Halloween is right around the corner — along with new opportunities for frighteningly good times.
The trick, of course, is finding the right activities for your family now.
Younger kids may scare easily, but older ones are tough to terrify — last year’s party tricks will seem lame.
And considering the economy, elaborate productions may not be in the budget this year.
These ultra-cheap ideas will let you tone down the terror or crank up the creeps:
Jekyll and Hyde Party
Instead of the one-size-fits-all Halloween bash, take a tip from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which has been haunting Hoosiers for 46 years.
The museum creates “friendly” hours for little kids (lights on, costumes without ghoulish makeup, upbeat music) and “frightening” times later in the night for older kids (lights off, haunting sound effects).
Top it off with a scary movie and a sleepover, suggests museum volunteer Myra Mariani, one of this year’s head witches.
Give each family member a specific assignment.
“Someone can cut out simple silhouettes of witches, black cats, crows and mice from black tissue paper or poster board, and hang them in the windows,” says Cindy Shanholtz, a party planner who runs Effortless Events in Chicago.
Put someone else in charge of devilish dolls.
Whether it’s Barbie in a macabre pose or a single doll staring straight into the bathroom mirror, you’ll give everyone Chucky–style chills.
Tap a grown-up to handle lighting.
Use red candles to drip “bloody” wax down white tapers and make sure every room of the house has at least a few flickering light sources.
And don’t forget the shrunken heads: Spend a night peeling apples, coating them with a mixture of lemon juice and salt, and use a knife or peeler to carve crude faces.
Cloves and peppercorns make good eyes, and you can use rice grains for teeth.
They take two weeks to dry on their own, or you can hurry them along in a slow oven.
Don’t limit your gross-out treats to sweets.
Many families are looking for ways to eat less sugar on Halloween, says Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., founder of Radiant Recovery.
She recommends Blood Soup for dinner, made with pureed roasted beets, onions, fennel and chicken stock.
Or Bloodshot eyes for party hors d’oeuvres — deviled eggs with a slice of green olive and pimento for the pupil.
Take a pointy knife that has been touched into red food coloring and make small slits into the egg white, raying out from the yolk.
Set up shop somewhere in the house as a fortuneteller draped in silk scarves and gold jewelry, suggests Shanholtz.
Turn an old glass light dome ($10 or less, if you need to buy one) upside down to be your crystal ball.
DesMaisons likes this twist on a haunted house classic: Seat kids in a circle and tell a story about someone who died on this very spot many years ago.
“Then slowly pass around his brains (a big chunk of cooked cauliflower), his heart (cooked peeled tomato), his eyeballs (peeled grapes), his hair (corn silk) and his ears (dried peach or apricot).”
Pick a theme and trick out the whole family.
Blogger Chelsea Gladden, of Breezy Mama, coordinates costumes for her family of five every year, usually inspired by Hollywood.
This year, they’re stepping straight out of Star Wars.
“I’ll be Queen Amidala, and the baby is going to be Princess Leia,” says Gladden. “Last year, we were The Incredibles — it was perfect.”
Among her other favorites are characters from film classics like The Sound of Music and The Wizard of Oz, or small-screen hits like The Partridge Family, Scooby Doo or The Flintstones.