When planning your haunted house, think about how visitors will experience it. Begin by turning the lights down low. Make guests immediately fearful of what's to come by setting paper bags decorated with real grave rubbings (just use a crayon) along the walkway, with votive or LED candles inside and a smoke machine blowing fog along their path. If you can play music outside, complete the eerie scene with a soundtrack of ghost howls and bat chirps.
Summoning an apparition on command can be difficult; instead, create your own ghost with Styrofoam and a sheer white fabric. Affix a string to a ball of Styrofoam or model skull (going through the middle, like a bead, if necessary) and drape a five- to six-foot wide square of cloth over the top and suspend from the ceiling, or from a branch, along the way to the haunted house.
If you have a front porch, create a bloody scene with a scarecrow, stabbed with a knife, and covered in blood — or corn syrup dyed red — and an “Enter at Your Own Risk” sign on the front door. Decorate the eves with spiderwebs and coffee-stained cheesecloth. Hang black bats, made of construction paper, by fishing wire from the ceiling, close to where people will stand. When a breeze comes up, they’ll tap into guests’ shoulders and scare them, for sure.
It’s not the sound you want to hear when home alone: chains being dragged along the floor. Just as “Jack in Irons” Marley haunted Scrooge in A Christmas Carol dragging chains, have someone walking around with an anchor chain dragging on the floor while guests walk through the house.
Once you’ve led guests into a completely darkened room, it’s time to have fun with them. Begin with a sprinkling of chips or pretzels on the floor. As they walk, things will crush and crumble under their feet — the sound of cockroach carcasses being smashed.
If you've ever gone walking in the woods, only to encounter sticky spiderwebs in the face at every step, it's gross. Unlike the store-bought webs that you can see, fine fishing line isn't apparent to the eye, especially in the dark. Hang strings of wire from the ceiling using painter's tape, so that the ends of the string come down to around the height of one's shoulder or elbow. Alternatively, sewing thread works well, too.
When it comes to frightening guests, start early and act smart. Instead of completely blacking out windows with dark garbage bags (which is a good option if you have a lot of windows to keep dark), create a scary scene. If you have a room that you can light up, create a silhouette of a witch, black cat, or axe murderer, that can be painted onto a white flat sheet and hung in front of the window. When a spotlight shines on it from the back, it will look like the shadow of a witch from the front.
When you’re already on edge from eerie tunes and paranormal activity out front, opening a door only to find a bony skeleton jump out in front of you is sure to make anyone scream. Clear out a closet and hang a skeleton inside. Then, invite guests to stay a while and take off their coat (or leave a hat), opening the closet as you speak to reveal the skeleton inside.
When you’re in a dark room, the sound of a whirring chainsaw is bad enough. But to hear it is often too close for comfort? Screamworthy. Before you turn out the lights, be sure to remove the chain from the saw so no one gets hurt.
While guests are still in the dark room, have someone all dressed up in black come up to each visitor, brush their arm with a plastic scythe — or for a hair-raising experience, have each guest stick out their arm for a brush with a sharp knife — aka a cold ice cube with sharp edges, or candy glass.