You may be too old to trick-or-treat, but you can still enjoy Halloween. One great way is by setting up a haunted house.
It can be simple or elaborate, mildly frightening or intense enough to send people running for the door. Just know your audience and don't overdo it, especially with little kids. In fact, creating your own haunted house lets you take your children's scare-o-meter into consideration.
The first step: Find a location. We suggest a basement or garage. A basement is preferable simply because it has more rooms to work with. A garage can be sectioned off by hanging sheets of black fabric or plastic.
Decide what your haunted house will include and where each set piece will go. Which corner is best for the casket? Where can Dracula hide? Where will lights be set up? Be sure to have an easily accessible exit (a frightened visitor may want to sprint for the door).
Then the nuts and bolts. If there are props to be built, get started. If you're going to rent a special effect — say, a fog machine — get it reserved.
Get your helpers to brainstorm and build things, of course, but their greatest value may be as living props. Have them get costumed, slather on makeup, splash themselves with fake blood (do-it-yourself directions at chemistry.about.com/cs/howtos/ht/fakeblood.htm or wikihow.com/Make-Fake-Blood).
Now you have to pull it all together. Some other ideas:
Good grave-y: A graveyard out front gets visitors in the right mood even before they enter the haunted house. Dot your lawn with tombstones made of heavy cardboard or Styrofoam.
Music: At this time of year, even supermarkets sell recordings of Halloween-themed music and sound effects. Get something on the gentle side to give the little ones the willies, then climb the ladder to recordings of moaning, demented laughter, crackling thunder and chain-rattling that older kids can roll their eyes at.
Lighting: Spotlights and black lights can make the difference in a haunted house. A judiciously placed red bulb can transform a display from pedestrian to scary. Remember, it's important that visitors be able to navigate your haunted house safely, so make sure there is enough light.
A science lab: Set up a laboratory — workbench, creepy lighting, large jars containing body parts (doll heads, arms or legs, mannequin parts, etc.). A lab coat and a fright wig turn a helper into a mad doctor, especially with the right spiel.
Tangled webs: You can't go wrong with spider webs. The store-bought stuff works; just don't scrimp. Little ones will get a kick out of a giant spider web you make yourself with yarn (josepino.com/projects/halloween — decorations3).
Touch this: Set up several small boxes with holes cut in the side, into which visitors reach and feel "body parts." Two jumbo stuffed green olives can serve as eyeballs; cold and squishy cooked elbow macaroni or spaghetti can pass for brains; a large soup bone can be delightfully gross. Nothing feels as liverlike as liver, so include a hunk to increase the ewwwwwww factor.