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RISMEDIA, October 21, 2010—(MCT)—You may be too old to trick-or-treat, but you can still enjoy Halloween. One great way is by setting up a haunted house. It can be simple or elaborate, mildly frightening or intense enough to send people running for the door. Just know your audience and don’t overdo it, especially with little kids. In fact, creating your own haunted house lets you take your children’s scare-o-meter into consideration.

The first step: Find a location. We suggest a basement or garage. A basement is preferable simply because it has more rooms to work with. A garage can be sectioned off by hanging sheets of black fabric or plastic.

Decide what your haunted house will include and where each set piece will go. Which corner is best for the casket? Where can Dracula hide? Where will lights be set up? Be sure to have an easily accessible exit.

If there are props to be built, get started now. If you’re going to rent a special effect—say, a fog machine—get it reserved.

At this point things can get overwhelming, so recruit help. Friends, neighbors, family are all fair game. Remember, it takes a village to frighten a kid. Get your helpers to brainstorm and build things, of course, but their greatest value may be as living props. Have them get costumed, slather on makeup and splash themselves with fake blood. They can jump out and yell “boo!” at unsuspecting visitors—especially effective if your setup is partitioned into rooms—or march zombielike around the layout. For a minimalist approach, they can stand in a corner, motionless, staring blankly ahead.

Now you have to pull it all together. Some other ideas to transform your home into a haunted house:

Good grave-y: A graveyard out front gets visitors in the right mood even before they enter the haunted house. Dot your lawn with tombstones made of heavy cardboard or Styrofoam. If you want to keep the neighbors talking for months, build an animated tombstone. It takes a little effort, but the results are worth it. For the ultimate graveyard twist, dig a grave-size hole, just deep enough for a colleague to lie in. Cover him or her and the surrounding area with leaves or straw, and at the appropriate time, have your co-conspirator spring from the grave. You’ll be surprised how fast little kids can run.

Set a mood: Nothing says spooky like fog, whether it’s from a fog machine—you can buy a cheap one for less than $100 or rent one for even less—or a dry ice do-it-yourself version. A word of warning: Dry ice is dangerous and needs to be handled carefully by a responsible adult.

Music: At this time of year, even supermarkets sell recordings of Halloween-themed music and sound effects. Get something on the gentle side to give the little ones the willies, then climb the ladder to recordings of moaning, demented laughter, crackling thunder and chain-rattling that older kids can roll their eyes at.

Lighting: Spotlights and black lights can make the difference in a haunted house. A judiciously placed red bulb can transform a display from pedestrian to scary. Remember, it’s important that visitors be able to navigate your haunted house safely, so make sure there is enough light. It’s also smart to have your helpers carry flashlights to guide the little ones.

A science lab: Set up a laboratory—workbench, creepy lighting, large jars containing body parts (doll heads, arms or legs, mannequin parts, etc.). A lab coat and a fright wig turn a helper into a mad doctor, especially with the right spiel.

Tangled webs: You can’t go wrong with spider webs. The store-bought stuff works; just don’t scrimp. For older kids and gullible adults, skip the webs and hang lengths of yarn from the ceiling in dark areas of the basement/garage. As they walk through, the yarn brushes across their faces.

Touch this: Set up several small boxes with holes cut in the side, into which visitors reach and feel “body parts.” Two jumbo stuffed green olives can serve as eyeballs; cold and squishy cooked elbow macaroni or spaghetti can pass for brains; a large soup bone can be delightfully gross. For the last box, cut a second hole on the side opposite the first. Have the helper who is supervising the display surreptitiously reach his or her hand in to touch the hand of the visitor.

Just disturbing: A life-size latex or plastic skeleton can be had for less than $100. Get three—yes, it’s a bit of an investment, but it is guaranteed to make you a neighborhood legend—and position them so they appear to be scaling your house.

(c) 2010, Chicago Tribune.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.