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What Rod Serling was always going on about

Boo!How many corndogs is too many?

Do you think that they’ll ever clone veloci-raptors, and that they’ll be smart enough to work a doorknob?

From time to time the pipeline deposits a question for me that warrants extra attention here. Neither of these is one of those. But this, now …

How do you scare someone?

What a question! And seeing as how the first 2009 4H haunted house planning session is coming up very soon, it’s a topic worth looking at.

The way I see it, an authentic scare falls into one of four categories, and each involves a certain level of difficulty in order to pull off.

I. Shock …
This is the most basic and over-used scare device in the haunted house trick bag because it doesn’t weigh anything, doesn’t require any thought; so it always floats to the top. Jason, in this room you jump out of this alcove. Freddie, in this room, you jump from behind that wall. Michael, in this room, you jump from behind those curtains. The only people who’ll scream every time are the hamster girls. You might get a few others to jump once or twice, but it quickly becomes a tiresome game of Whack-a-mole.

II. Deception and shock …
Here’s where you start getting into the psychology of a scare. In essence, you get the person’s attention, then pull the rug out from under him. Good examples are:

A. The dark hallway with a high light shining into patrons’ eyes. All they can see is the light, and they have no other option, so they walk toward it. What they don’t see until they’ve passed beneath the light beam is the actor or prop that has suddenly materialized before them.

B. It’s done to death, but it remains effective; one actor keeps the audience’s attention while another actor sneaks up from behind and growls, grunts, roars, or simply waits for the hamster girls to notice him. Do it early, and they’ll look over their shoulders for a while. Do it in every room and somebody’s going to get smacked in the head if they don’t – get – out – mah – face!

C. Drop panels can be employed counterintuitively to great effect. Patrons enter a small room, or narrow hallway. Their attention is directed at some point or scene. At a trigger, the walls drop away on either side (hallway) or behind them (small room) to reveal a large (and well-lit) group of monsters reaching and shambling toward them.

III. Impending doom …
This is much more difficult to achieve because it requires that you create an atmosphere that is not only discomforting, but is also sustainable. A dark, wet tomb that smells of mold. A dry and windy rooftop. A creaky bridge. A ghost-filled cemetery with half-seen spirits around every tombstone. Or a large, empty room with one spotlight shining on a box, and arrows on the floor telling you to go to the box. What’s in the box?

It’s the goal. What’s the goal? The thing in the box. (It’s got the electrolytes plants crave)

The goal, whatever it is, stands at the far end of this frightening place. It is the object that draws you through the scene, but you dread reaching it because you just know it’s going to bring down hell and carp on your head. It is preferably the most well-lit object -key, door, book, button, skull, rat, refrigerator- in the room. If you’ve got the real estate to spare, make this a very large room, dimly lit except for a path and the object. By the time the rubes have reached the goal, they’ll be so shaken because nothing has happened -yet- that your grandma could step out of the refrigerator and show them her teeth. A 20′ tall cybernetic minotaur with rocket launcher and laser eyes would also work.

IV. Utter bewilderment …
When perception and reason suddenly don’t jibe anymore, you’ve reached a special place. This is the stuff Rod Serling was always going on about. The thing that caused Ray to go bye-bye and left Egon terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought.

We accept certain things as everyday, mundane, humble, and expected. The same is true in a haunted house. Now suppose you present the patron with something utterly senseless and illogical, something far beyond reason or common sense. It becomes unreal. Yet there it is, and it’s coming right at him. Whether or not he accepts its reality (and this is hard to do), psychologically, you own that person’s mind for a few seconds.

A. Patrons enter a room with an actor pretending to be a guide or part of the group. Attention is focused on this person while a black shape swoops down from the rafters, grabs the actor, and they both rise into the pitch black above. Hard to pull off? Yep. Dangerous? You betcha. Think somebody’ll freak out when they see it? Very likely.

B. Patrons see a monster shape or a glowing face in the corner. As they get closer, the shape begins to rise up, slowly unfold. Over the course of 10 seconds, the legs grow impossibly long and the arms reach over patrons’ heads. A slightly less ambitious version involves an actor on drywall stilts. Stalk-arounds are excellent candidates for this kind of scare.

C. I really hate to use this as an example because the “unfold the scare” concept is more subtle. However, if you study the man on the right (you’ve seen this 100 times already), he perfectly illustrates what happens when someone reaches his limit for common-sense-contrariness, however pathetically small it may be.

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How Does A Zombie Taste?

Zombie TongueIt is a scientific fact that one must have a tongue in order to utter the word “brains”. Lacking a licker, you can only attempt a lesser approximation like “bramff”.

