Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Manning Makes Stuff - Halloween decorations, paper mache masks, costumes, party ideas, and more

Haunted asylum Halloween party theme


Published by Manning on July 11th, 2015

The theme for my Halloween party in 2014 was: haunted insane asylum! I made up a name for our old-timey asylum: Tranquility Meadows Lunatic Asylum, and I chose red as my main color for the ambiance of the party. Here’s some info about all of the decorations we made, our costumes, and the animated invitation we sent out, all with the goal of fleshing out the theme and establishing a great spooky mood for the event.

Invitation — I make an animated invitation for each of my Halloween parties; it really helps set the mood and establish the color scheme and give people some inspiration for their costumes. Here’s the invitation for the haunted asylum party! Note: there is audio. Also, it’s made in Flash, so it won’t work on an iPhone/iPad.

Tranquility Meadows Lunatic Asylum; Halloween party invitation

Front hallway — We have a weird private front hallway; you enter the apartment building, come upstairs, open a door into our private hallway (where we normally keep our shoes and stuff) and then there’s a second door that enters into our apartment. The whole hallway is just about five feet wide by eight feet long; tiny. We always decorate the hell out of this small enclosed space, so from the minute you open that first door, you’re transported into our spooky Halloween world! Ha. One of the main things we usually do is cover the boring white walls of this hallway with plastic table cloths from the dollar store; this is the cheapest method for covering a large space — much cheaper than paper! The only thing that might be cheaper would be trash bags, cut open and flatted out. I’ve done that too! Anyway, for the haunted asylum party, we covered the interior of that hallway area with red plastic table cloths, using making tape to stick ’em up. I then hung a couple dozen white paper maché animal masks on the walls and door; more about those masks here.

Spooky animal masks on the wall

I made an oversized clipboard out of foam board wrapped in craft paper, and I designed and printed out a big sign-in form. I hung this on the door along with a sharpie marker on a string. This way guests could sign in to the asylum on their way in. It was fun; a lot of people signed in, some with their real names, and some with their costume names! It was hilarious to find these the next day.

Once the guests were inside, other decorations they encountered included…

Padded walls — This was the biggest and most challenging decoration I made for this theme; kind of the centerpiece for the whole party, and a good backdrop for guests to take photos. See my article about making the padded walls.

DIY padded walls Halloween party decoration

Lighting — We changed out all our normal bulbs in the apartment for red fluorescent party bulbs, with the exception of a couple yellow bulbs in the kitchen. I always try to have slightly brighter light in the kitchen so people can see well enough to mix drinks, serve themselves food, etc.

Baby parts in jars — Our kitchen cabinets were propped open and full of old jars stuffed with baby doll heads, snakes and spiders, etc, all with spooky yellow backlighting. I have a whole article about that here.

Doll parts and bugs in jars; simple Halloween decoration

Bloody syringes hanging from the ceiling — This was a decoration for our medical-themed bathroom. I ordered a couple dozen cheap plastic syringes and hung them from the bathroom ceiling with fishing line. I bloodied them up by sticking them into a bottle of red tempera paint, sucking some paint into them, and then squeezing it back out. This created a nice uneven gooey-looking blood stain inside the syringes. Easy!

I also had a neat idea for the lighting in the bathroom: I removed the bulb from the frosted overhead light, and I hung a clamp light up there; you know, the thing with the aluminum shell around it. I hung it straight down with a red bulb in it, and with the cable hanging loosely along the ceiling, down the wall into the socket. The whole thing created a sort of horror-movie evil-laboratory kind of vibe; perfect.

Picture frames with creepy medical images — We have a lot of black picture frames in our living room and bathroom, and most years I make custom pictures that go with the theme of the party and stick them in there. However, the pictures we have in there all year happen to be creepy medical images! So for this party we didn’t have to do anything with them at all! Ha! In fact, the pictures in the frames on our living room wall come from the medical history museum in Berlin; the Medizinhistorisches Museum. Pictures of old medical instruments, pages from old medical texts, etc. Perfect for this party. The frames in our bathroom have various anatomical drawings of human and animal skeletons, so, again, just about perfect for the theme of the party.

