Halloween Is Here: How to Set Up a Haunted Smart House Last Minute
With only one day left until trick-or-treat night, there's still time to transform your home into a haunted house.
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
ExpertiseBreaking news, entertainment, lifestyle, travel, food, shopping and deals, product reviews, money and finance, video games, pets, history, books, technology history, generational studies.Credentials
Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year" award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Got an uncarved pumpkin on your steps and some "zombie quarantine" crime-scene tape slung across your door? Yeah, that might have cut it back in 1999, but it's probably time to up your Halloween-decor game. There are now plenty of high-tech (and medium-tech) options that can turn your home into the best haunted mansion on the block, even with only one day to spare. You don't have to have a Ph.D. to assemble them, and there's still time to scare up some fun.
Here are my best picks for last-minute Halloween decor that'll impress everyone in your neighborhood, where to get them and how to set it all up.
The king of Halloween decor
If DIY-ing a bunch of mechanisms and animatronics doesn't appeal to your sense of simplicity, and you don't mind paying, then you could let a giant skeleton do all the work for you.
Probably the trendiest Halloween decoration of recent years -- and the easiest, because it's all you need -- is the 12-foot skeleton from Home Depot, which created a scary stir when it launched in 2020. As well as the enormous size, the animated LCD eyes make it even more unnerving.
Ground stakes keep the giant skeleton from wandering, and it can operate off a battery or plugged in, with a timer that turns it on for 6 hours, then off for 18.
It's not cheap ($300), and it can be hard to find. (The store's website tells me stores near me do have it, but that stock is limited.) If you can't find the skeleton or want something else, Home Depot has an entire lineup of creepy creatures now, called its Grave & Bones line.
This year's latest contender from Home Depot is the talking, singing 13-foot Jack Skellington, who costs $400. His head comes off, and you can choose between an angry face or a happy face. And the best part? He transitions nicely into lawn decor for the holidays. Just stick a Santa hat on him.
Target couldn't let Home Depot have all the fun -- or terror. The discount store created a more budget-friendly challenger to the Home Depot skeleton.
Lewis is a jack-o'-lantern-faced creepster who's 8 feet tall and actually talks, speaking six different phrases, including the classic "I am NOT a jack-o'-lantern! My name is Lewis!" He's shorter than the Home Depot guy and a lot cheaper ($126), but sadly, he's out of stock at the moment.
Spirit Halloween pops up every autumn in spacious, vacant storefronts, selling everything from Chucky costumes to Ouija board socks. But it's the animatronic scaries that make a visit to the store feel like a trip to the Haunted Mansion. They're more ghoulish and gory than Lewis or the Home Depot skeleton, and they often pop out in jump-scare mode.
Spirit sells everything fromanimatronic jumping spiders to scary clowns, but don't miss the 5-foot-tall Regan, the possessed child Linda Blair played in The Exorcist. She spouts lines from the film and her head turns alllllll the way around, with corresponding bone-crunching sounds. She has to be plugged in and can be activated with a step pad, just like in Spirit stores.
If you don't already know where your nearest Spirit store is, use the online locator and go see what they still have in stock. It's one of your best bets for last-minute, full-size scary lawn creatures just before Halloween -- and some of it is already heavily discounted. If you'd rather shop online, Spirit's overnight delivery is $20.
If it really is literally the last minute before Halloween, one clever way you can easily set up your haunted house for Halloween is to use something you've already got. If you have a video doorbell, such as a Ring or Nest, then you can play around with its sounds and even its design.
Here are three ways you can set up your Ring doorbell for Halloween:
You can't change the actual sound of your smart doorbell, but you can set the replies to play right after the doorbell rings, so your guest will hear the standard doorbell ring, then a themed sound like a werewolf howling, a cauldron bubbling, or the sounds of children trick-or-treating.
If you have the Ring Chime, a wireless notification device that connects to your Ring devices and sends you notifications when they are accessed, you can choose a seasonal Chime Tone, like a creaky door, howl or organ playing.
If you don't have a compatible Ring Chime, an Amazon Echo speaker can be adjusted to make a spooky sound when the doorbell is pressed. These sounds don't come out of the doorbell itself but rather the compatible Chime or Alexa-compatible device.
Have a Nest doorbell? According to the Google blog, you can switch on Halloween ringtones -- which include such sounds as an evil laugh, skeleton dance, spooky raven, boooo ghost, howling werewolf and cackling witch -- in the Nest Doorbell (battery) settings in the Google Home App or in the Nest Doorbell (wired) settings in the Nest App. These ringtones are available globally until Nov. 1, and your doorbell will automatically revert to its default tone after Halloween ends.
As with the Ring Chime, when someone's at your door, your Nest Doorbell will play a Halloween ringtone on your Nest speakers and display devices to announce their arrival.
You may also be able to buy a Halloween-themed faceplate to fit your doorbell for the season -- and Amazon can deliver it within a day or two.
You don't need to be a Hollywood director to set up a scary show at your own house. This simple Whirl-A-Motion projector shines spooky ghosts that appear to be dancing all over your house. (They won't really show up until it's dark out, just FYI.)
This light-up tech works especially well on big flat spaces, such as garage doors, but we don't have a garage, and it just looks like they're possessing our house.
Bonus: If you do end up casting them on a window, you can see them swirling around inside your house. If the linked projector is sold out, there are plenty of varieties out there, and some will let you shift out to Christmas or other holidays.
Lighting up the night at Halloween not only adds a little scary-season flavor, it also helps trick-or-treaters see where they're going. The Philips Hue Starter Kit is an easy way to switch your lighting into Halloween colors. It's a reliable system with three color-changing bulbs. The starter kit includes three white and color-capable lights, a bridge that connects the system to your Wi-Fi router and a Hue button that can cycle through various programmed lighting scenes, meaning you can choose your own look.
Or for a more obvious Halloween splash of color, the familiar shape of a witch's hat makes for an eerie decoration. This pack of eight colorful light-up witch hats are powered by a standard electric plug, come in a variety of patterns and have eight different lighting modes, such as twinkling, waves, slow fade and more.
Another way to light up your yard in an eerie, Halloween way is this huge, realistic light-up spider web yard decoration. The web has 250 purple LED lights, a 26-foot-long electrical cord and five ground stakes to hold it down. You can change between eight different lighting modes, and there's a timer function too.