Take That, You Wretched Joneses

You know that neighbor (here neighbor can also mean sibling, mother-in-law, or other relative) that you have? The incredibly irritating one who has a yard with grass too frightened to ever let a blade be seen in disarray? The one with the perfect children and the perfect life and the perfect spouse and the perfect decorations? The one who would make Martha Stewart hang her in head in shame and shuffle her feet and want to be elsewhere if she got even one glimpse of this neighbor's beautiful window treatments? (You know the ones, handmade from the wedding veils of the neighbor's deceased grandmothers, smuggled out of Romania during the siege.) Your days of feeling intimidated by this neighbor are over. I'm going to show you a few ways to decorate for Halloween that will have you glowing with so much pride you may not need a jack-o-lantern at all.

First of all, relax. If you're a perfectionist you've probably made so many plans for the perfect Halloween that you are sitting here fretting because it's only ten days or so away and you simply aren't ready. You've got so much to do that you can't do any of it. Think back to when you were a kid. The best houses were the ones that put on an effort. Remember walking five blocks with your giggling, terrified friends to go to the guy's house with the spooky music and the graveyard in front? Good times, right? You only need to do a few things, none of them perfectly, to make your house the attraction of the neighborhood. (Don't worry, by the time you get done, your nemesis will be in awe.)

One of the key ingredients is spooky music or sound effects. If you've got the right sounds coming from your home I guarantee that there are going to be kids, and adults, who have to give themselves a pep talk before they set foot on your property. I like the ones found here. They make me feel vaguely guilty for not doing something to help these poor people. There is a seven-minute short version and a 33-minute mix. These were produced by Create and Chaos Theory for a haunted house and are free. Last year I used MP3 files by turning on my computer in the upstairs bedroom, opening the windows and letting the sound waft outside. We had all the lights off in this room and occasionally tossed candy out the window to good effect. (Here good effect means making people scream and jump.)

Now you're ready to make the outside of your house look like something completely different. Most people advocate making your yard look like a graveyard. This can be lots of fun but why should we be just like everyone else? Aren't we a little more creative than those folks who just put white lights up on their eaves in November and take them down on January 2nd? Yeah, that's what I thought.

So I was thinking some sort of crime scene would be fun. You can get crime scene tape, or something that looks like crime scene tape pretty easily these days. Set your crime scene up before you string your tape so you don't accidentally knock it loose. Poker is still very hot this year so I'm doing a poker murder scene. I'm setting up a card table in my yard with a poker game in progress. Then I'll put out two chairs, one knocked onto its side and one still at the table.

Okay, now, we're going to need some victims. There are a couple of ways to do this and there really is no best way. You can make a corpse or you and a friend or a family member can act the parts or you can combine. For instance you can sit yourself at the table in your costume, covered in blood, with a DIY (do it yourself) dead body sprawled on the ground near the table, obviously suffering from whatever terrible violence you've dealt out. I like the DIY idea because they are not so difficult to make, especially if you leave them headless. Nothing says murder victim quite like a headless corpse. Grab a pair of pants and a shirt that you aren't terribly fond of. Safety pin them together, at the waist of course. Stuff them with newspaper or heck, junk mail works for me. Crumple the paper up first so it takes up more space. When you arrange the body at the crime scene hide the ends of the sleeves under the leaves or the torso so you don't have to make hands. (If you do make hands you can stuff them with rice to give them a nice 3-D affect.) Put some shoes at the bottom of the pants and Bob's your uncle. Now you need some fake blood. You can make some or you can just use ketchup or bbq sauce. It's quick and dirty, which is just fine for our purposes.

Now that your scene is set you need some lighting. You can do really simple things like replace the bulb on your porch with a red bulb. I don't think you need much light. Just enough so that people can make it to the candy bowl and back safely. Remember, your pumpkins are going to add some light. Can you hang a camping lantern safely from a tree? That could be fun.

Amazing cannibal pumpkin courtesy of Tom Nardone of extremepumpkins.comWhen I first sat down to write this column I was going to do it on pumpkin carvings. We designed some pumpkins based on the theme "pumpkins eat things, especially fairies" for this year. I was going to have some directions and a template you could download but then I found ExtremePumpkins.com. W00t! This site is filled with so much wonderful stuff that I can't possibly compete and he already has a picture of a pumpkin eating another pumpkin. Tom, who runs this site, has designed everything from a creepy gunshot wound pumpkin to a deeply disturbing drowning pumpkin in a bag. There is an entire page devoted to pyrotechnics with advice on how to light your jack-o-lantern with a road flare. There is a page on power tools. It's a geek/DIYer's paradise. There is so much crunchy goodness it could take until next Halloween to sort through it all.

So you've got your lighting, your scene, your music and your pumpkins. Do you need anything else? Some people like to hang things. Some people like to hang more crime victims but I'm not sure that works for our scene. You can get spider webs just about anywhere this time of year and those can be spread out all over. This is the perfect time to string your crime scene tape. Make sure your trick or treaters can get past it and make their way to wherever you are handing out the candy.

That reminds me, what are you going to use to hand your treats? There are so many different kinds out that do everything but answer the door for you. In this case I think they are overkill. I'm going to put our candy in an old hat. Not a top hat, although that would be fun, but a fedora. I'll turn it upside down, put it on the card table and fill it up.

Still feel like you want one more thing to make your house special? Take a look at this page which explains how to make a head in a jar (!!). Let me clarify something, when the author of this page says find the head of a corpse and then says he got one in a discussion group he means the image of the head of a corpse. Yes, that thing is paper. Hard to believe.

One last thing, Tuesday is Punk for a Day Day. If you dig being a punk why then you've got your costume for Halloween all ready to go. Plenty of punks dig poker. It's true.