Terrifying tech for Halloween hosts

Planning a Halloween party can be a complicated task. You need to think about music, food, drinks, and most importantly, making sure your guests actually show up. Luckily, there are tech tips and tricks to make such things easier every step of the way. Since there are so many elements to a successful party, we’re going to examine each of them—from the original concept to the finishing touches—and then point you to the sites and tech you can use to take your soirée to the next level.

Themes

The first decision you need to make concerns a theme for your party and how seriously you’re going to commit to it. If you’re throwing a small, simple party, you probably don’t need to set a theme besides just having a general Halloween party, but you should have a plan. The easiest way to have your party overwhelm you is to not plan it at all.

A theme is especially important for Halloween parties because it affects your guests as well. You’ll want to let your guests know the theme as early as possible so they can plan their costumes. You’ll also want to get a good costume of your own that fits the theme.

You can, of course, buy your costume online. Amazon has an entire Halloween section that’s fast and easy. If you need accessories ThinkGeek has great items such as this high-end Lightsaber or the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver for your Doctor Who outfit.

You can also make your own outfit. Instructables and other DIY sites often have some great Halloween tutorials like this one on making your own Wolverine Claws. If you’re looking for geeky costume advice, try hitting up cosplay communities like Cosplay.com. While most of us are just making costumes for one night a year, cosplayers have a lot more experience creating costumes and even making a living off of it in some cases. They’re also happy to share advice. Cosplay.com and most similar communities have an entire costume construction section in their forums.

If your family has children or pets, or you expect a lot of guests with kids or animals, you might consider a theme that’s slightly more general or at least kid-friendly. You’ll want to tailor your snacks, drinks and audio/visual components to be appropriate for children but mostly you’ll want to make a theme where the kids can get dressed up because that’s pretty much always adorable or hilarious.

If you’ve thrown a few parties before or you just want to try something a little more exciting, you can go for a specific party theme. Picking a theme will decide what you do for all the other aspects of your party, and it can open up a lot of ways to use technology to make your party better.

For the last few years, I’ve been throwing an alien-invasion party based on the War of the Worlds broadcast. That's one example, but your options are almost limitless—from a traditional haunted house to the tech-friendly mad scientist’s laboratory.

A theme, be it alien invasion or haunted house, can help liven up your party.

If you’re still brainstorming for a great theme, traditional party planning websites can help. Sites like Better Homes and Gardens or About’s entertaining section have lists of Halloween themes that can inspire your party.

Invitations

When I’m throwing a party, I try to keep the technology as low-friction as possible. I have enough non-tech things to worry about without the fear that whatever online services I’m using will have their own problems. That means my go-to online invitation service for parties is still Facebook.

For all the service’s problems, Facebook’s events function is still the easiest way I know to make sure all your friends will actually see your invitation and keep track of who has RSVP’d. In my experience, invitations exclusively via email are hard to come back to. If guests don’t respond immediately, the invitation can get lost in their inbox.

Sites like Evite have great Halloween templates for your party’s invitations.

To create a new Facebook event just click the Events tab on the left side of your Facebook homepage and then click the Create Event button. You’ll need to fill in the time and place of your event and give it a name and then you’ll be able to invite friends and upload a photo for your event’s page.

Facebook Events have really limited customization options however, so if you’re looking to make your invite feel special you might be better off using a service like Evite or Punchbowl that give you theme options. If none of their themes work for you, then write up your own custom invites. There are tons of great free Halloween graphics such as vector icons that you can use to customize your own spooky invites and send them out to friends. Just remember to send them a friendly reminder or two if you don’t hear back.

Music

Creating a playlist for your party is a place where Spotify’s social approach to listening to music and creating playlists really excel. If you’re just looking for a quick playlist for a last-minute get-together, then searching for Halloween on the service will bring up not just a ton of songs devoted to the holiday but even full playlists created by other users that you can borrow for a party of your own.

This Ultimate Halloween Playlist for instance is great even if some of the selections are a little on the nose. If that doesn’t suit you, there’s also Spotify’s own Spookify your Halloween playlist along with dozens of others created by users.

If you don’t want to make your own playlist, Spotify has tons of great options to choose from.

I tend to be particular about my party playlists and spend a lot of time planning them. When I worked on these playlists by myself, I often used iTunes. But when I started trying to share the playlists with others to work on them collaboratively, it proved a less-than-ideal solution. Sharing playlists with others is a finicky process on iTunes, especially if you’re trying to share music that’s only on your library or, even worse, if the music is DRM protected. Even worse, there was no way to sync playlists between computers once changes are made.

If you want to create your own playlist by yourself then stick with whatever music tools you prefer and are used to. But, if you’re looking to create a playlist with other contributors, Spotify’s social features once again excel.

For a party earlier this year, I created an editable playlist and allowed everybody who was coming to put in as many songs as they wanted. Once we had a good selection we started curating the list. All these changes synced instantly which meant there was no confusion over which version of the playlist we were looking at and no need to touch base about having made changes to the playlist. The process isn’t entirely perfect—music that’s in your library, but not in Spotify’s archives, won’t show up for others on the playlist, but it’s certainly made party planning easier.

