Halloween 2011 home haunt at Inside the Magic HQ inspired by theme parks, with new decorations, animatronics and scares

in Entertainment, Events

Happy Halloween! Yes, it’s now November 2nd and we should be looking ahead to the Christmas season. We will be, soon. But right now, I’d like to share the decorations we put up here at Inside the Magic headquarters a.k.a. my house. Each year, we put up all our Halloween decorations on October 31, as to surprise the neighborhood with what we have in store for the trick-or-treaters, their parents, and anyone else who passes by. In a matter of 5 hours or so, our house is transformed from fairly ordinary to a Halloween spooktacular.

Fueled by the many compliments we receive, I never want to disappoint those who look forward to experiencing our home haunt. We’re one of the few houses in our gated community who actually decorate for Halloween – and we’re certainly the only household who goes all out. As such, we’re the center of attention and are happy to keep it all fresh and new each year.

Video: Halloween 2011 at Inside the Magic HQ / Ricky’s house

Our decorations continue to evolve year-over-year, with more elaborate props, better lighting, and fine-tuned soundtracks. In 2009 and 2010, I was happy with what we put together, but opted for a change away from the sounds of screams and chainsaws this year. Inspired by the Grown Evil scare zone at Halloween Horror Nights, I wanted to offer an eerie vibe around our house, rather than an overwhelming, in-your-face experience.

Full Halloween house

Rather than the multi-colored lighting scheme of recent years, I bathed the house in blue and green flood lights, with accents of orange from gel-covered landscape lights. Coupled with an upward-facing strobe light at the front door and moving green laser scattered across the driveway (and even extending onto houses across the street – whoops!). At the beginning of the night, the lightning/thunder effect I’ve used for many years was running again, but I turned it off after noticing that it was simply too much.


Like the lighting, I kept the soundtrack simpler this year, with general eerie overtones emitting from the graveyard and the new “evil entity” animatronic supplying the only clear vocalization. Overall, the ambience was calmer but no less creepy than in years past.


Evil Entity

Graveyard with evil entity

Stores were filled with zombie merchandise this year, so I hopped on the bandwagon and purchased plenty. The new remote-controlled zombie near our front door was a big hit, even more popular than I thought it would be. Kids and adults were surprised and mesmerized as the seemingly dull prop came to “life” as they approached the house, slowly crawling its way toward them, grunting as it moved.

Walking Zombie Area

Remote-controlled zombie, pumpkins, and laser light

Remote-controlled Zombie

Front door zombie and pumpkins

Though we feature many “carved” pumpkins throughout our Halloween display, most are store-bought and fake. But Michelle and I each carve one real pumpkin every year and place them up by the front door. This year Michelle carved Frankie Stein from “Monster High” and I, again inspired by Halloween Horror Nights, carved Edgar Allan Poe, as Universal’s Nevermore haunted house was my favorite of 2011. Many visitors were impressed by the carvings and I think they turned out great!

Real carved pumpkins - Frankie Stein from Monster High and Edgar Allan Poe

In addition, we added a bubble fog machine to the mix this year, inside our front door archway. Coupled with a fan blowing next to it, kids loved swatting at the bubbles, making them burst into little clouds of fog.

Front door ghouls and bubble fogger

The combination of the green lasers crawling on the ground, along with the zombie doing the same, and bubbles flying through the air all served as the perfect distraction for this year’s big scare – me! In the last two years, I’ve featured animated, but lifeless scares at our front door. In 2009, it was a dropping spiderweb-wrapped body, released manually via fishing wire from inside the house. In 2010, it was a pop-up ghost, triggered by a footpad. This year, having not had the chance to be a scareactor during “Boo Camp” at Universal Studios (they didn’t offer it), I decided to create the front door scare myself.

Front door zombie, pumpkins, bubble fogger, and live costumed scare

Bubble fog and front door live scare

Dressed in a black costume, I blended in with the two hanging spirits on either side of the front door behind me. The mask I wore was bought at Target, as were the two ghosts, all with the same sort of face. I also added a similar mask to the “evil entity” prop nearby to complete the theme, so trick-or-treaters wouldn’t expect that out of the four “fake” ghosts, I was actually a real person. And as you can see in the video above, I waited until young ones had made it all the way up to the door, standing right next to me, before I quickly moved, shaking a can filled with change at them. Sure, it’s the oldest scare in the book – but it’s effective, particularly when unexpected.

