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How to throw an America-proof Halloween Party

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‘You’ll have to step up your game over here. Americans have pretty much seen it all at Halloween.’

This was the response I received when I put forward the idea of throwing a Halloween party to some friends over dinner.

If you have ever read Brummed Out before, you’ll know that I’m rather giddy for Halloween, and consistently disappointed at the lack of Halloween spirit in the UK. Not so in Michigan folks.  Just on my street this week, we’ve had industrial amounts of spider webbing, entire front lawn cemeteries, headless mannequins and a 10ft Wicker Man. All of which were cruelly denied their moment of gory glory by the last minute gales, rain and even a snow flurry that kept Trick or Treaters indoors on Halloween night.

Planning a Halloween party that won’t bore Americans is another beast entirely though.  BUT, we might just have done it on Saturday.  Americans love animatronics. We had no such budget. I was just one girl armed with a roll of garbage bags and a sick imagination. Here is how we threw Little Haunted House on the Prairie…

  1. The Dollar Store/ 99p Shop is your best friend.

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Ravens, skeletons on string, spider webs, spooky holographic pictures, candles, dolls. All can be purchased here and used as the basis for kick-ass Halloween displays. I wired my raven to a twig and perched it in an old lantern, Edgar Allan Poe-style, the holographs were put in normal photo frames to form a spooky picture gallery. The dolls were painted spooky white and their eyes were painted black. Cheap, cheerful, weird wonderful.

  1. Hack your LACK                                                               photo 2                                                                                   Ouija boards are freaky, fact. I used a printable one, some white acrylic paint, and THIS program to trace and paint one onto our cheap IKEA LACK coffee table. It washed off really easily the day afterwards and made people feel all dangerous/ nostalgic (in a 13 year old’s slumber party kinda way) while they were sitting around it.
  1. Copy and Paste

Food labels, apothecary labels, vintage Halloween graphics, invitations. Ideas are all over the internet. Be inspired and print out you faves to use.

4. Get your glow on

photo 8                                                                                               We had a scary unfinished basement and not enough space for the amount of people we invited. Scary basement seemed like a good overflow space but how to get the guests to venture down there?… Aha! Beer + Blacklight. We stashed the kegs downstairs and purchased a big ole 48” blacklight from Spencer’s. We hung blacklight bats from the joists, positioned scary dolls and horror books on the shelves, and used blacklight paint to write quotes from scary movies on the walls (on paper of course – your landlord will not appreciate having to re-rent a permanent murder basement), stuff like THIS and THIS. We also put some dry ice in styofoam coolers (like ‘em? They were pretty fun to make) to seep out eerily in the glow. It didn’t work that well – maybe we’ll add a fog machine next year.

  1. A tree is not just for Christmas

photo 7Black Christmas trees are brilliant. So sophisticated at Christmas, so scary at Halloween. This is decorated purely with rings, tinsel and creatures from Birmingham’s 99p Store (Yup, even the witch at the top – she cackles too!)

  1. Include Obscure Movie References
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I made these ‘devil’s nests’ from True Detective, with twigs, thread and some florist’s moss. The husband made me lock them away because they creeped him out. Mission accomplished.

                                                                                               Chances are, you’ll have one or two movie buffs at the party. They will appreciate a few well placed references, even if the majority of your guests do not. Apart from the quotes in the basement, we displayed my Evil Dead Necronomecon, and I made a sign for the basement, based on the haunted forest from The Wizard of Oz. I included a Black Candle in the bathroom ‘only to be lit by virgins at midnight’ – who didn’t love watching Scary Jessica Parker in Hocus Pocus?

  1. ALWAYS do the bathrooms

photo 6                                                                                                As certain as the toilet getting clogged is the fact that your guests will root around in your bathroom cupboards. Give them what they want (no, not the Valium), make some apothecary bottles – a cheap one is sweetcorn and black tea in a jar labelled ‘Old People’s Teeth’. Fill them with different coloured water and there are lots of printable labels on t’internet. A scary holographic picture and lots of cobwebs help. Do clean the shitter though –that’s just good manners.

  1. Include one good scare

photo 3                                                                                                As I just wrote, people get nosy at house parties; they want to know how clean you are. You can exploit this by putting a fake body in the bathtub! If you draw the shower curtain straight across, they will suspect you are hiding something – and you are. The beauty of this is that some people will come out ready to tell everyone about it, and some will make a great effort not to – but the faces always give it away. Either way, you save hundreds on animatronics and you find out who’s a nosy parker!

  1. Make gross-looking food, offer it around –and be prepared to eat it yourself!
Split Cockroaches: dates stuffed with honey and walnuts - for that gooey but crunchy feel.

