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How I Built a Monster House

One of my nightmares is a house that comes to life. From the stretching hallway in Poltergeist (1982), to the transforming walls in The Haunting (1999), to the animated mother-load of Monster House (2006), to Christine McConnell’s monstrous creations, houses that should be safe havens can be scary monsters.

My Monster House Halloween 2018 display was a very simple concept but on a very large scale and created entirely from scratch. The horns on the roof are 4 feet tall, and the mouth is 8 feet tall and about 14 feet wide, complete with an 7-foot tongue. The eye in the window is an animated projection which made this monster come to life. Finally, red lights flowing on the bone littered porch suggest a river blood of blood to lead trick 'r treaters to the front door – and their doom! See the gallery of pictures here: Monster House 2018.

Take Them by the Horns

The project started with two 4-foot horns made of chicken wire, PVC, lots of tape, paper mache, and plaster cloth along with paint, more paint, and spar urethane. Since these were going on a sloped roof, I also weighted them and built a V-shaped wood support to let gravity keep the horns in place and protect against our high winds (that even topple nearby castles!).

The horns will sit on a gabled roof but we often have very high winds. So I engineered a sectional wood frame (easier to carry in sections to the roof) that would use gravity, a non-skid backing, a few bricks and some rope to stay put on the roof. Plus horns have a rather aerodynamic shape.

To build, I used chicken wire frame along with PVC pipe to support the shape. I covered the whole thing with a crosshatch of masking tape (to help attach the plaster medium) and then laid a plaster cloth as a based instead of my usual paper mache. The process went much faster and easier and resulted in a rather stiff shape with only 1 coating.


The Active brand plaster cloth (available on Amazon for about $16) is new to me but I would highly recommend it. The cloth is embedded with plaster and comes in a giant roll. You easily trim it to any size or shape, dip it in water, and immediately lay it onto your shape. You can them smooth it out, shape it, or give it texture. It sets quickly (in the heat of summer) so you have to work fairly fast. It takes paint very well.

I added several layers of paper mache, added the finishing texture, painted them, and then sealed them with spar urethane to ensure they stand up to weather (which for us in Northern CA is just light to medium rain in October). I'm not sure where I will store these for next year but that's a November problem.

My What Big Teeth You Have

I then moved on to cutting out out the teeth from two 4x8' sheets of 2 1/2 inch thick insulation foam from the Home Depot. After chiseling the ends a bit, I added paper mache to bulk up the teeth and covered the whole with several layers of plaster wrap. I was quite surprised at how durable this product was. We kicked the hell out of the bottom teeth every time we climbed over them (since they were at our front door). For a subsequent year (2021), the goal will be to reformat either set (upper or lower) teeth to make the mouth comp on command.

A Tongue to Make Gene Simmons Blush

The final piece was the 7-foot tongue. Originally I wanted to build a gimbal-style support to allow the tongue to weeble wabble but ran out of time when the nine foot tongue met an unfortunate accident. I quickly reformed the tip and ran through the build procedure and coloring. I will likely rebuild the tongue from a lighter material next time to allow for easy movement.

The Apple of My Eye

The eye projection comes from AtmosFX's Eerie Eyes collection magnified 10 times to a full window display with the color slightly re-hued green. When I was conceptualizing Monster House in 2017, I kept wondering where I would get an eye from. I thought about filming my eye and begging my friend to edit it for me but that fall, AtmosFX introduced this very projection. Problem solved!

I plan to revisit my Monster House in 2021 with a few design modifications and maybe a few added surprises!

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