Halloween is a scintilatingly spooky time for young and old alike. Whether you go trick or treating, host a costume party or just decorate for friends and neighbors to see, everyone loves to get in on the festivities.
And one way of really amping the holiday atmosphere is with music and with frightening, classic sound effects.
Choosing the right music for your festivities is easy and fun. Here’s how to get that haunting atmosphere – and get those screams!
For a child’s costume party, you don’t want it to be too scary. Depending on the ages of the kids, choose musicthat will make it very definitely Halloween-ish, but still fun.
“The Monster Mash” has always been a big hit with the kids. So are funny tunes like “Purple People Eater” and classics such as “Ghostbusters.”
For sound effects, use soundtracksof different scary noises such as witches cackling or bubbling cauldrons. Even the sound of the wind blowing and creaking doors is enough to make the little ones get goose bumps.
For an adult party you can go for a much bigger “creepy” factor. For instance, if you have an organ in your house or a piano that could use some tuning, put it in a secluded spot and have someone play strange music very loudly.
You can also use recorded CDs. Have them playing throughout the party. How about an adult-scale Halloween music mix? Or truly chilling sound effects?
You can get some friends in on the sound effect action, too. Have people hide throughout the house and occasionally let out a blood curdling scream. They can also be outside the house by a partially opened window, or behind trees to scare people as they approach.
For party music, try a compilation that includes “Dragula,” “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and other rock classics.
Perhaps you want to have a haunted walk. It’s easier than you think – it all starts with the perfect setting.
Whether there are lots of trees to walk through, or a deserted path, make sure the sounds are there. An owl hooting, yowling cats, and don’t forget the chainsaw. And of course, nothing makes your hair stand on end like being alone in the dark and hearing a chainsaw start up behind you.
Creepy laughter is always good in this setting as well. Ghosts moaning and the howling of wolves will keep you watching your back.
Set up speakers throughout the yard if you have a walkway where people walk to your house. This can be done for trick or treaters as well. It makes the advance to your door much spookier.
Sometimes the unexpected can be scarier than playing what your guests expect. For instance, a solemn flute player slowly playing a dirge on the flute, or maybe a record that just keeps skipping and skipping. The footsteps of someone running through the woods screaming and out of breath will make anyone move a little faster toward safety.
The options are endless to how you can incorporate the perfect music into your setting. Just look around you and think what would make it super scary to YOU, then have fun with it.
Guest contributor David Lay takes us inside the mind of a moviemaker – and tells you how to get ALL the awesomely spooky effects. Thanks David!
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not here to tell you how to make a 105-minute Halloween horror blockbuster. I’m talking about a little 1 or 2 minute “tickler”, to chill the bones of people at your party or those pesky trick-or-treaters who may come to your door with the intent of scaring you.
And you aren’t going to need a 2 million dollar budget, either.
You ARE going to have to have some kind of video camera. These days, your cell phone has one, so you probably already have what is needed.
There are four elements to making a scary movie:
1) A scary story. Remember, we’re not talking about voyeurism, or revulsion, like when you pass by an accident and you just have to look even though you know you shouldn’t. We’re talking about fear; you want to tell a story that tickles the part of the imagination that trips off the “fear switch” or creates an imbalance in the viewer, which can lead to fear.
2) Lighting. Good lighting is essential to a good movie. This does not have to be expensive, simply picking the right time of day, or the right day, can be all that is needed.
3) Sound. Sound creates half of the fear (perhaps even 75%). The sound creates empathy, and makes the image up close and personal.
4) Playing it in the right setting. A scary movie playing in a brightly lit room just doesn’t have the scare appeal that it would have in a darkened room full of hidden ghosts and monsters!
1. Setting Up a Scary Story for Your Movie
Let’s start with the first element: A story. What you are going to do is sit down and write a simple story. Don’t let it be longer than a few sentences. The story should have an element of hopelessness, where there is no escape from the “nightmare”. Better and easier if there is only one or two characters.
The story should have a single location. A rule that every low budget producer knows is don’t have too many locations. More locations mean more time and money. A location, by the way, is where the story takes place. In your story you will only want one location. Here’s a simple example:
A face, cloaked in black with a black background, unmoving except for its mouth, lit from below to give it deep shadows in dark surroundings, is talking backwards. The video has an old film grain given to it, and the image is mirrored so that the face is in duplicate, and turns to look at itself every now and again. End. Loop back to the beginning.
Play this over and over again, maybe just a little out of focus. Make sure you have the sound up loud enough to keep everyone’s attention. Maybe while you’re playing this, run a little “mist” low to the ground from your fog machine (see my article on “Maximizing the Effect of Your Fog Machine”). The ideas are endless.
