Building the Haunted House of Your Nightmares


It’s that time of year again. The days are getting shorter, the air crisper, and the foliage is starting to change. I’m talking about fall and my favorite holiday—Halloween! Ghosts, ghouls, monsters, skeletons, witches, and anything that goes bump in the night. As a kid, I loved going trick-or-treating with family and friends, and some of my favorite memories were of the houses in my neighborhood who went the extra mile to create mini-haunted houses. Over the years, I’ve sought out all manner of fright fests from the tiny “mom & pop” haunted hayrides to full-blown, professional haunted attractions. When my sister asked me to help set up some spooky “scares” at her house, I jumped at the chance. I’m happy to report we scared the pants off some of the trick-or-treaters with some simple but effective tricks!! If you’ve ever wanted to set up a haunted house or just wanted to up your game on Halloween decorating, here are a few tips to help you get started.

There have been some advancements made in Halloween decorating, with AtmosFX, which offers some breathtaking digital decorations. These are video packages designed to be projected onto windows, walls, floors, ceilings, and doorways. Characters seem to hover in mid-air in your doorway, archway, or yard. There’s even a 3DFX form onto which you can project to create animated life-sized entities in the middle of a room. Two of the many titles include “Ghostly Apparitions,” which transform your house into a ghoulish gathering of spooky specters, and “Jack-O-Lantern Jamboree,” which features a trio of singing and story-telling pumpkins. The content ranges from family friendly to truly frightening. Available formats include DVD, SD card, and digital download.


You will need a video projector and a way to play the content. The AtmosFX content is available in 1080p HD resolution, so an HD projector is recommended, but not necessary. They recommend a high lumen count, but depending on your application, you could use a projector with less output. For instance, if you are projecting a shadow image onto a window, a lower-output projector would be fine. However, if you are projecting a demonic poltergeist bursting through your garage door, you’ll need a brighter projector, especially if there’s any kind of ambient light.

Optoma Technology UHD60 3000-Lumen HDR UHD DLP Projector

For playback, a DVD player, computer, or tablet may be used. I would recommend using a device with a remote for any “triggered” scare scenes. Another easy solution is a media player that connects to the projector and plays files from a USB stick or SD card. Most ship with a remote control and are very small, which is great for hiding the setup in a flowerpot or other enclosure. Alternatively, you could find a projector that offers SD card or USB inputs for an all-in-one solution. For audio, you could rely on the built-in speakers or connect your home stereo. If you are projecting from a computer or tablet, you could use Bluetooth speakers for wireless deployment.

Pioneer DV-3052V Multi-Region / Multi-System DVD Player
Pioneer DV-3052V Multi-Region / Multi-System DVD Player

You can purchase AtmosFX projection materials or save some money by finding or building your own. For windows, you can hang a white shower curtain or tape sandwich paper directly onto the window. For a room or the yard, you can use mosquito net or any semi-transparent material from a craft store. The 3DFX form can be constructed from wood, chicken wire, and a white sheet.

Haunted House

For those who are after a more elaborate setup, there are several options depending on your budget or technical prowess. Creative use of lighting can make any “makeshift” haunt look creepy. On the cheap, you could go the way of clip lights and colored bulbs. A better option is to invest in some LED flat-panel par cans that offer a wide palette of color, mixing excellent saturation. What’s more, these lights can be used in a stand-alone mode, which offers static and built-in color changing programs, or that can be controlled by DMX, a programming language developed to control lighting equipment and related accessories. If you are new to the concept of DMX and would like to know more, check out Holiday Lighting: Intelligent Lighting and DMX on the Explora website. The American DJ DMX Operator 384 features a MIDI input, which when coupled with a wireless MIDI controller and transceiver, offers a very effective way of triggering different lighting scenes from any undisclosed location.

Eliminator Lighting Mini PAR RGBW LED Light
Eliminator Lighting Mini PAR RGBW LED Light

Atmosphere effects include fog, haze, bubbles, and snow. Haze is great for adding a little ambience to a room without clouds of fog. This adds texture to the light beams for dramatic light effects. Fog machines are great for bursts of thick clouds of fog, which are quite dramatic on their own. One of my favorite “triggered” effects is the vertical fogger with LEDs. These high-output foggers produce a stream of fog several feet into the air. When coupled with the LED and some spooky decorations, they can offer an effective scare. (I had a blast with this minimal setup on my sister’s porch.) If you are looking to create a creepy graveyard scene, then you’ll want to look for low-lying fog effects or you could create your own with a standard fogger and a cooler of ice. The Chauvet Nimbus dry ice machine is excellent for creating low-lying effects. Another less expensive option is the American DJ Mister Kool, which uses regular ice instead of dry ice, and is effective at creating ground-hugging fog, perfect for tombstones and crypts. While we’re on the subject of ground effects, you can create lurid-green swamp gas with low-lying fog and a green laser that can generate a liquid sky effect.

CHAUVET DJ Nimbus Dry Ice Machine

For “next-level” haunted houses and spook spectaculars, check out VenueMagic. This software package allows you to control DMX lighting, audio, and video, as well as advanced effects such as pneumatics and robotics. There are four versions of the software (Express, Classic, DMX+AV, SC+), each adding more features and controls. All offer DMX control over lighting with more than 2,000 fixtures listed in the included library, which helps create a quick and easy setup. There are unlimited timelines, each being able to be MIDI triggered, as well as cue buttons for “quick” timeline playback. Other features include lamp effects macros, audio/editing and playback, envelope editors (for volume and lamp levels, etc.), playlists for music and timelines, and an integrated audio effects library to help get you started. The more advanced versions offer Artnet support, output to multiple audio soundcards, Serial RS232 input/output, playback scheduling, DMX input, and real-time input recording from (MIDI sliders, DMX, joystick). The Classic and DMX+AV offer the best assortment of features without breaking the bank.

VenueMagic 3.x Express Audio Mixing/Editing and DMX Control Software

For the truly advanced haunter, there are a variety of fun mechanical props you can make. Many are available in ready-made kits and include a self-contained controller, pneumatic cylinders, motors, actuators, speakers, and more. There are air blast kits, locomotive horns, shock mats, vibrating floors, air-powered noise makers, firecracker props, flame effects, and the list goes on. Skulltronix offers a singing and talking animatronic skull and skeleton that is quite popular in the haunt world. For what it’s worth, it’s a ready-made solution that’s not terribly expensive and very impressive! The company’s DMX board is also available, should you wish to build your own servo-controlled animatronics. If you decide to go this route, you can interface many of these effects with the Venuemagic software by way of a controller input and a DMX controlled digital output. These component add-ons allow you to have constant, yet changing audio and lighting backgrounds with motion-sensor controlled triggers for a more interactive experience.


That about wraps up this quick rundown of fun Halloween haunts for your trick-or-treaters, house party, or big-budget scare-tacular. Even on a shoestring budget, you can create spooky, creepy effects that will impress your friend and family. Remember to have fun and be safe. If you have any other ideas to create a spooky atmosphere for Halloween, feel free to share them in the Comments section, below.

Click here to learn how to program a spooky Halloween voice.