Elvira - "2 Big Pumpkins"

Eh, why not?

Merry Christmas!

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas from Highbury Cemetery!

But be warned. Santy Claus only brings presents to them thats been good all year. What about you, boy? You been good all year?

"Chamber of Horrors" Cassette

Christmas comes a bit early to Highbury Cemetery this year! Presenting a very special Freebie Friday from a newly rediscovered gem from the depths of the garage...

While I was cleaning and organizing my garage after another wet, yet successful Halloween, I stumbled upon an old, single speaker radio/cassette player. After blowing years' worth of sawdust and cobwebs off, I inspected the old radio, remembering how I used to use it in the early, early days of my home haunt. While reminiscing, my eye caught something on the front of the radio. More specifically, something in the tape deck. I did a double-take as I quickly realized what it was. It was a cassette!

But not just any cassette...

It was my old "Chamber of Horrors" Halloween cassette! Voices. Sound. Music! I couldn't believe that I had found it. And I couldn't believe that I had forgotten it. It must have been hidden away in my garage, enduring at least 7 years' worth of cold winters and hot summers. And it appeared to still be in good condition.

We used this cassette as our haunt soundtrack in the early days, some 10 years ago or more. And we used to play it through that old, dusty one-speaker cassette player. That thought alone made me chuckle. It really showed how far we have come.

After getting nostalgic, I brought the tape into the house and quickly connected an old cassette deck to my current stereo setup. And nothing. No sound. No movement. The deck was dead.

Two weeks later, I procured another cassette deck from my mother-in-law and quickly hooked it up to the stereo. Same thing. Totally dead. I was completely striking out. Two cassette decks and nothing. Perhaps the tape was cursed?

Amazingly, I did a search on Amazon and found an incredibly cheap (cost and construction!) Cassette-to-USB tape player and two days later, had it hooked up to the computer, ready to try its luck with the tape. I put it in the player and hit play...

The speakers sprung to life, playing the sweet sounds of the old cassette, filing my mind with the classic haunt sounds from this masterpiece. Hearing those old haunt sounds again brought a big smile to my face.

As I listened to the tape, I started researching it, as I knew nothing about the age or the origin of it. And that is where things get kind of interesting.

Do a Google or YouTube search for "Chamber of Horrors" and you will undoubtedly find many entries on the 1988 version of this cassette. And I quickly found out that this version (with a different sticker label on the cassette itself) is actually awful. Generic voices and quick audio clips from popular songs (Thriller) and standard scary sound tracks. How many times is that guy going to say, "Haaaappy Halloweeeen!"??

Take a listen for yourself to see what I mean:

So after some extensive searching, I found NOTHING on this particular version of the cassette. The audio on my version is completely different, with more scary ambient Halloween sound effects. The audio actually repeats on both sides, but far outshines the more common version. My version doesn't have the 1988 copyright date, but does have the same "Made in China for ©Tony (U.S.A.) Encinitas, CA. 92024" disclaimer at the bottom.

I did a quick search for Tony (U.S.A.), and found that they are in the "Doll, Toy and Game Industry" and employ a total of 7 people. Not much to go on. My guess is that they simply licensed things like these cassettes in bulk. I vaguely remember getting mine at some point at some local discount store. With the "NEW" burst on my cassette, I'd be willing to bet that this version was released a bit later. I used it in the late 90s early 2000s for my haunt.

Either way, I find this version a far superior version to the 1988 original. And that is why I ripped it and am sharing it with all of you. This tape holds a special place in my cold, dead heart and it puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. If anyone knows anything about this version, feel free to drop the info in the comments below. I'd love to find out more about this particular version of the Halloween classic. When I have a free minute, I'll also post the audio to YouTube to see if anyone there knows anything about it. But until then, enjoy this version...


Merry Christmas from Highbury Cemetery and...

..."Haaaappy Halloweeeen!"