Here’s another, simple, example:
A hooded figure, lit from below its face only by a hidden flashlight carried in its hands, walks in from one side of the video frame, across the frame, and out the other side. End. Loop back to the beginning.
Or, how about:
A guy, who is also the cameraman pointing his camera down at the path he is on, is running through the woods. All you see is his shadow, but you hear twigs breaking and him breathing. There is an element of desperation in his voice. He trips once in a while. End. Loop back to the beginning.
Finally, maybe this:
A guy is walking through an old cemetery, maybe with fog or mist. He senses someone is following him. He looks over his shoulder and sees a dark form following him. He starts to walk faster. He’s breathing faster, deeper as he works up a “fear”. The breathing has desperation to it. The figure seems to be keeping up with him, gaining on him. End. Loop back to the beginning.
2. Lighting in Your Halloween Movie
The second element, lighting, is the bugaboo of movie makers. Good lighting is expensive, but you’re lucky since you’ve decided to make a short, scary movie. Simple lighting is all that is needed because scary movies do better with fewer details. Remember, it’s the imagination that creates the fear. You just have to spark it.
You can do that with one light on each subject in the movie: Set it low and point it up. Lots of long, upward shadows means scary… OR, you can use the sun, but you’ll need to pick the time of day, and the kind of day to make it work. A bright, noon day sun is not scary. Early morning or evening is good, but it doesn’t last long. But, then again, neither is your movie.
Overcast days are good as they flatten the color and the details, but the disadvantage is they don’t have good shadows. This kind of light would work if you were making the cemetery movie above.
As an example, consider the guy above running through the woods: This would be best shot in the mid-afternoon or in the mid-morning, so that you get a good shadow, but there is plenty of light to see the shadow on the forest floor.
If you are going to make an elaborate set with lots of lights, which I don’t recommend, light the background and background characters first as it frames the foreground, then light the foreground and characters. I’ve seen amateur movie makers following the “three point” lighting scheme you’d use in portrait photography struggle with the lighting because they didn’t understand this simple concept.
For the other example of the talking face or the cloaked figure walking across the room, use a dark room, or a black backdrop, so there are no details in the background. Have the character wear dark clothing. Only light the face with a single light, like a flashlight held under the chin, pointed up.
Creating Spooky Sounds
Now, what about sound? A good scary sound is breathing. It’s easy and doesn’t require any editing. But, to really explore the possibilities, I’m going to refer you to my other article “Making Scary Sound Effects with Sony’s Sound Forge.” However, I still need to make a mention: There are simple sound effects that you can do with a video editing program that do not require a program like Sound Forge, but that also means you’ll need an editing program, which brings me to the next topic: Editing.
Using a Video Editing Program Like Sony Vegas
Certainly you can make a simple video without doing any editing, and it will play pretty well as is. But to create a clean story, that is, it tells exactly what you want without extraneous start-ups and “FUBAR’s”, you’ll need a video editing program. There are several video editing programs available, but I will discuss the one I am familiar with, and that is Sony Vegas Movie Studio.
The nice thing about this software is that it ties in with Sound Forge, and you can do audio editing easily. But even if you don’t have Sound Forge, then there is enough power in Movie Studio to do simple effects.
The best way to do this is by example. I made the talking face movie mentioned above (because it’s easy) by putting on a black turtle neck and standing in front of a black backdrop. I stood to one side of the frame so there would be room to create a duplicate “me” on the other side of the video frame. I shined a flashlight up at my face.
I recited “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and the tape lasted about 15 seconds. I’m going to lead your through how to edit my movie, but understand the possibilities are endless.
Open Up Sony Vegas Movie Studio
Let’s start by opening up your editing program and follow along, if you have one. Most new computers now come bundled with some kind of video editing software. Most are user friendly, but may not have the ability to do some of the things I will be suggesting here. I am using Sony’s Vegas Movie Studio, version 8 because that is what I’m used to using (actually, I’ve used several very sophisticated editing programs, and Vegas Movie Studio is just on the edge of being a professional editing program – just right for the beginner).
I’ll just have to assume you have it, or something close, and will guide you through as I use my video clip “Scary Movie 2”.
Upon opening, you get an opening “Show Me How” window that gives you a list of tutorials if you need help getting started. The tutorials are very helpful, though I would like it better if they provided a manual to go with it. (Editor’s Note: There’s lots of Sony Vegas video tutorials on Youtube.) Just call me old fashioned. Anything not covered in the tutorials is covered in the Help window, but sometimes you may not know what key word to use to do a search, and that can be frustrating.
