7 Techie Tips for a Scary Halloween

Is there a holiday that’s more demanding of parents than Halloween? For kids, it’s all about costumes and too much candy. But parents are expected to combine the skills of a costumer, a set dresser, an event planner, and Steven King. It’s almost enough to make you want to turn out the porch light and wait for Thanksgiving.

Despair not; it's technology to the rescue. We've discovered a variety of easy ways to use your computer, your phone, and other devices to help in your noble quest to make cool costumes, scary decorations, and ultimately, lasting Halloween memories.

1. Take Zombie Selfies

The only thing that kids love more than zombies? Smartphones. The Zombify app combines those two obsessions by applying layers of virtual gore and blood over a selfie. That allows you to become the Greg Nicotero of your neighborhood without demanding that your subjects spends hours in the makeup chair. Even better? Zombify is free for Halloween for iPhone and Android users.

2. Make Cosplay Costumes

How often do you make a costume? Once a year, tops, give or take a school play? Why not get advice from the specialists?

Adam Savage of "Mythbusters" fame made an inspiring video of his build of a quick-and-dirty Doc Ock costume from "Spider-Man 2" for the comedian Patton Oswalt. You might not want to make that costume, but you can channel his thought process using lightweight materials, mounting them to a comfortable backpack frame, finding the right adhesives for the materials, and emphasizing safety above all. (Accidents aren't funny even before someone loses an eye.)

That's just one idea. The internet is full of tips and tricks from actual costume designers, makeup artists, and special-effects experts who work in film and on the stage. An even better source of inspiration is the army of talented amateurs who engage in cosplay-genre conventions. 

3. Put J.S. Bach in Your Mailbox

It takes a lot of effort to build a haunted house that’s really scary. But the right creepy noise at just the right time isn't only bone-chilling, it's easy to generate. Hide a wireless speaker, say, in your mailbox. Pair it to your phone, and when trick or treaters come, have an accomplice groan, “Let me out of here . . . ”

If you just want mood music, try the pipe-organ classic Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Or stream this creepy Tom Waits’ classic. 

4. Add Entrails to Your Smartphone

Mark Rober was a rocket scientist fiddling with high-tech Halloween costumes when his hobby took on a life of its own. He quit his day job on NASA's Mars rover program and now offers a free app that features freaky beating hearts and other animated gore and guts. You run the app on a phone slipped into a costume that reveals just enough of the screen to bring the horror to life. You can order the outfit online or make one yourself.

5. Carve Your Pumpkin CNC-style

Got a CNC machine sitting around? Then go for it. If not, you can aim for a CNC-quality pumpkin using less spendy materials.

A Google search can point you in the direction of a) ideas that go beyond the current presidential candidates and b) free or inexpensive stencils for a template. (Our favorite? A pumpkin carved with an actual QR code where you can set up a customized link that visitors can actually scan on their phones.) Then you can simply blast through the template and pumpkin with a Dremel tool. It’s faster than most pumpkin-carving blades—and safer.

Once your carving is done, consider a high-tech alternative to a candle for illumination, such as LED lights from a hardware store or even a bundle of cheap laser pointers to project the pumpkin's image onto a garage door.

6. Design a Flat-Screen Mirror of Horror

Don’t ever get a TV engineer into a discussion about the merits of hanging a television over a fireplace. But any TV placed there, where you might expect to see an elaborate mirror or painting, is a particularly good candidate for this straightforward how-to. Buy a cheap, old-fashioned wooden frame to cover the television's plastic or metal bezel. Cover the screen with two-way mirror vinyl, which you can find at a craft store. Voilà! Your TV's an heirloom mirror. Then slip in a ghostly DVD and you've got a scary thing. 

7. Concoct Drinks That Glow in the Dark

Remember those scary black-light posters from "That '70s Show?" Or the actual 1970s? That retro technology can be frightening in an entirely different way on Halloween. Replace a few ordinary bulbs with black lights, which you can find at a hardware store. Fill a beaker or some test tubes with tonic water from the supermarket, then walk into your Halloween party carrying a glow-in-the-dark drink. (The quinine in the tonic water makes it fluoresce a bright blue under a black light.) Want to really freak out your friends? Cackle. Drink it. And pretend to keel over.

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