Split Cockroaches: dates stuffed with honey and walnuts – for that gooey but crunchy feel.

This year, I plumped for making Used Q-Tips, a Dirty Ashtray, Split Cockroaches and Jello Worms. The worms looked so real that people wouldn’t eat them so Mr D and myself downed a fair few just for the disgusting factor. It’s always good to circulate with these dishes as it makes people feel looked after – or victimised: tomato-tomato.

10. Don’t scrimp on the alcohol

Jello-shots turn up in the weirdest places.

Jello-shots turn up in the weirdest places.

Halloween is the perfect time to wash a latex glove, fill it with water, freeze it, then empty it into some brightly coloured spiked punch, try to make some non-alcoholic punch for the kids too – they appreciate doing what the grown-ups do. If you’ve ever wanted to try pumpkin ale, now is the time. Jelly-shots, and Bombay Bad Bears (gummies soaked in gin) are also good adult Treats. Just be prepared for the consequences. I’ve only just finished clearing up and it’s three days later…

Oh, and the garbage bags…?

Well, apart from clearing up the debris (those jelly-shots got everywhere),  they make pretty awesome decorations – and fake corpses. Thank you Martha Stewart (yikes, can’t believe that just happened).

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In Search of Halloweens Past

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On my wish list: a traditional American cross stitch is creepified.

On my wish list: a traditional American cross stitch is creepified.

Here’s a handy soundtrack for this post.

It’s that time of year again, when the leaves are turning, the bars of Broad St are advertising even cheaper neon-coloured drinks and Selfridges is awash with normal food products that happen to have spooky names. As I type I’ve just seen an ad for the Halloween edition of a particular brand of miniature cheese…

This used to be in the loo (but the results got too messy). I bought it in the town of Hell, Michigan and it moves.

This used to be in the loo (but the results got too messy). I bought it in the town of Hell, Michigan and it moves.

Halloween is increasingly reaching American proportions over here (not that I mind in the slightest as regular readers will know), and since I became auntie to two adorable little American children (one of which I think is turning into a future horror film and comic-book nerd – his uncle and I are beyond pleased), I have taken the opportunity to write them a spooky poem each year in a Halloween card complete with Trick Or Treat candy from ‘over here’.  I’m aiming for a kind of J.K. Rowling approach so that the poems/ stories are age-appropriate but will get creepier as the kids grow up. I’ve written about ghosts, cats and the rules of Trick or Treating before, but really not sure where to go this year. I’ve loosely settled on The Thing but as yet said Thing is unformed and I have no idea how evil or misunderstood The Thing is or its journey (like it’s on the X-Factor or something).

The pumpkin bauble came from Bronners - the legendary Christmas shop in Michigan - everything else came from the bargain stores of Birmingham.

The pumpkin bauble came from Bronners – the legendary Christmas shop in Michigan – everything else came from the bargain stores of Birmingham.

One thing I can rely on is my trusty collection of Halloween decorations. I thought I’d share how our old flat on Berkley Street looked last year (haven’t decorated this year yet as it’s too early). I find my Halloween decs as comforting as the family Christmas decorations; it’s as much a ritual to decorate for Halloween as for any other cultural/ religious holiday in our household.  And while one or two have exotic origins (see above) they are mostly from Poundland or the 99p Store and collectively cost about a tenner. Halloween is perfect for those of us on a budget, and (even though he probably wouldn’t approve) thank God for that!  I decorate our (black) Christmas tree and drape fake cobwebs everywhere (although with my approach to dusting, the work could really do itself). I collect vintage Halloween graphics in books, on Pinterest and in print. Each year I change all the photos around the house to various printouts according to our theme. Even in the loo. Especially in the loo.

My cheap computer print outs. Last years included a photo from St Lous Cemetery No. 1, a Victorian seance and a 1930s Halloween card.

My cheap computer print outs. Last year’s included a photo from St Louis Cemetery No. 1, a Victorian seance and a 1930s Halloween card.

My dad, who is probably even more macabre than me, is always threatening to bring a Ouija board home. Back when I was fourteen he dared a friend and I to walk through the village graveyard on Halloween night. We chickened out. In fact we went somewhere to ineptly puff on some cheap Korean cigarettes, which in hindsight was even more horrific. Of course dad didn’t know this and had used an alternative route to drive around to the back of the churchyard. His plan was to cut through a field, hide behind a gravestone and jump out at us. Unfortunately, he didn’t bargain on a sleeping cow lying in the middle of the pitch black field. Dad tripped over the unlucky heifer and knocked himself out. When he eventually came to, he had to haul arse back to the house before our return. We arrived to find him, slumped in an armchair, rather out of breath and slightly smelling of cow poo.