Front door scare

It offered me an up-close view of trick-or-treaters at first screaming in terror, then laughing afterward as Michelle emerged from inside the house with full-size candy bars, packs of Starburst, Reese’s cups, bags of Skittles and M&Ms, and more to give out. We always give the best candy, but it comes at a price! You have to endure the scare to get the good stuff. One girl, after grabbing a candy bar, even skipped away exclaiming, “This is why I come here!”

She was one of many visitors throughout the night who were thrilled with everything we had put together. Standing outside the front door afforded me the opportunity to overhear comments I normally miss from inside the house, as people walk down the sidewalk and first spot our decorations. There was plenty of picture-taking, stopping, gawking, and compliments being dished out, even when they didn’t know I was listening. That’s the sign of a successful Halloween.

But I have only described a small portion of what was on display. The rest of the house featured an expanded graveyard, not only on the right side but also on the left and in the front yard. A few busts and tombstones set the scene in front whereas the right side of the house featured the previously-mentioned “evil entity,” a giant skeleton hanging and blowing in the wind, fog machine, grave bursting animated zombie, and plenty of tombstones and jointly flickering Jack-O-Lanterns.



Graveyard with animated zombie



Graveyard cat and pumpkins

On the left side of the house, the zombie theme continues with a static life-sized zombie standing just to the left of the front door archway and two more flat zombies affixed to our garage door.




Next to those zombies was our one failed effect this year, which was supposed to be the projected silhouettes of zombies walking by. You can faintly see it in the video above and picture below. The cheap toy projector I used wasn’t nearly powerful enough to light up the garage, washed out by the blue floods used to light the house. Next year, I’ll likely invest in a better projector and do more with it.


Nearby, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton rested peacefully on the grass, leaning against a bush, illuminated by black light. He wasn’t a major part of the decor, but just a fun accent. I might use him more prominently in the future.

Glow-in-the-dark skeleton

Our front yard tree featured a few more pumpkins as well as two new “melting” skeleton ghouls with green glowing eyes.

Spooky tree

Melting skeleton

And in front of our garage sat our inflatables. The organist with ballroom dancers is a hit every year, with many visitors noting its similarities to Disney’s Haunted Mansion.


Inflatable organist and ballroom dancers

Usually we play the actual organ music from the dark ride, but this year we played an organ version of the “Ghostbusters” theme to go with the 8.5-foot tall inflatable Stay Puft Marshmallow Man standing next to the organ. He doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the decorations, but he’s huge and hilarious and we couldn’t resist adding him to the mix.

Stay Puft Marshmallow Man inflatable

Standing next to him is an even taller stack of giant inflatable pumpkins. These inflatables offer a good introduction or conclusion for trick-or-treaters coming and going, depending on which direction they’re walking in. They’re not scary, but they are definitely Halloween.

Inflatable pumpkin stack

By candy count, we ended up receiving around 80 trick-or-treaters, plus other visitors and parents, with a likely total of more than 100 people who saw our decorations. It’s not a huge number, but for our neighborhood a very successful turnout. I’m a bit jealous when I hear about houses who receive hundreds of trick-or-treaters, but I’ll consider our Halloween haunt to be a more “exclusive” affair.

Throughout the night, I was happy to see a variety of costumes, with some adults even dressed up. But the highlight and most surreal moment of the night came just as we were about to start turning everything off, when three horses started to come down our street. Riding them were an angel, a devil, and a guy without a costume – one horse short of the apocalypse. In our suburban neighborhood, the last thing I expected was for trick-or-treaters on horseback to come by, but it was a fun way to finish the evening.

Trick-or-treaters on horseback

Trick-or-treater on horseback

Trick-or-treaters on horseback

And now Halloween 2011 is done – except for the massive piles of decorations we still have sitting just inside our front door, needing to be put away.

Yes, we put all the decorations up on Halloween and came them down the same night. We always want to surprise the neighborhood with what we have each year – and most of our decorations are not weather-friendly, so rain would ruin the electronics. Plus, some of the gear is expensive and I’d hate for it to be stolen or blow away. So from start to finish, Halloween is roughly a 12-hour affair, from the time we put out the first decoration to the time we bring the last light bulb inside after midnight. And today, we’re still working on packing it all away for next year.

It was one of the most enjoyable Halloween nights in a long time, with a big turnout of visitors dishing out an endless stream of compliments, even after I scared quite a few of them. And best of all, after she received her candy and was walking away, one young girl dressed as one of Disney/Pixar’s “The Incredibles” yelled out to us, “Next year make it scarier!” As you wish…

More photos from Halloween 2011 at our house:

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