For Ryan Kozar, founder of Deadmonton Haunted House and Halloween Store, October is the culmination of a yearlong effort to create the spookiest scenes in the city.
“Our year starts in November. As soon as Halloween wraps up, we start to look at what we’re going to do next year,” he says. For Kozar, there’s something fascinating about creating an entirely immersive storyline and environment for haunted-house guests.
“Something like this takes people out of reality for a bit,” he adds, noting that the escape from day-to-day life is exactly what appeals to visitors. “Maybe it’s that we get the chance to dress up and act like kids again, but really there’s nothing better than seeing people leave at the end of the night, just having a good time. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
Since starting Deadmonton in 2014, Kozar has travelled across North America, attending Halloween trade shows and visiting other haunted houses for inspiration and ideas. “Halloween is huge in the States, and in other big Canadian cities. We’re catching up in Edmonton, but some of the haunted houses and conventions I’ve visited have shown me how much farther we have to go,” he says.
A self-taught set designer, Kozar’s honed his method over years of trial and error, building everything from caves and labs to swamps and full-scale houses. He notes that much of what he’s picked up over the years can easily be applied at home as well. “There are a lot of really simple, affordable techniques you can learn about online,” he says.
Although plenty of tutorials can be found on YouTube and Pinterest, more targeted websites like HauntersList.com can offer a wealth of easy DIY Halloween decor ideas. Says Kozar: “A good place to start is by looking up home haunters, who are essentially Halloween enthusiasts. They’ve got tons of tips on creating props, makeup effects and home decorations.”
While some of the decorations and costumes used in Deadmonton have been expensive items purchased from professional prop makers, Kozar insists it’s easy to recreate the magic of Halloween at home. Whether your budget is $20 or $2,000, only one rule truly matters: “It’s all about the attention to detail. The littlest things can make the biggest difference.”
One of Kozar’s go-to household items for making props can be picked up from most home renovation stores for just a few dollars. “Spray foam insulation is great. All you have to do is let it expand and dry and then add paint,” he says. “If you paint it red, it’s perfect for making guts and gore, but, if you add other textures, like fabrics, you can make all kinds of different props with it. Just takes a bit of creativity and playing around to see what you can come up with.”
And a visit to Deadmonton proves him right. In the light of day, it’s easy to see the sets are labours of love, carefully crafted using a range of materials to create a perfectly petrifying atmosphere. But, in the dark of night, it’s the crumbling plaster ceilings, peeling wallpaper and flickering lights that put a certain scare in the air. Truly, the devil is in the details.
For those wanting to cross the threshold into the realm of home haunting, Kozar recommends five inexpensive, easy tricks that will give your guests quite the treat.
- Lighting is especially important – with bright lights, you generally won’t get the scare factor you’re looking for.
- Placing lights low and aiming them upwards creates looming, ominous shadows.
- Create bloody bones using an inexpensive, dollar-store skeleton, Saran Wrap and red paint. After wrapping Saran Wrap around the skeleton’s bones, use a heat gun or hair dryer to melt the plastic. The addition of red paint perfects the project, making it look like bloody bones.
- Fog machines and coloured lights add that eerie feeling and create different atmospheres: dimmer, yellow or flickering lights create a different feeling than a red, menacing light.
- Create distressed or aged wood by placing steel wool in vinegar overnight, then submerging wood in the solution.
3 Halloween Events in Edmonton
- With haunted houses based on the Bates Motel and menacing clowns, ScreamFest promises to be more than a little unsettling. There’s also a Coffin Ride, so, for a totally undead experience, head to Expo Centre from October 24-27. ScreamFest runs 6 p.m.-midnight nightly.
- DARK returns to Fort Edmonton Park on select days from October 10 to November 1. From a terrifying circus to menacing cults, once you enter through the gates, you’ll be immersed in some truly awful scenarios. Awfully fun, we mean.
- Prairie Gardens, located just outside of Bon Accord, hosts its annual Haunted Pumpkin Festival on weekends through October. Look for puppet and magic shows, and a heck of a lot of spooky things lurking out in the pumpkin patch.