Let us eat cake: why should the Trick or Treaters have all the fun?

Let us eat cake: why should the Trick or Treaters have all the fun?

Another year, he mounted rotting pumpkins on spikes in the front garden to lure in unsuspecting Trick or Treaters who were subsequently made to put their hands into ‘the cauldron of doom’ (a La Creuset casserole dish full of pumpkin guts and sweets) only for the sweets to be soaked through. To be fair, we were usually the only house in the village that bothered making Halloween magical for the five or less Trick or Treaters that turned up annually. For a while, you might get one or two gangs of teenagers without costumes who would just say things like: ‘Can we ‘ave some chocolate?’ or ‘Can we ‘ave some (drug) money?’  But no, no they bloody couldn’t if they didn’t put in the effort.  With the increasing popularity of Halloween, maybe we’ll get some more well-meaning T or Ts this year, so we’ll have to give them a front garden to remember… ffd89379c206ef65d6ae711b53fc4b2d

Sweet satisfaction on a Halloween Hike

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My completed Halloween stash – the bears aren’t drunk yet.

Once upon a time, Halloween in England was quite uneventful. Trick or Treaters (3 maximum) would turn up at your door in their tracksuits and unimpressed by the array of sweets on offer, would just demand drug money instead.

Then the economy boomed and all manner of cheap tat was marketed for October 31st. Many big food companies still take this track, just changing their packaging to orange for one month of the year, mentioning no names in particular Mr Kipling. Kids started to expect more from their Halloween night and although we’ll never celebrate Halloween on the same scale as the Yanks (although the UK is just more spooky is general – all those half-timbered houses and old, old graveyards) we are very slowly getting more inventive.

For example, last year TK Maxx had the most astonishing array of elaborate Halloween decorations, many obviously imported from the US. I really should have stocked up because this year, there is nothing. Maybe in this wonderful utterly crap economy there was no point in selling niche products that won’t all get shifted but I find it peculiarly depressing.

Walking around today I was simply searching for gummy bears (which I intend to get drunk on gin and serve up as Bombay Bad Bears) for my horror movie marathon but ended up being so unimpressed with the selection of Halloween goodies on offer that it turned into a ‘Halloween Hike’ around Birmingham city centre to assess the current state of Halloween products.

By the way, before all that happened, I had purchased this little beauty from Frost & Snow:

Elderflower and Blueberry cupcake from Frost & Snow bakery – gorgeous.

Not bad considering I was walking around for hours in a sweet-seeking frenzy – and it tasted divine.

Selfridges had a small Halloween candy display but much of it (reassuringly expensive) was just ordinary chocolate with a punchy name eg ‘Death by Hot Chocolate.’ They have though, stepped up their game as far as cupcakes are concerned. Take a look at these lovelies:

Selfridges Cupcakes

The cupcake is the tulip of the 21st century – pretty, momentary and a ridiculously competitive market. But I’m enjoying the war (num num).

I was hoping for good things from Cyber Candy on Bull Street because their window display was so promising:

Cyber Candy: the place where sugar-coma dreams are made.

Alas, for all the pumpkins on the outside, the Halloween selection seemed limited to Pumpkin Spiced Hershey’s Kisses and Pumpkin Spiced Reece’s Pieces for £8 a pop! I ended up plumping for the Kisses because I know I can use them at Thanksgiving next month but I know they could be waaaaay cheaper.

I walked over to The Oasis in search of a black candle or two. None to be found, not even in the city’s alternative indoor market of choice. I did see a blast from my past in the form of these Living Dead Dolls though:

Aw, ickle Living Dead Dolls – so disturbingly cute.

I always wanted Sadie. She’s so delightfully evocative of the gothic side of the 1960s. I shall have to consign her to the dank vault of fantasy Christmas presents past. If I have a little girl one day, I’m not sure how it would go down having Sadie in the house. But she might make a good Halloween gift in the future.

Sadie, my LDD of choice.

In the end I gave up walking around. And that’s when I concluded that good old Poundland and the 99p Store are the unlikely saviours of Halloween. Brimming with all sorts of cheap, additive-laden spooky candy and polystyrene ghouls, I was able to decorate my black Halloween tree and sort out party nibbles for under a tenner. Hurrah!

I guess no one should think Halloween can just be bought. The joy of it is in being inventive. I just wish the stores over here could sell us the basics for both Tricks and Treats. Stay tuned to see how this year’s H’ween decs turn out…

Take me to your dealer: It’s hard to find a mammoth-sized pumpkin head lollipop in Birmingham these days.

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