The Lights of the Cemetery, 2014

Last week, I shared my ambient audio track selections that made up the soundtrack to my yard haunt. Today, I'll share the other important piece of my display, my lighting setup. Lighting is something that I have really focused on over the past few years, and after continuous refinement, has really increased the visual punch of my yard haunt.

Be aware that there are a lot of different ways to get a great lighting effect, this is just the solution that I use in my yard haunt.

Here is a shot from this year's display. There is a warm color overtone throughout the display, with subtle, cool highlights for my tombstones and props. I'm pretty lucky, as the base for the warm overtone is actually provided by my city.

I'm fortunate enough to have a streetlight at the corner of my front yard that gives off a really nice yellow-orange light, perfect for Halloween. It's a bright light, too, so I use as much of that light as I can in my display.

The rich, warm light together with the big old oak tree provide the perfect base color for my display. It really sets up some nice highlights and stark shadows, providing an uneasy entry to the rest of the display. Streetlights further up the block also provide backlight to help carry the warm glow across the entire yard.

Below is a shot of the front yard without any of the Halloween display. You can really see in this photo how the yellow light illuminates the entire yard and gives the base needed to build in my color highlights.

Usually, I let this light illuminate my secondary props, including the old wooden crosses in my potter's field. These crosses are on the far left side of my display. The flat light gives them a slight glow, but also keeps them in the background, framing the main tombstones in the center of the display.

These wooden crosses and jack-o-lanterns are on the far right side of the display. The flat lighting here achieves the same thing, forming the opposite end of the display.

With the yellow-orange glow from the streetlights set, I then build my colors from there. I start with some flood lighting for the front of my house. A big portion of my haunt is contained in my front porch, so I want to make sure that the house is included as part of the display. I use an outdoor floodlamp with a red holiday bulb to illuminate the front of the house. I also have a large Rhododendron, so I set the lamp at its base. With the light traveling up through the branches, some really nice shadows are projected. 

Here is the outdoor floodlamp and bulb that I use. The base of the lamp is a stake, so you can stick it right into the ground.

As an added effect for the house, I also picked up a large roll of transparent green plastic cellophane (from Pat Catan's) for the windows. I simply cut the pieces to fit the windows, doubled them up and taped the pieces to the inside of the window sills. When you turn on the lights inside the rooms, you get a really nice green glow outside. A nice subtle detail to complete the front of the house!

With the front of the house now lit and detailed, I can move to the tombstones in the display. I start with another outdoor floodlamp (like the one above), this time with a blue holiday bulb, and project it onto the front of the Highbury obelisk. This sets up as a strong swatch of cool color and becomes a center focus in the middle of the cemetery. And when the blue light wraps around the obelisk, it mixes with the red floodlamp behind it and casts a bit of a purple light.

The back row of tombstones, along with other important props throughout the yard, all get lit with standard 8.5" aluminum flood lights with colored light bulbs. I have about five or six of the flood lamps and I insert an array of bulb colors for each, depending on what prop it will be used for. I have a nice collection of green, red, orange and blue bulbs to use for accent lighting on the props.

A blue light was used to illuminate the Vodoun Wayfinder prop. I ended up setting the light to the side of the prop and glancing the light across the front of it instead of a straight-on highlight. I think it worked well and gave the prop a much creepier look in the indirect light.

And I set up an orange bulb to highlight my talking cemetery greeter at the base of the driveway. I positioned the light on the ground and then aimed the light straight on so that it would also illuminate the wooden crosses in front of it.

I also use these lights for the front porch crypt. I went with cold blue and green colors only (outside of the orange accent color above the corpse in the coffin and a grouping of LED candles), as I wanted the room to be a stark contrast to the bold colors of the cemetery. I wanted to keep the light low and gently illuminate the thick fog that was in the room.

Once all of the prop accent flood lighting was taken care of, I could then move to the most important lighting - the front row of tombstones. This is the main focus in the entire display, so I wanted to use the boldest accents of color to draw the eye in.

And four years ago, I found a great solution. I found a set of cheap LED bulbs from an eBay seller in Hong Kong. They came in a set of five, but the really great part is that it also came with a controller for the bulbs. You can actually point the controller at the bulb and pick one of 16 different colors for the bulb to display.

