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Fright-Full Tips for a Favorite Haunt

October 31, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Holidays can sneak up and find us unprepared. Why should Halloween be any different?

This is the time when your kids turn into banshees, howling for a killer costume. Or maybe they look around the house and growl. Just not spooky enough.

Dan Witkowski has suggestions for raising the creep factor, even if Halloween is only hours away. His paperback, "How to Haunt a House" ($5, published by Random House), explains how to make hideous stuff that you and your kids should be able to pull off in an afternoon.

"Most of the effects and stunts can be done with items found around the house, though a few will require a trip to the store," says Witkowski, a magician who has appeared on TV and stage, including Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

"But the most important ingredient for having fun with these projects is your imagination."

Witkowski has instructions on how to turn cheesecloth and balloons into airy ghosts: Drape a 72-by-36-inch piece of cheesecloth over a helium balloon. Tie the cheesecloth at the base of the balloon with white thread. Draw a face on the cloth-covered balloon and let it bob in the house. Or you can conceal it in a covered container and wait for someone to open the lid.

You can make a bucket of fake fire out of yellow, orange and red fabric (16 inches long) that has been torn or cut into ragged strips. Attach the strips with duct tape to the edge of a pot, can or tub. Secure a hair dryer inside the container, aiming it so that it causes the stripes to flutter. Add red Christmas lights to the container and you have fake fire. Common-sense rule: Don't let the lights or the hair dryer overheat.

Need a coffin? Line three cardboard file boxes end to end. Cut off the ends that are touching to form one long box. Tape the boxes together. Tape the lids together to form one (or use a sheet). Paint the boxes black or cover with 3 yards of black fabric. Line the inside with thin foam-rubber padding and cover it with white taffeta fabric. Glue on fake handles made of aluminum foil.

There are other ideas, including several pages of cutout templates (of witches, spiders, skeletons, among others) that can be used for casting shadows.

The book's ideas tickled Amy Donovan, a Santa Ana mother of two young boys and a daughter. While checking out ready-made costumes at a department store, she paused to thumb through the pages.

"It looks like fun [and] it doesn't seem too hard," she said, showing the book to son Dylan, 8. "We could do these together; they'd probably enjoy it."

But her husband, William, wasn't so sure. "I don't know," he said, pointing to a Spider-Man disguise hanging from a rack. "These look really easy. . . . Why don't we just buy some of these?"

In the book's costume section, Witkowski gives details on five costumes: "the invisible man and his dog," "a big hairy ape," "the bush man," "a man-eating chicken" and that maven of wrap-around style, "the mummy."

With some old clothes, sunglasses, a length of wire, bathroom tissue and white adhesive tape, your child can become an invisible man, with an equally see-through mutt at his side. The mummy seems even easier, turning to more tape, a lot more tissue and brown grocery bags painted with hieroglyphics.

"The mummy-to-be should be wearing all-white clothing," Witkowski writes. "Have him or her stand straight while a friend does the wrapping job with bathroom tissue."

As for the "bush man," the main ingredient is a lawn full of leaves. Gather and staple them on a dark green bed sheet or beach towel. Witkowski explains how to drape your kid just right in this mulchy mess.

The makeup effects chapter lists recipes for making blood, rotting flesh, popped eyeballs, green ooze, fake scars, rotten teeth and something called "delicious dirt."

For blood, mix a cup of corn syrup, a teaspoon of red food dye and a little water for thinning. Then pour it on. If rotting flesh is more to your liking, combine 1 1/2 cups of dry oatmeal with one-fourth cup of water and some red dye. Layer it on; once it dries, it begins to flake, giving the look corpses cry for.

Delicious dirt, which your kid can offer to pals, is concocted with crunched-up Oreo or Hydrox cookies, some water and a helping of gummy worms. For green ooze, start with guacamole mix. You get the idea.

"How to Haunt a House" is available at Target stores in Garden Grove and Huntington Beach.

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