Today’s kids aren’t easily spooked. If you plan to make your home the envy of the neighborhood in time for Halloween, you’ll need to think beyond fake cobwebs, styrofoam skulls, and bowls of peeled grapes. Designing a haunted house that’s fit for the 21st century requires a bit of tech savvy, and here are a few ideas to get you started.
1. TEXT-ACTIVATED JACK O'LANTERNS
Even in the most elaborate cases, jack o'lanterns are traditionally low-tech. One way to give your pumpkin a modern upgrade is by connecting it to your smartphone. For this project, an amateur mad scientist programmed an Arduino circuit board to respond to text messages. LEDs in the jack o'lantern light up red on the word “red,” blue on “blue,” etc. The trick isn’t limited to simple color commands—as the above video shows, a word like “chaos” can be used to trigger a frenzy of fog, strobe lights, and spooky sound effects. You can find the step-by-step instructions on the Twilio blog.
2. HAUNTED MANSION-STYLE SINGING BUSTS
The Haunted Mansion set a high bar for haunted houses when it opened in Disneyland in 1969. Many of the special effects that brought the ride to life nearly 50 years ago are just as frightening today, and you can even recreate some of them at home. To build your own version of the Haunted Mansion’s “grim grinning ghost” troupe, you’ll need a computer, a projector, and four white mannequin heads. The actual footage from the ride can be projected onto the blank busts to animate them while their lips move to the iconic tune.
3. MAGIC MIRROR
As countless horror movies have demonstrated, mirrors provide the perfect opportunity for a jump-scare. To transform your mounted flat screen TV into a “magic mirror,” find an old mirror and replace the glass inside with two-way mirror film (a tinted sheet of Plexiglas also works). Hang the frame in front of your television screen and wait for innocent victims to walk by. The set-up can be motion-activated to display the horrifying content of your choice (but as you can see above, the classic “mirror, mirror” mask is tough to beat).
4. HELL HOUSE
Special effects don’t need to be complicated to instill fear in the hearts of your neighbors. This larger-than-life trick requires just one major piece of gear: a flickering flame projector. Set up the equipment in your driveway and watch as your house is engulfed by hell fire. An appropriate playlist can help amp up the atmosphere—some of the tracks suggested on the Instructables page include "The Roof Is on Fire" and "Burning Down the House.”
5. REAPER DRONE
Haunted homeowners don’t have to wait for trick-or-treaters to come to them to deliver the best scares—all they need is a bit of engineering know-how. By strapping a plastic skeleton prop onto a quadcopter with some Velcro, Mesa, Arizona resident D.J. Vegh constructed this floating ghoul himself in 2012. Aided by an excellent soundtrack selection, Vegh's video has since gained widespread attention on the web.
6. SPOOKY ANIMATRONICS
If you already have a plastic skull and pumpkin mixed in with your Halloween decorations at home, the first step of this project is taken care of. Now all you have to do is engineer the props to speak and move the way you want them to. The detailed directions are available on Instructables: You’ll need some RC servos to act as the “muscles” of the robots, and specific software to program them how you please. At the very least, the activity is a fun opportunity to show off your spooky voice acting skills.
7. A OUIJA BOARD WITH A MIND OF ITS OWN
Ouija boards are scary when they work. But during an unsuccessful seance, the occult icon can feel like a glorified board game. Ensure your planchette springs to life every time by building your own high-tech Ouija board at home. Constructing this piece is a major time commitment: You have to carve, stain, and wire the hardware yourself. The final product is a Ouija board you can command to spell out customized messages from your computer. Be thankful this wasn’t around during your slumber party years.
8. FLOATING SKULL HOLOGRAM
Creating a hologram at home isn’t as difficult as sci-fi movies let on. All you need is a computer, a sheet of glass, and a video you wish to use for the effect. The creator of this Instructables project chose footage of a ghastly green floating skull to do the trick. When the glass is placed at an angle above a computer monitor that’s hidden from view, it will reflect whatever image is on the screen. If done right, the floating head will appear to materialize from thin air.