Jan 3, 2013


In August of 2010, aged 12, I was walking home from school when I passed an empty shop window. I had recently finished building a witch and a set of five groundbreakers, and was mourning the fact that Halloween was drawing near and I still had no way to set up a haunt. The front garden on our house was (and continues to be) small, awkward and packed with colourful flowers - not exactly yard haunt material. I had props, ideas and a whole lot of enthusiasm, but no location. Waiting at an intersection, I looked up at the empty shop window. There was no store attached to it - it was simply an empty space with two walls at the back and two huge glass panels at the front. And a sign taped to the glass "Window for Lease - display purposes only." followed by a phone number. I realized then that this was the perfect space for a haunt. Props could be set up inside, lights could be attached to the ceiling, candy could be handed out to trick-or-treaters outside... Over the next month, I obsessed over the window. I left messages on the owner's answerphone, measured the dimensions of the window, planned the whole thing out in my mind... When the owners finally called me up to let me know that the space was not available, it was only a few short days until Halloween.

I was desperate to find somewhere to set up a haunt. And furious at the shop-owners for taking so long to reply. Then my dad had an idea. My parents used to live next to a lovely lady called Jeanie. She runs a neat little florist/gift shop which is open from Thursday to Saturday every week. She also owns a small building next to it that she uses as a workshop and storeroom. A small building with three huge glass panels on it. We called her immediately and she (very) kindly offered to lend me the window for Halloween free of charge. Dad and I spent the next few days frantically setting up the display. We shifted boxes and tables. We hung black cloth from wires to make a background. We drove to and from our house and the window, the car loaded with groundbreakers and branches and bags of pine needles. On Halloween night, we turned on the string of coloured lightbulbs, turned up the dark ambient music and waited for the trick-or-treaters. I handed out candy, took mountains of photographs and video, and generally had a blast. On the afternoon on November 1st, as we were packing up the display, I was already planning for next year.

2011 was very different for me, mostly because I had an entire year to plan the display. I changed my mind a lot about the theme for the haunt, until in June I finally settled on the black-plague-mass-grave idea. While 2011's haunt admittedly followed the same formula as 2010's (faux forest + magical being + groundbreakers), I could focus on planning and creating a cohesive, themed display and I finally felt like I was building props for a purpose.

2012, however, was a huge step away from what I had done before. The abandoned-ghost-train idea came to me in December and stuck partially because I wanted to avoid changing it at the last minute again, and because it really struck a chord with me. I had always had an intense fascination with ghost trains ever since reading the book 'Come For A Ride On The Ghost Train' when I was 4 years old. It also meant that I could combine 'real' props (the witch and the dead twins) with intentionally tacky ghost-train-props. The build for 2012 was a pretty huge challenge, and I had an enormous amount of help from my dad. The cart was tricky - we built the main structure out of cheap MDF, and I constructed the giant skull from cardboard and paper-mache - it had to be cut in half just to get it out of my bedroom door. Making feet and legs for the twins was a bit of a nightmare, and something I had never done before. The ghost-train track had to be built from scratch. The walls that make up the background were made out of MDF as well. We set them up in my bedroom, where I painted, repainted and weathered them, ready to take apart and re-assemble in the shop window. While 2012's haunt was much more challenging, practically, than the previous year's, I spent an equal amount of time and effort focusing on the details of everything. I spent an insane amount of time obsessing over the spinebones on the twins, the shade of green on the cart, the faux water-damage on the walls, the rust on the tracks... I made little posters to tape up on the window to explain the backstory to trick-or-treaters and passersby. I carefully arranged ivy, tree branches and debris around the display.

Halloween night itself was far busier than the previous year's. A highly-toxic combination of photo-taking, small-talk, excitement and exhaustion was nearly the death of me. At one point I quietly snuck away and sat down for a while for fear of fainting. When the people died away, I took a few pathetic minutes of video footage... and then we tore down the display. Jeanie needed her workshop back in the morning, so we spent the early hours of November 1st packing up the props, taking down the walls, moving boxes back into place... When the sun rose that Thursday morning, the florist next door was open, Jeanie was trimming and arranging flowers in the workshop and there was no sign of any ghost trains, witches or rotting corpse twins. And as the universe would have it, Halloween shifts forward a day every year, meaning that October 31st, 2013 will fall on a Thursday, the florist's workshop on the corner will be in full swing, and there will be no Halloween display. Or the year after that. Or the year after that.

I'm still not sure what the future holds for my haunt. I'm not looking to do another window display. If I end up doing anything this Halloween, it'll probably be something more low-key. I haven't been working on any props, and I don't really have any intention to right now. What I can tell you is that I will be building a few new props for 'The Backs' this year. After three years of solid Halloween obsession, I feel like it's time to take a break. Blog posts will probably be spotty for a while. But who knows, maybe I'll have a change of heart and dive headfirst into fanatical prop-building in a couple of months. After all, I do love Halloween. And I do love sitting in my room and watching horror movies as I assemble ribcages out of newspaper. This is not the end of The House Of Marrow. And this 'break' of mine is not going to last forever. I guess old habits die hard.

I hope you all have a fantastic year.