Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010

This year's Halloween show marked a return to a classic: Alien Autopsy, which we first mounted in 2006. That show, an extraterrestrial-themed haunted porch, was our first effort to create a real multimedia experience for the kids, using video, music, set-design, and props to evoke that well-known trope of a Roswell-style dissection of a crash-landed alien. Sure, we'd experimented with music and characterization before, but that show represented our first big attempt at theater. And while we've tried to increase the complexity of our themes since then, there's never been a show like our first Alien Autopsy. In 2010 I asked my family to join me in producing an ambitious remake.

Who said Andy doesn't have a heart?
For this new version, we'd start by creating a semi-lifesized UFO - something we didn't attempt back then. The idea was that a flying saucer had crashed landed into our Area 51 lab (what a coincidence!) depositing three alien specimens. To erect the spacecraft we bought four sheets of stainless steel, along with thin wood beams and two metal vents to serve as engines. After cutting the steel into trapezoidal shapes, I nailed each piece onto a wooden frame (with Jenny's patient help, of course). Since we were both regularly exhausted from our daily duties, we could muster the energy to build only one frame per night. Once we finished I connected the frames with loops of metal wire and topped the saucer with a round metal gadget I found at a local hardware store. I finished the saucer with eerie green rope lights.

Our "saucer": just after being first built in the living room
We only constructed half a saucer, actually, which allowed access to the craft's innards (that's where I bound the wooden frames and wired the lights to the edges). We'd need something to hide that other side. My family solved that dilemma by collecting and cutting cardboard boxes into a large facsimile of a wall. That's where our UFO would appear to have crashed into the lab. Jenny and Vienna fashioned a tall rectangular facade (bracing it with poles and brooms) applied gray spray-paint, and affixed pieces of tape to create a brick-effect. Afterward they cut away a section of the wall and painted jagged pieces of styrofoam to produce rubble. Mounting the thing around the UFO was a bit scary; I could hardly believe that it'd stand. But Jenny made smart use of our porch-swing chains to keep everything upright.

We couldn't find a thin black tie for our "Man in Black," so we improvised.
The rest of the show was pretty much a matter of rebuilding old props. We used a store-bought costume for the alien - though I spent hours making a gory chest cavity - watching Dawn of the Dead for inspiration. For intestines I stuffed pieces of green Play-Doh into fingers I cut from latex gloves, twisting them into gut-like shapes. Jenny made up some jello and green goo to augment the chest with organic-looking viscous material. And like we did back in '06, Jenny and I bought a plate of baby back ribs at Bruno's BBQ, boiled the bones at home, and attached the bones to the alien's chest cavity for a bit of extra-gross realism.

This survivor didn't last long after the crash.
To contribute some narrative material to our show, we dressed a life-sized skeleton I'd used in previous years in a Men in Black suit I cobbled together at the local Salvation Army store. After dressing our agent, we ripping a hole in the shirt and singed the edges to reveal the guy's ribs. Later we'd think of a gross story to explain the effect. To liven the walls, we tacked up posters and diagrams that seemed suitable for an Area 51 Laboratory ("Restricted Area," "Use of Deadly Force is Authorized," that sort of thing). Naturally I added an "I want to believe" poster. [Incidentally, I've recently created an "I wanted to believe" poster - just in case we do this show again one day.]

Behind the Scenes: The LCD needed to be
covered so that our strobe lights would work.
To make it appear that our "lab" window faced outside and not into our house, I downloaded a clip from Earth Versus the Flying Saucers and isolated a four-second snippet of a UFO. After editing the piece into a looping video, I used my LCD Projector to cast the scene onto a white sheet we'd nailed over the window. The resulting image - a flying saucer hovering back and forth - was surprisingly realistic at night (though only then would I notice that our window showed a daytime scene).

Area 51 signs
For background music we looped four selections: "Prelude and Outer Space" from Bernard Herrmann's The Day the Earth Stood Still score, "Alien Spaceship" from Mannheim Steamroller, "Amityville Horror" from Robert Walsh, and a version of The X-Files theme produced by The Stradibrothers Orchestra. Affixing green-colored gels over the lights, illuminating alien figures in the upper windows with strobe lights, and costuming ourselves with lab coats and medical instruments, Jenny and I built an Alien Autopsy porch to inspire a thousand nightmares (and yes, we posted signs warning parents that this presentation was rated PG: "Pretty Gory"). Finally it was 6 p.m., time to start the show.

Andy points at the flying saucers hovering outside our window
The night turned out wonderfully. Hundreds of kids climbed the steps to see our presentation, many transfixed at our weird alien. In my sort-of-X-Files persona, "Fox Moldy," I'd attach jumper cables to the alien's heart, and get a volunteer to flip the charger switch. As the heart would start beating I'd remove the organ to "oohs" and "aahs." Then I'd notice something else in the chest cavity. Drawing the kids nearer, I'd slowly, slowly pull a "symbiotic creature" (actually, a plastic beetle) from underneath the alien's intestines. Sometimes I'd pretend to get bitten by the creature and sometimes I'd toss the creature toward the kids. One older fellow - about 17 - lept back so far that he knocked a sign off the wall.

Jenny takes a break with our baby alien
Jenny (Agent "Dana Scary") bolstered our presentation by describing how the flying saucer crashed through our lab. A "Man in Black" had been assigned to protect us, she explained, but the agent got his skin burned off by another alien's ray gun. Sometimes she'd invite the kids to look out our window, revealing the saucer had been hovering outside all day. She'd also point out a nearby drum covered with biohazard symbols. Inside: alien ooze ("See the hand coming out of the top? That's the alien mutating into form!"). Best of all, "Agent Scary" carried a furry alien baby, which we are trying to raise as a human. Sometimes she'd invite the children to pet him. The kids loved it.

The crashed saucer made quite a mess!
The crowds were huge, mostly kids but also plenty of camera-snapping parents. We had a blast, running through seven bags of candy. A little after nine we turned off the lights and wrapped up another happy Halloween. Just in the past couple days Jenny and I had spent dozens of hours on this show; we were exhausted. But we didn't mind spending one last hour to strike the set and clean the ooze off our props. We had a wonderful evening - and I'm already wondering: what kind of show might we try next time?

Update: Check out the video!

Previous Years

• 2009: Zombie Apocalypse [Pix and Story] [Video]

• 2008: Dr. Freightmarestein's Haunted Laboratory of Horrors [Pix] [Video]

• 2007: Psycho Circus [Pix] [Video]

• 2006: Alien Autopsy I [Pix]

• 2005: Just Buried [Pix]

• 2004: Pirate Dungeon [Pix]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Totally awesome!