stores are loaded with battery-operated props and fancy animatronics, but chances are you already have some of the best Halloween props in your own house."
A fun family Halloween experience starts with a ghoulish mindset and a bit of creativity. Thompson offers some tips on how to throw a spooktacular family Halloween event without spending a ton of money or time.
1. Set up a spooky scene with shadows
A few lighting alterations can go a long way in turning a regular room into a den of horror.
"The flicker of a candle or flameless candle adds to the ambience of any room, and casts spooky shadows on the walls," says Thompson. "Hurricane lamps or old gas lamps make great props, too, whether they're lit or not."
Hunt around in your basement or head to a flea market to find some old lanterns to cast a ghostly glow. Or simply switch your regular lightbulbs for black- or red-tinted bulbs from the dollar store.
Thomson also suggests giving your furniture the haunted house treatment by draping some old fabric over it.
"Burlap is not only for protecting trees over the winter. Shredded burlap draped over furniture with some cotton cobwebs adds a great effect to any room," he says.
2. Enjoy classic spooky activities
Adding an element of unexpected sensory stimulus can make for a creepy experience kids will love.
"One well-known spooky activity is the old touch-and-feel trick. Peel up some grapes as eyeballs, cook some spaghetti as brains or make your own creations for your kids to feel," says Thompson.
This activity pairs especially well with a background story to match. Amp up the creepiness by explaining how these body parts got lost in the first place. Other ideas include using baby dill pickles or gherkins for fingers, pistachio shells for fingernails or oily lasagna noodles for skin.
3. Take a neighborhood ghost walk
Venture into the great and terrible outdoors after dark and allow your neighbourhood to scare and delight your guests.
"Every neighbourhood has a ghost story or haunted house," says Thompson. "To make your neighbourhood parties more exciting at Halloween, dig up some local ghostly stories or create your own. A mini ghost tour is the perfect way to get into the Halloween spirit."
Bring flashlights as you walk, and take in the sights that may seem harmless during the day, but with the proper background stories are foreboding after dark.
"Some communities are lucky enough to have local organizations that research and document local ghost stories, so check the web," suggests Thompson. "Your town might have more spooks than you thought!"
4. Invite some unexpected guests
If you really want to treat your guests to a fright, recruit a ghoulishly disguised neighbour or friend to pop out of the shadows at an opportune moment during the party.
"Surprise visits by ghosts during story time or visits by costumed characters really add to the excitement of Halloween," says Thompson.
Making your own magic can be simple if you time it right. If you're telling a spooky story from inside a haunted house, a quick and loud bang on the window at the point of climax will make listeners jump out of their skin. And bushes make great hiding spots for ghosts to pop out of as guests say goodnight.
5. Prepare some better-than-candy treats
Halloween isn't Halloween without some of the sweet stuff, but too much of a good thing can take away from the experience. Preparing little loot bags for kids that will amuse them for longer than a few bites will really get them going.
"Excite your kids even more by including things like ghost photos or stories to read later," suggests Thompson. "Many loot bags also include little plastic rings that can be found in your local dollar store, but why not go a step further and place the ring on a cookie witches finger – it's sure to have them talking."
Halloween is an often overlooked, but magical occasion for family time. Fall nights lend themselves well to intimate indoor gatherings; creative opportunities are in full swing with jack-o'-lantern carving and costume making; and seasonal flavours can make for some comforting treats. This year, make some memories at your own Halloween family haunt.