These pictures, taken from the Spooky Blue Zombie Builder’s Guide V2.0 (currently under development), show an unusual – um … aperture detail that not a lot of people would think (or want) to add. This zed possesses a tongue, with which he can amble up to any wrecked ambulance, grab the mic, and clearly say, “send more brains.”

Okay, I admit it. I never actually set out to make a tongue of the dead; the protuberance was a side effect of the mush-stuffing phase. If you dig this sort of thing, though…

Start with a screaming paper mache skull. Before filling it with mush, foam, or wadded up newspaper (my new favorite, and cheapest of all skull-mush material), make a duct tape dam or wall to separate the brain cavity from the mouth area. Since our brains and mouths often have no clear connection to one another anyway, this should be familiar territory.

Duct tape your zombie's mouth from the insideFill your skull with mush, leaving the mouth empty. Next, place more duct tape under the chin so that it sticks to the jaw bone, but hangs down a little bit like a pelican, or the unnervingly loose neck-skin of my junior year psychology teacher who pronounced “polygamy” as two distinct words; “polly” “gammy”. I believe he was also active in the hog farming industry.

If you look inside the mouth of your pelican-ated zombie, you should see the sticky side of the tape. Press a wad or two of newspaper underneath the chin, pushing the tape upwards and forming a lump inside the mouth. When you’re satisfied, tape off anything that might fall off, and this skull is ready to skin.

Here are a few more SBZBGV2.0 pictures. I originally posted these in order to talk about undead skin, but then I saw that horrible tongue. Gaa.

Rest in Pisces

Stupid blue herons ate us all up!While waiting for the dogs to finish their breakfast this morning, I went out and restarted the waterfall pump for the finally-thawed-out fish pond. It has been an oblong collie ice skating rink for weeks.

Having rested idle, and probably partially frozen, the pump gurgled and burped like a baby dragon teething a VW. But after a few moments, water began spilling over the waterfall. Along with it came a mountain of leaves. I grabbed the net-on-a-pole-thing to intercept the leaves before they clogged the skimmer. Cleaning out a fouled skimmer net is a rotten job. I reached out and slid the net under the first ranks of the leaf front, now approaching the skimmer with increased speed and a certain determination.

I lifted. “Tick!” Out came half a pole. The other half remained with the leaves. Traitor. Its aluminum shaft, possibly weakened by the bitter cold had snapped cleanly.

Where'd we all go?  Maybe the spaceship finally came to take us home.A small audience of herding animals had gathered to watch from the porch above me. First appeared the collie who only eats when it’s absolutely necessary, preferring toast and jam to kibble. Then came the sheepdog who will eat almost anything handed to her, but who will sit in front of her half-full supper dish like a petulant child glooming over cold green beans long after the family has left the table to watch A-Team. And last, licking her lips with relish, came the collie who always waits patiently for the opportunity to helpfully clean up after brother and sister; and sometimes not really waiting for after to arrive.

They watched me and I watched half a skimming net float across the pond. It was at this moment that I realized something, a difference that had only registered subconsciously. The water was dark. Flat. Lifeless.

Normally the pond is a hub of constant activity and animation, a gathering and scattering of orange and gold flashbulbs lighting it up. But there weren’t any now. All our fish were gone.

In a strictly Schrödinger’s Cat sort of way, they weren’t actually dead. Just gone. Missing. Absconded. Or more likely purloined, snatched by that damn blue heron pterodactyl-monster that’s been spotted cavorting around Snug Harbor in weeks past.

Unless they’re masters at underwater camouflage, safely hidden until one day when I’ll see one of them blink and emerge from a wall of muck with a knife in his teeth like Rambo, then the truth of what happened here is just too sad to contemplate.

I’m not restocking the sushi bar until I figure out how to protect its new residents. You hear that an event, horrific enough, gets imprinted on its surroundings. Well, the Fish family that jumps on this prime location at “way below market” without doing a little fact checking is going to be very surprised when rocks start stacking themselves and the minnows hear voices coming out of static between channels on the shellevision.

I’m contemplating a new, permanent scarecrow to protect the fish pond. No idea what will scare a blue heron. My only other idea is to build lots of underwater caves out of rocks so that the kids will at least have someplace to hide if Rodan shows up and isn’t intimidated by the
(F)ixed (I)nterdiction (S)ystem (H)ardware —
(H)eron (E)xpulsion (D)evice

Is a hammer or a zombie the better birthday present?

What it's got in its nasty little pocketsesMy brother’s birthday is in late September, so he can generally expect to get a skeleton or a box of vampire bats from me.

Last year I made him a groundbreaker for his birthday. It was the first time that I had made anything like this as a gift. I think he liked it. I wonder sometimes, though, if he really would rather just unwrap a nice hammer, or a football phone; something that he doesn’t vaguely expect to lunge out of the box and go for his throat.

Anyway, here are a few pictures.