A musical performance by the Dead Beats is part of Williams’ Haunted Garage Productions.

A musical performance by the Dead Beats is part of Williams’ Haunted Garage Productions.

File photos by Maria Allard


Setting the scene this Halloween

By: Andy Kozlowski | C&G Newspapers | Published September 25, 2019

 Glen Williams’ Haunted Garage Productions show in 2016 included  a witch hunt.

Glen Williams’ Haunted Garage Productions show in 2016 included a witch hunt.

File photo by Maria Allard

METRO DETROIT — Glen Williams humbly denies being an expert on the art of the “home haunt,” but the resident of Grosse Pointe Farms clearly knows a thing or two after years of transforming his Mack Avenue home into a Halloween wonderland.

As early as July each year, Williams begins work on Haunted Garage Productions, a tour spanning both his property and his parents’ place next door. A retired teacher with the Grosse Pointe Public School System, Williams’ staff includes about 40 friends, family members, and current and former students. Together, they work hard on the elaborate setup, which includes assets acquired from other haunts that went out of business during the recession.

For example, one year there was a maze lined with cornstalks, pumpkins and orange lights leading to a vortex tunnel — a bridge running through a cylinder that rotates around it, the walls adorned in black light patterns. This year there is a witch’s castle — a facade containing a scene — and an old mining town, as well as plans for a fully animated cemetery. A menagerie of monsters are depicted by costumed actors and puppeteers that in the past have included Williams’ own mother playing a witch and his father operating a fake spider dropper.

Around 3,500-4,000 people attend the tours, which cost $13 per person, with the proceeds going to charitable causes. Groups with young kids carry blinking lights so that the actors know to dial it down. In any case, the monsters stay out of your personal space, and there’s no shouting, screaming, blood or gore. The haunt is located at 19520 Mack Ave., and it takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. the last three weekends of October — Oct. 11-13, Oct. 18-20 and Oct. 25-27.

The scope of Haunted Garage Productions is well beyond what the typical home does for the Halloween season, but Williams said that it doesn’t take much to transform one’s property into something special.

“When kids go trick-or-treating on Halloween night, think about what they’re attracted to,” Williams said. “Usually it’s a different color that catches their eye, so put a blue spotlight in your yard and shine it on your house. Now people can see it from blocks away. If you want to get a bit crazier, buy a small strobe light to go with the blue light. Now people are really seeing you. And if you want to go the extra mile, get a fog machine — they’re in the $40-$80 range, and 1 gallon of fog juice for $10-$20 should last you the night and cover your yard in fog. Now you’re the hit of the neighborhood!”

He noted that with fog juice, there are different juices for different effects, including dense fog, low-lying fog, bubble fog and even snowflake fog. Advanced users may even pipe the juice through dry ice to chill it and make the fog linger closer to the ground. Wind can disperse it, however, so one should take into account the weather.

There are other ways to create a scene, such as audio playback of witches cackling, werewolves howling and ghosts moaning. A spinning motor can twirl around bats; projectors can create the illusion of 3D ghosts in the dark; animatronic hands can reach out of graves. Other tried-and-true staples include fake spiderwebs, smoking cauldrons full of treats, fan-powered light-up inflatables, and tombstones lining the yard.

One can also get creative and build unique props. Williams recommends taking old clothes and a rubber mask and stuffing them, using safety pins to attach the mask at the collar, and then placing the dummy on a bench, or strapping it to a plank or pole like a scarecrow. You can even create sight gags like the dummy’s legs sticking out from beneath a boulder. And for a good scare, you can dress up yourself and lie near the dummy, startling people with sudden movement.

And for that authentic autumnal atmosphere, consider all-natural seasonal touches.

“One can make beautiful displays with straw, cornstalks, pumpkins and gourds. They will last quite a while — the straw lasts a very long time,” said Patricia Horrie, the office manager and buyer at Allemon’s Landscape Center in Detroit. “I would definitely add mums to the display also. They come in a variety of colors to go with any house color, such as purples, whites, rust or yellow. Plus, they come in all sorts and sizes. Mums last all different lengths of time, depending on if it’s a warm fall or a cool fall. They last longer in cool weather.”

One place to stock up on supplies for home haunts is the Haunted Garage Sale hosted by the Motor City Haunt Club, which opens Sept. 28, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Ford Community and Performing Arts Center, located at 15801 Michigan Ave. in Dearborn. Jim Wieme is an avid haunter with the group, and he volunteers as the main technician for movable props on Williams’ haunt. He said one should come early since there’s always a “mad rush” of people waiting to see the sale, which will feature more than 60 vendors at over 100 tables.  

Wieme also recommends that people consider joining the club itself, which costs $5 a year and meets monthly at the University of Detroit Mercy’s chemistry building to discuss ideas for home haunts. Meeting dates and times are available at www.motorcityhauntclub.com. He also recommends checking out another group, Poor Man Props, which holds its own monthly meetings year-round focused on building props. To learn more, visit poormanprops.weebly.com.

“It’s just delightful to put a smile on a kid’s face, and even adults. That’s what we’re here for,” Wieme said. “We want to make them laugh and give them something fun and unique to see. We want to get them excited about something that’s different, and that takes them away from all the problems they face every day.”