Luckily Vegas Movie Studio is relatively intuitive, once you get the hang of the layout. Here is what you’ll see at startup:
Close out the “Show Me How” window and then, next, you want to start a New Project. Go to the File menu and choose New. Name the Project “Scary Movie” and click Next. Let the program choose where to put the project. Usually it will be in My Videos if you have windows.
Select the output. I always choose “I’m not sure yet. I will choose later.” This gives me more control over how the movie will be published when I’m finished.
Click Next and you will be given default values for editing in a new window. These are typical: Television size is 720 by 480 and the Frame rate is 29.970 if you are editing in NTSC standards (the America and Japanese standard). PAL if in Europe.
Video-capture Your Clip
OK. Hook up your camera or camcorder to your computer (read your manual to your camera for how to do this), or if you’ve previously recorded a video, save it to your computer and click the “Explorer” tab to find it, then drag and drop it onto the timeline.
Otherwise, to capture a video, go to the “File” menu and choose “Capture Video”:
The Capture Video window will open and it will ask you how you want to capture your clips. A clip is any segment of uninterrupted video. I chose “Don’t capture any clips right now”, because I like to have control over what the computer brings in. Every time the video camera was started and stopped, Vegas will start a new clip.
This is what the full window should look like:
Press the Play button at the bottom and “Shuttle” or use the fast forward or reverse to find you beginning point for capture. Once you’ve found the start point, click the Capture Video button. Once you get to the end, click the Stop button. You’ll get a confirmation window that your video has been successfully captured.
Click Done. You’ll get a clip listed at the bottom. Mine says “Scary Video 2”. Click and hold that file and drag up to the “Timeline” to the Video track just above the Voice track.
Next, “crop” the clip by placing the cursor on the right most edge of the video clip and “pushing it” toward the last sound wave, or wherever the scene “makes sense”. Repeat on the left hand side. Now you only have video where there is talking:
Then, place the cursor over the middle of the video clip and click and hold as you drag the clip to the beginning of the timeline.
Editing and Adding Effects to Your Spooky Video
Ok. Let’s do our first effect. Let’s reverse both video and voice tracks by right-clicking on the video and choosing Reverse from the menu:
Do the same for the voice track and you’ll see two arrows; one on each track. That arrow indicates the track has been reversed.
Ok. Now press the play button and see what happened. The face is talking backwards – scary.
Let’s do another effect. Go to the bottom of the page where the files are listed and you’ll see six buttons. Choose Video FX tab. Scroll down the menu on the left hand side and choose Mirror:
Then choose the effect “Reflect Left”. Click and hold and drag that effect up to the video track and release. You’ll get this window. Ignore it and close it.
Now you should have two images, one the mirror of the other:
This is now double creepy. Let’s do another. Let’s do an old film look. Click on Film Effects in the menu to the left. Choose Very Old Film and drag it up and drop it on the video track. Now play the clip. Double creepy with extra creep on top:
So, right now the “movie” is only about 10 seconds long. You can make it as long as you want (don’t go over two hours – your DVD can’t hold that much). Simply click on the video track which should highlight it. Then Copy, or Ctrl C, and then, at the end of the clip, Paste, or Ctrl V. Keep doing this, each time adding another 10 seconds on the length, and making the clip repeat over and over. Very Creepy:
Now you want to print this to a DVD, or to your camera. Go up to the “Make Movie” tab at the top tool bar, and click. Vegas will ask you what you want to do with your movie… make a DVD, etc. Choose the final way you want to make your movie. I choose Burn it to DVD since I will want to play this through my DVD Player into my video projector:
Click Next and the following window I just use the default values Vegas chooses, because that is the most general and will “render” the whole video track. Rendering is when Vegas converts the timeline video into a file that is actually in a video format that can be played in a DVD Player. This part takes a long, long time, usually about five to ten times longer than the video track. The more video effects, the longer it will take to render. So, if your timeline track is 10 minutes long, it will take about 50 minutes to render…
Time to take a break and go out and see your favorite scary movie while your movie is rendering. It will save to a file, and then you’ll be prompted to burn the DVD via Sony’s DVD Architect, a program that is bundled with Vegas Video Studio.
If you would like to see how my Scary Movie turned out, see below:
You can also export the audio to Sony’s Sound Forge by right-clicking on the audio track (see my article “Making Scary Sound Effects”), do some creepy stuff there, and then import that audio track back into Vegas. Totally Creepascious.
So, now that you have an academy award winning scary movie, where to play your movie? Get a video projector and project your movie on your window as the trick or treaters come to the door, or on a manikin head, or on a balloon (see my other article “Scary Video Projections on Your Window”).
If you’re having a party inside, keep the lights down low and have the video playing in the background on your TV or projected on a wall. If your party is outside, there are inflatable screens you get buy or rent just for this purpose. Or, if you are a craftsman, make a frame and hang a cheap sheet of white, disposable vinyl table covering over it and project the image from the back!
