First, bring on the costumes! You need people to dress up; otherwise, it’s just another lame gathering at your place. How to do this depends on your friends. Are they competitive? Have a costume contest. Do they need a little guidance? Give your party a theme, like “Zombie Prom” or “Scary Hospital.” If you have friends that are not dress-up types, send the slackers to the “costume corner,” where you’ve set up one box of weird clothes from the Salvation Army and another box of stage makeup so they can create their own costumes on the spot.
Second, decorate. Hit Goodwill or The Salvation Army for ideas; you don’t know what weird stuff you’ll find. Set the tone in the entryway with spooky music and a costumed friend scaring people. Have scenes from black-and-white horror movies playing on your TV or laptop. Old horror movies are much scarier than any Jason and Freddy cliches. Think The Thing, Psycho or The Evil Dead. Skip the “Monster Mash” when it comes to music and create a fun song list that your friends will enjoy. If you go too corny, people will leave.
If you’re feeling flush, then pick up some strobe lights. Dry ice or a smoke machine can also add to the mood, though they can be potentially dangerous. Remember to make sure you have proper ventilation and follow the rules for dry ice. (It burns skin on contact.)
Unless you’re 7, Halloween isn’t about the food, so don’t go all out. Pick some quick and easy snacks, like bowls of Halloween candy, pizza or any finger food that you can just heat up. For drinks, look online for Halloween-themed recipes. There are some great ones you can make in advance, and they go way beyond red Kool-Aid.
Now relax and enjoy your new role as a Halloween party god! -- As told to Jody Orshal-Carty