The bulbs screw right into a standard 5.5" aluminum flood lamp (that I painted flat black), and I now set up a row of five, all pointed at the fronts of tombstones. With the color controller, I can set up any number of color combinations, although I tend to choose cool colors to really pop the stones' contrast. The bulbs cast an intense beam of color and really highlight whatever they are cast upon. The light even travels beyond the tombstones and mixes with other accent lighting behind it to create new color mixes throughout the display.

These bulbs are really what took my display to the next level and I use them for everything. Whenever I do a lighted shot for showing off my new props, I set up one of these bulbs for the color lighting. I can't recommend these bulbs enough!

With a quick eBay search, you can find plenty of these bulbs for sale!! 

And that's it! I hope that with this information, I showed you the fun and importance of a good lighting set up and that with the solutions that I use in my display, also showed you that it can be done on a cheap budget. Happy Haunting!  Only 339 days until Halloween!!


Umberto & Antoni Maiovvi - "The Hook & Pull Gang"

Without a doubt my favorite new release. Gritty, grimey and perfect! I just wish I could have been at MondoCon or BeyondFest to see this score performed live during the showing of the iconic film it was written for...

From Death Waltz:
The debut release on Death Waltz Originals is not only a brand new recording from Umberto & Antoni Maiovvi entitled 'The Hook & Pull Gang’ but is also a full re-score of the notorious classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The duo will exclusively perform the re-score live at MondoCon & Beyond Fest in September . The screenings will retain ALL of the dialogue and sound effects and will be accompanied by brand new music to accompany the images on screen.

Scores From a Haunt Sale

This past week, I found a posting about a home haunt sale going on a mere 20 minutes from my house, so Saturday morning I grabbed my good bud Jimmy T and we took a ride to see what they had.

It's always sad to see someone selling off their haunt, but in this instance was necessary due to a move to California.

As we arrived, we saw a Jeep with a trailer already loaded up with a full-size coffin and two skull walls, so we knew somebody was cleaning up. In all honesty, I was only looking for a few small things from the list the seller posted online, so I was okay to see that those particular things were still available.

As we continued to go through the sale items, a couple of fellow haunters showed up. No overlapping on our want lists, so we ended up hanging out and talking with the owner. Even though it was roughly 38 degrees outside. Our friends ended up taking the really cool "claustrophobia wall" and some camo netting, leaving me to the small amount of items that I wanted.

As I was paying for my goods, the owner informed us that the money from the sale was actually going to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, so it felt good to drop a little cash for a good cause.

So here is what I ended up getting, all at really good prices:

First up is The Webcaster Gun, complete with a pack of glue sticks. I was going to order a new one from Amazon, but I'm glad I didn't. I can't wait to try and shoot some webbing onto my props for next year.

Next is the small mp3 player and battery operated speaker combo. Super cheap, but good sound from a self-contained unit that I can use for some accent ambient audio. And because it runs on batteries, I can put it anywhere without having to find an open electrical plug. This was a nice surprise for the quality and sound level of the speaker unit.

Third was one of the items that I really wanted, a Chauvet Hurricane 1100 fog machine. I'm currently using two larger, 1100-watt machines and had always wanted a smaller accent fogger for the top of my driveway. And for the price, this was a no-brainer. It's a nice, compact unit that still produces a large amount of fog. I can't wait to drop a little Froggy's Fog juice in it and fire it up.

And finally, another piece that I was really interested in picking up, a Kaleidoscope Laser Jet. I had seen lasers used with great success in other haunts, so I figured I'd pick this one up and see what I could do with it. When I turned it on, it produced a really vivid, moving green and red dot pattern throughout my basement. I'm going to try and set this up in the top corner of my front porch and let the moving laser lights cut through some thick fog. This effect will surely mess with the trick-or-treaters! I hope to have the "candy givers" standing still in these lights and then move forward silently as the kids come up to get their candy.

