Thursday, February 26, 2009

Haunt Theory: Static Props

I'm a static prop haunter. I've always been one. Until my site went live back around 2003, I never even knew there was a name for what I did. If your props move or have a spring-action mechanism which activates when they're approached or if your props are powered by compressed air cylinders, you're an animatronic or pneumatic haunter. If your props are made with tiny animal bones, you're a sociopathic haunter.

As a static prop haunter, my props are motionless. So I have to try to achieve a potential for movement - an appearance that my props are in a moment of rest, or waiting. I've found that the static props that work best are the ones that look like they've just paused for a second:

Corpses that just pushed out of the ground and are now surveying their surroundings...


Witches that are staring into a steaming cauldron thinking dark twisted things...


or a skeleton stretching out its hand seconds before the hand drops to the ground for leverage.



The static props that I've been most disappointed with in my display are the ones that end up looking like they're trapped in time - frozen in movement. That's a totally different animal than a moment of rest. It's like a photograph of a moving creature, rather than a creature about to pounce.

I think that's why I love scarecrows so much. They're motionless by their very nature. Hanging on their posts, waiting. And moving only when the wind blows.

Every Halloween, after I've set up the display, my father will come out and do a casual inspection of the haunt, "It's a shame you can't make these things move and put red lights in their eyes." I'm not about to explain to him that I'm a static prop haunter. He already thinks I'm a whacko.

13 comments:

Bones said...

I used to have some animal bones in my haunted house setup many years ago. Guess I'm a sociopathic haunter... lol :)

Rot said...

I'm afraid so, my friend.

bean said...

I think the reason I loved last year's haunt so much is because it COULD happen to someone. If you walked up on a field of twisted scarecrows, they would be as yours - standing and blowing in the wind.

Dawn said...

Excellent post, and a good reminder to use whatever kind of props to their full potential... making them is half the battle, displaying them is the other.

Bones said...

... You know, the scary thing is that I still have them.

JHMDF said...

I do a mix of both....I have a few animated props in my grave yard, but the majority of the display is static. I split up the display into a few parts so the animated props are more of a surprise. A new one for this year will be a zombie strapped to a metal tabel that will freak out when the sensor is tripped. I should have some new, very nice static props as well. :)

Dave Lowe said...

As a static prop person myself, you've mentioned a design issue that I wrestle with as my yard haunt has developed over the years..."trapped in time moments" versus "at rest".

They really are very different animals. The "trapped in time" tell a story you want to tell. The "at rest" let the viewer create their own. It's a fine line.

My place, the past few years has been between the two as I'm still experimenting and finding my own unique haunt identity.

Jon said...

This is a great post but what I'm really excited about is this tag:

"haunt theory"

I don't know if it was intended to be tongue in cheek or not but I suddenly found myself very excited at the possibility that something like that might actually come about. If someone collected writings from various haunters on what makes a haunt work and then compiled them in a book I would buy that book in a second.

I totally agree with you about the "state of rest" idea, though I never thought of it until reading your post just now. I think it's something most people only sense subconsciously, myself included. It makes perfect sense though. If the prop is in mid-lunge, all it takes to make it look absurd and out of context is for there to be nothing to lunge at--no trick or treaters on the walkway, for example. The great thing about props shown in repose is that they are not as dependent on context (i.e., the proximity of well-placed humans) in order to be effective. They're just there...looming, calculating, brooding or swinging on a length of grimy rope. That can make them so much more powerful.

Great thoughts, man. Really dug this one.

word: lizeri (Misery's sister?)

jay's shadow said...

i love the use of static props. it makes a person's mind run wild."hey, whats that up ahead? if i get close, will it jump at me? if i turn my back and walk away, will it come up from behind and get me?" the things the mind will do to you.
and if someone comes out with a book on a "haunt theory".....i would be one of those crazies waiting outside the book store for 7 hours waiting for the store to open!

Rot said...

Happy to report that "haunt theory" wasn't tongue in cheek. Just wanted to share my approach to static prop haunting. Glad you enjoyed it.

Grim said...

Red light-up eyes = Not Scary.

I try to mix it up a bit, mainly because I love figuring out how to make lids pop open and stuff like that. It can be a pain though running air lines, working switches, etc. I'm thinking about not using anything that moves this year, because the plan is for my haunt to be completely different from 2008 and that kind of stuff just won't fit.

The Gill-Man said...

I've been a fan of your site for a while, and I'm thrilled to find your blog. I'm new to the home haunt thing myself, and I'm always trying to get ideas. I am, most definitely, in the "static" category, and I never really thought about the fact that the "lunging" look could easily become ridiculous. As I develop my haunt, I will definitely take this into consideration. Thanks so much for the insight and advice.

Bones said...

The "at rest" versus "stuck in time" issue is the main reason I never really had characters or monsters in my haunting in the past.

In the last few years, I've had skeletons (gradually adding more), and they're typically posed in an "at rest" position. To me, if they look like they should be in motion, but they're not, it can really damage the effect. So my skeletons tend to be like gargoyles, just quietly watching.