Pill bottles — I ordered a couple dozen large orange pill bottles and designed and printed custom labels with the logo of our haunted asylum and the names of some of our guests! I filled the bottles with candy and left them around the apartment, on kitchen counters, on the dining room table, on windowsills, etc. This was a big hit, and very easy to do.

Bars on windows — I made fake bars by rolling up craft paper into bar shapes and spray painting them black, and then taped them directly to the windows. Easy! This looked great from both inside and outside the apartment; from the street outside, the windows glowed bright red and had these distinct black lines where the bars were.

I also put a real bow saw on the windowsill! I covered the blade with a fake poster board blade, just in case some drunk decided to play with the thing and hurt himself.

Skeleton in bloody bathtub — This is such an easy, impressive effect, and we do a variation of it almost every year. I have an article about this effect here.

Skeleton in a bloody bathtub; easy Halloween party decoration

Morgue drawers — I covered one wall with fake morgue drawers, with a spooky “Morgue” sign above. This is actually the second time I’ve made this kind of decoration; the first time was years ago for a friend’s party. That time I wanted to go for an old-fashioned marble mausoleum drawer kind of look, and this time I went for a dark rusty metal look, like in an old abandoned hospital. I don’t have pics from this time, so this pic (and the accompanying tutorial with work-in-progress pics) are from that previous time. So the ones in these pics are white foam board, but for the haunted asylum party I made them with black foam board, and I made fake rusty metal hinges to stick on the sides. It’s fun researching this stuff! The little details really enhance everything. My research told me that for the old-timey mausoleum drawers, like where family members would be interred permanently, you usually have a drawer that slides straight out, so no hinges. But with metal drawers in an old morgue, you’ve got a door that swings opens on hinges, and then the cadaver is on a metal platform that slides out. Fun! For these fake drawers I also made little rusty name plates and I wrote the names of various party guests on ’em. The rusty hinges and name plates were just graphics that I designed in Photoshop, printed out, and cut out and pasted on.

Morgue drawers Halloween party decoration

Asylum sign on balcony — We have a front balcony that faces the street, and some years I make a big sign for the party and hang it sticking out from the balcony so that people walking up the street can see it from afar. For this haunted asylum party I made a big sign by building a tall, narrow box out of foam board and packing tape, I wrapped it in craft paper, lightly spray painted it black to make it look old and dirty, and cut out big letters with white paper to spell out ASYLUM; I glued the letters on and then lightly spray painted them with some more black spray paint to make them look old. I attached the sign to the balcony with heavy duty Scotch packing tape. I attached a clip light to the balcony railing and pointed it at the sign to light it up. This was way less ambitious than the light up sign I made for my Cabaret de L’Enfer party, but it did the job!

Asylum sign

Miscellaneous odds and ends — we set out lots of fake rats and roaches everywhere, on the window sills and stuff. I had a few extra life size plastic skeletons, so I propped up one in the corner of the apartment wearing another home-made straight jacket (made of an old sweatshirt and some belts), and I hung another skeleton upside down from the balcony with some rope. I always put lots of little battery-powered tealight candles everywhere in the apartment to enhance the spooky ambiance. I dirtied up the bathroom mirror with black tempera paint applied with a paper towel; tempera is very easy to clean off of glass, but don’t try this with other kinds of paint!

Last but not least, our costumes — I went as famous literary madman Renfield, from Dracula, and my fiancée was a terrifying possessed/zombie nurse. Here’s a pic of her nurse dress and shoes in progress:

DIY zombie nurse Halloween costume

She bought a nurse’s uniform online, stained it with tea, and then splatted red acrylic paint on it for blood.

That’s all I can remember! Whew! All of this was a ton of work, but totally, totally worth it. Can’t wait for next Halloween!

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