Leave romance, bunnies and elves to the other happy holidays. Once a year, on October 31, we get to explore our ghoulish, creepy side and summon all that is spooky and eerie. In preparation for this scary holiday, some people will transform a welcoming home into a haunted abode, and one of the quickest, easiest ways to do that is through a change of lights.
“Lights are great because they are visual,” said Brandon Peterson, owner of Los Angeles-based Peterson Event Lighting. “It’s one of two things that creates the mood of any event. It’s lighting and sound.”
Timothy B. Graham, who has worked on special effects for movies like “One Night at McCool’s,” “Angels & Demons” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” agrees.
“For people who are trying to create an effect for Halloween, lights are dramatic, inexpensive and relatively easy,” Graham said.
Red is psychologically associated with fear. Blue is always good if you want to create a graveyard.
Timothy B. Graham, special effects artist
All the Spooky Colors
Colored lights are a great way to make a statement. Orange is traditionally associated with Halloween, but some other colors can put a different howl on Halloween.
“Red is psychologically associated with fear,” Graham said. “Blue is always good if you want to create a graveyard. A couple blue lights create a moonlight effect perfect for this setting.”
Peterson, whose clients include Laila Ali, Ashlee Simpson and Hilary Duff, opts for deep, rich colors to create an eerie space.
“Purple, orange, amber or dark, dark blue really creates a mood,” he said.
One of the most inexpensive colored weapons in Halloween decor is a set of LED lights.
“LED lights are color-changing lights that give you the ability to have any color, any effect,” Peterson said. “They are low power, and they give you a lot of range.”
Another way to get great colored lights involves a quick trip to the local craft store.
“In the industry, we use colored gels because they are designed specifically to withstand high heat,” Graham said. “However, at craft stores you can sometimes find colored cellophane. If you keep your light bulb down to a 40 watt or lower, you can create the same effect using colored cellophane.”
New Ways to Use Old Lighting Tricks
Remember the good ol’ black light? While it may be an expected lighting source during Halloween, Peterson says a little creativity with the placement will ratchet up the creep factor of this once humdrum lighting tool.
“I find black light is pretty predictable," he said. "It’s not my most favorite thing to do unless it’s on a subject. Then it’s sort of eerie or spooky.
“Using it on something white is best, like a skeleton.”
Candles are another common Halloween lighting tool. They must be used in an unconventional way to set a spooky mood.
“Luminaries are simple and effective if you have a long walkway,” Graham said. He suggests filling brown lunch bags with play sand and sticking plumbers candles about 1 inch in the sand. The lit candle will give the walkway an eerie glow. The look could be scarier if you make cutouts, like of bats or witch hats, on the bag.
“It lends itself to a lot of creativity, and for those that are less creative, use them as just luminaries up your walk,” Graham said.
For a really festive mood, replace any white light bulbs with colored bulbs. Some specialty stores carry thematic bulbs. Peterson says options for a haunted mood are flicker flame bulbs.
Lights can also spruce up the old jack-o'-lantern.
“Get battery operated LEDs and put those in a pumpkin,” Peterson said, “They’re really cheap and will flash and strobe. It will be ... different.”
Special effects lighting can make some of the decor look like something out of a film. Graham says the average person can rent a couple of disco foggers to re-create the ground fog often seen in films.
Peterson also loves using low-lying fog to cover the entire ground when he is lighting an event.
“You don’t see the grass or the gravel or floor,” he said. “Shine a light from the ground upward. It captures all that fog and it looks really mystical when it releases these beams of light.
"You can use a colored light. You really see the light kick out and it looks spooky and eerie and creates a mystical atmosphere.”
Peterson plans on using a gobo lighting trick on his own home this Halloween. A gobo is anything placed on the light source to reflect a pattern.
“I am going to use a gobo to shine a pattern of a spider’s web onto my house,” he said.
A combination of gobos, colored lights and fog can create the ultimate eerie lighting effect.
“Put a light shining up behind a tree so it shines through the tree and the fog,” Graham said. “You’re essentially using the tree as a gobo to get these shafts of light and dark coming through the fog and silhouetting the tree. It will look really spooky.”
Goose-Bump-Worthy Halloween Decor
While lighting is a great way to create a haunting feeling, there are other quick and inexpensive tricks to create the perfect Halloween fright fest. The crafts can be found on Disney's familyfun website. 1. Play eerie sounds through a speaker in the yard. Try to time the soundtrack with any changes in the light patterns for a fully eerie effect. If not eerie sounds, play scary music. In 2009, the music critic of the "Chicago Tribune" created a list of the 20 scariest songs. It included "I Put a Spell on You" by Screamin' Jay Hawkins, "The End" by the Doors" and Tom Waits' "Poor Edward." Classical music has some famous scary pieces, too. Consider the pipe organ in Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" and Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain." 2. Hang some ghost windsocks as porch decorations. The ghost socks are made with white construction paper rolled into a tube shape. The ends are stapled together and covered with strips of crepe paper. 3. Create a huge spider to hang on the window. The spider craft involves black foam pipe, black duct tape and two plastic eggs for the spider's eyes. Another creepy-crawly option is a Trash Bag Tarantula. The tarantula's body is made up of 18 large black trash bags. Its eyes are red plastic party cups.
Paula Carvajal has been a journalist since 2007. She has worked for "Malibu Magazine," "Us Weekly" and Cambio, covering major award shows and events such as the Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys and New York Fashion Week. Carvajal received her B.A. in communications and Spanish from Santa Clara University, as well as an M.A. from the University of Westminster.