Once you’ve got some audio to play, you’ll need somewhere to play it. If you already have speakers in your home, the audio quality is probably fine. Unless your guests are almost exclusively music snobs, the most important thing is to find speakers loud enough for the music to be heard over the sound of the party itself. I usually try and play my music through the speakers on my television since I know they’re loud enough.

If there’s somehow nothing in your house that can play music loud enough for a party though, I recommend the Jawbone Jambox that packs surprisingly loud speakers in a tiny package. The bluetooth pairing on the Jambox makes it easy to send music from your computer or mobile phone to the speakers.

Since the wireless Jambox also has decent battery life, it’s easy to place almost anywhere you need it in your house. This makes the party setup easier and also lets you do a few Halloween tricks we’ll discuss a bit later.

Video

If you’re using your TV speakers to play the audio for your party, or if you just have a big screen sitting in the same room you’re planning for your party, you’ll probably want some sort of visuals on screen to reflect the party spirit and general festive ambience. For a recent housewarming party, I just grabbed the "10-hour Nyan-Cat" video off of YouTube, muted the audio to avoid driving people mad, and had a nice screensaver to accompany the playlist.

If you’d like to have your visuals match the theme of your party then there are tons of great horror movies available on YouTube. A lot of the films tend to be more modern second- or third-tier horror movies but there’s some older and weirder stuff in YouTube’s catalog as well.

There are tons of great free horror movies such as Plan 9 From Outer Space available free online.

A favorite that is great for lighthearted Halloween fun is the masterpiece of terrible filmmaking from Ed Wood himself, Plan 9 From Outer Space. The Internet Archive also has a large collection of free horror films including the original Night of the Living Dead and the fantastically titled The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. Any of these played in a loop are a great visualizer for any Halloween playlist.

If their selections don’t work for you there’s also great movies available from Open Culture. You can also use Netflix or Hulu of course if you have a subscription. Finally there are Creative Commons licensed movies you can use for free as well.

Alternately, you can skip the playlist entirely by just having the movie’s audio playing for a little background noise. Having a movie on can be a bit distracting, but if you’ve got a large crowd on hand, it’s a great way to avoid the awkwardness at the start of the party by giving people something to talk about that they can easily ignore once it gets rolling.

If you’re going for extra credit, you can make your own visuals for the party. This ranges from relatively simple or short video clips you’ve made using a video editor or animation tool to complex graphics to really sell your party’s theme. Since I’ve been running my Halloween party for a few years now, I’ve been able to slowly expand a logo and name for the party we whipped up a few years back into a really extensive set of graphics describing a full alien invasion going on outside.

Treats

Some Halloween themed food and drink is a great way to liven up your party. There are obvious candidates like pumpkin pie and well, basically any candy you can imagine, but consider looking online for a dish your guests haven’t seen before. If you don’t feel up to going all out on the food, a signature drink, alcoholic or not, is often much easier to make and still impresses.

You can find unusual Halloween recipe suggestions on sites like Bon Appetit or Delish. In fact, most recipe sites have a few Halloween food and drink recipes up their sleeve if you poke around a little bit.

If you’re not making your drinks in a large batch before the party starts, you’ll want to print out a copy of the recipe to consult while you make it. There are also mobile apps like Pocket Cocktails with some great Halloween cocktail options that you can consult on your phone whenever you need it.

With some planning and a little bit of chemistry, you can make cocktails that change color, give off smoke, and even glow in the dark.

Of course, for the truly geeky some orange cupcakes and a good autumnal cocktail aren’t enough. If you really want to impress your guests with a spooky concoction then try this color-changing martini. Be warned though, it uses dry ice, which can be difficult to get hold of and is also dangerous if your guests ingest it before it’s melted.

For a safer and simpler cocktail that can dazzle guests, try the Halloween Story Cocktail, which creates an impressive display with the admittedly not-too- appetizing combination of peach schnapps, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and grenadine.

Tricks

Halloween is an occasion where some simple tech special effects and a little bit of showmanship can go a long way. Once all the basics of your party are nailed down, you can really add some flair and scares to your party without too much effort.

If you’ve got a wireless speaker, or even one where the cords are fairly easy to hide, then you’ve got everything you need to scare the bejeezus out of your party guests. Concealing a speaker under a chair or in another unexpected location, and queueing it to play screams at random intervals, is a great way to scare guests.

If you want a little more control, you can even set the sound effect up as a playlist with only one track and then trigger it via your phone whenever you want to creep somebody out.

You can also use hardware like the Bluetooth Bulb to control the lighting for your party. If you’re really committed to the idea, you can even do some simple home automation to really mess with your guest’s heads.

Wireless tech gadgets like the Bluetooth Bulb help you add some scares to your party.

The ways in which you can use technology to spice up your party are endless. Just look at the Halloween section of Instructables if you’re still lacking for ideas for DIY tech special effects.

All of these neat tricks can get in the way of what really makes the party work, however. It’s great to use technology to scare and impress your guests, but your party will be better served if you make sure all your tech basics are in place before getting too fancy. The most important ingredient in a party is making sure everyone is having a good time. Smart use of tech can help make that easier. Then it can help give them a Halloween fright.

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