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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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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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