Here is what the laser looks like in my basement:

Overall, a nice score of items for not a lot of money. I was able to stay within my small budget and I only picked up the things that I really needed. I know that there were some larger items still available for sale when we left, so check out the list if you're in the area and help out a great cause!


The Sounds of the Cemetery, 2014

I wanted to take a second to share with everyone the audio that I used in this year's yard haunt.

I'm always on the lookout for the next great track to use in my haunt, and I usually gravitate toward dark ambient tracks. They provide a dark and creepy sound that fills the yard, yet manages to stay in the background, not becoming the focus. I find that these kinds of tracks support the visual aspect of the haunt perfectly. A constant, unrecognizable sound that instills atmospheric dread and discomfort.

A week or two before Halloween, I discovered the track that would be used for the main cemetery audio. I honestly can't remember how exactly I stumbled upon this track, but once I heard it, I knew that was the track to use.

Pioneering dark ambient artist Jeff Greinke has been composing music since 1984, but it was a track from his 1992 release Lost Terrain that really caught my attention. His track The Moor sets a perfect mood of layered dread that slowly creeps from the dark corners of the cemetery. A truly eerie track that waited 22 years to be used in my Halloween setting!

On top of this main track echoing throughout the front yard, I used a support track for my front porch crypt. I picked this track solely for the purpose of supporting my newest prop, Le Cadavre de Vodoun. When I heard this track, I new that it would fit perfectly as it swirled out from beneath the coffin, enveloping the two figures shrouded in foggy darkness (my mom and aunt!) as they handed out candy to the trick-or-treaters...

Alongside dark ambient, another go-to for audio inspiration for me has been horror movie soundtracks. The genre has been very popular lately, with stellar releases and re-releases coming out from great labels like Death Waltz, Mondo and Waxwork.

In September, Death Waltz released The Equestrian Vortex, a 10-inch record with tracks composed by Andrew Liles, using audio cues from the 2012 film, Berberian Sound Studio. While the prospect of a blue and yellow swirled 10-inch record excited me, hearing the cut from side two, Lord, We Beseech You stopped me in my tracks. Not so much a structured audio track as a long, demonic repetitive female chanting that added a whole new depth of creepiness to the crypt.

And unfortunately, I couldn't find the track online, so to hear it at Death Waltz, you have to first click on this link. On the menu to the left, click on the "Listen" tab. Then click on the little blue arrow icon next to "Side 2. Lord, We Beseech You" and be prepared to be creeped out.

Together, these two tracks added the perfect underlying effect of dread that really supported the visual punch of my yard haunt. Over the past couple of years, I have really focused more on the audio aspect of my haunt and I no longer use the traditional "spooky sounds" tracks. I think going outside the standard audio selections can really take your haunt to a frightening, new level of terror and unease.


Waxwork Records Halloween 2014 Mixtape

It's like they raided my personal record collection to come up with this amazing Halloween mix! Waxwork Records has been on an incredible roll as of late and I can't wait to see what I'm going to spend my paycheck on next from them...

Dia de Muertos Cleveland, 2014

After a whirlwind Halloween Friday night, I decided to brave the cold temperatures of Saturday and headed up to the 10th annual Dia de Muertos festival in Cleveland.

Honoring the spirit of deceased loved ones with mariachi bands, altars created by local artists, a cemetery display, dancers, sugar skulls, food, intricate dia de los muertos makeup, giant puppets and a skull and skeleton parade made for a really great way to spend a frigid afternoon...

A pleasant surprise was artist Nancy Cintron's giant altar dedicated to horror icon, Vincent Price! A large collection of Cintron's sketches of Price in his many iconic film and television roles as well as an area to sit and sketch or write your personal memories of him. Even if there were no sketches of Dr. Phibes, it was a perfect way to wrap up the Halloween season!

And while it was cold with a few flakes of snow in the air, the warmth of the colors, the music and the people made for a spectacular and fun event. I will definitely be back next year, camera in hand, and this time, some paint on my face! Feliz Dia de Muertos!