And don’t forget, use your fog machine! Mix creepy with creepy and you get scary!!
Everyone loves a scary movie, and Hollywood has brought us plenty of them. From the Wolfman to demonic possession to creatures that creep in the deep or come from outer space, suspenseful, creative Hollywood movies have helped shape what we think of as horror.
Hosting a Halloween movie-themed party celebrates the monsters that keep us on the edge of our seats, year after year. So grab your cape and walk this way to get started on creating what’s sure to be the best party of the season.
Dressed to Kill
One way to get your guests involved in (and excited about!) your party is to invite them to dress as their favorite horror movie characters.
Guests can dress as individual monsters (like vampires or werewolves), horror film good guys (such as one of the two priests in The Exorcist or Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s character in Predator), or even come in groups dressed as entire scenes.
Encourage your invitees to get their creative juices flowing. The results are sure to thrill, chill…and possibly even make you chuckle.
Be sure to buy or make trophies for “Scariest Costume,” “Most Original Costume Idea” and any other category you’d like to see at your party. (Give your guests a heads-up that there will be awards by having the information printed on their invitations.) In addition to a small trophy, you can hand out movie theater tickets, horror DVD or other goodies as awards.
Need some killer ideas? Here are some great horror movie characters and creatures:
The aliens from Cloverfield
The shark from Jaws
Regan, the possessed child from The Exorcist
Father Karras or Father Merrin from The Exorcist
Jason’s mom – wear the mask off your face, dangling on one shoulder
Any horror movie victim; these will often be scantily clad girls covered in blood, or football jocks or dorks covered in blood
Dr. Loomis or Laurie from Halloween (trench coat for the former; terrible 70s attire and blonde wig for the latter)
Sam from Trick ‘R Treat
A bloodied Carrie from the movie Carrie
Any vampire, from any vampire movie…ever…you can’t go wrong with this idea!
Kaiju (i.e. Pacific Rim or Godzilla)
Alien (from the Alien franchise)
The Mummy – male or female; any (wait for it) incarnation
Stephen King’s It
The “pet” set upon Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
Disney creatures, such as Ursula the Sea Witch
Fun monsters, such as Sully from Real Monsters
Decorate the party area to imitate an old-fashioned movie or stage theater. Age some movie posters (easy and often very cheap to find; try online auctions or poster companies) by crinkling and then unfolding them, then arrange them on the walls of the party area.
For an added movie theater-like effect, have spotlights across or near your movie posters. These are simple to make; simply cover flashlights with cardboard tubes painted black (leaving the lighted ends exposed). Place colored bulbs in the flashlights and set them up so that the lights cross one another.
A great place to set up your spotlights is near your haunt’s entrance, so that your guests are “in the spotlight” as they enter. Or have them point upward to illuminate your movie posters. Hang artificial spider webs in the corners of your posters and between them for additional spookiness.
Music immediately sets the mood when guests are arriving, so be sure to choose tunes that are all about movies, monsters and magic spells.
Look for background music or musical artists that fit in with your party theme. “Werewolves of London “(Warren Zevon), “Spooky” (The Zombies), “Ghost Busters (Ray Parker, Jr.),“ “Weird Science (Oingo Boingo),” “Witchy Woman“ (The Eagles), “The Time Warp” (from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and the immediately recognizable themes from Halloween and The Exorcist are all great choices.
Another idea is to have favorite horror movies running in your DVD player as a background mood-setter; keep the sound somewhat down, as movie voices and action tend to be more distracting than music.
For monster-and movie-related snacks, try a few creative ideas:
Wrap croissant dough strips crosswise over mini cocktail franks for “mummies in a blanket” (The Mummy, 1932, 1959 and 1999).
Lady “fingers” with “fingernails” made of slivered almonds are both tasty and creepy; use any cookie dough rolled and elongated to look like a finger (The Silence of the Lambs, 1991).
And of course, you’ll want some “blood punch”, made with any red-colored juice, at the center of your table; buy a novelty hospital blood bag online or at a Halloween store and have the “catheter” leading to the bowl (Dracula, 1931 and 1958 and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1992).
You can also continue the movie theme with orange colored movie popcorn–add three drops of yellow food coloring and one drop of red food coloring to some oil or butter and toss well, then place in movie theater-style bags.
If you’d rather, just serve regular popcorn, but place it in striped boxes.
Your horror movie theme decorations, treats and background sounds are limited only by your own creativity. Watch a few horror favorites in advance of your party for more ideas, or ask a few friends. They’ll be thrilled to get in on the action – and to receive the credit for their own ideas at your very special Halloween bash.
Get your Halloween on. All year long.