“I’m not going to hurt kids,” said documentary filmmaker Joyce Draganosky to the New York Post earlier this week. Here are some of the seasonal items currently festooning Draganosky’s red brick home—the subject of its own dedicated photo galleries on both Gothamist and the Post's website—in the charming Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn: a baby doll lying on the ground with a fake-bloody knife through its forehead; a baby doll chained to a rocking chair with duct tape covering her mouth; a baby doll hung by its hands from a tree branch with a fake-bloody incision in its stomach (into this has been stuffed a smaller fake-bloody baby doll); a baby doll sealed in a jar filled with fake blood; a pumpkin surgeon (presumably unlicensed) looming over a fake-bloody gurney, on which rests baby doll covered in fake blood.
If one of the first phrases that springs to mind when trying to describe your Halloween decorations is “I’m not going to hurt kids,” that’s a sign your Halloween decorations are too scary.
Many people will disagree with this statement. They will argue that Halloween is supposed to be scary. For these people, some of whom, surely, are two 9-year-old boys wearing one very long trench coat, every Madame Alexander doll bound in tiny shackles and impaled on a wrought iron spike is a #HalloWIN for their Constitutional right to be the funnest adults on the block. “The tree of liberty,” they will declare, “must be refreshed from time to time with the very realistic-looking red corn syrup mixture of patriots and tyrants.”
These people are incorrect. Halloween is supposed to be fun. That is because Halloween, like all modern holidays—with the exceptions of Secretaries’ Day and maybe St. Patrick’s Day—is celebrated for the delight of children. It is not celebrated for the delight of adults. It is not celebrated for the delight of “kids at heart,” which is another term for adults.
What is the upside of turning the façade of your house into a full-scale surgical amphitheater for battered dolls? Is it to prove that you are capable of terrifying a little kid? That’s not an impressive skill. Little kids are incredibly easy to terrify. They are afraid of loud noises. They are afraid of adults. They are afraid of having their noses stolen. You don’t need to lynch a melted marionette from your mailbox to scare a kid. It’s almost harder not to frighten a child.
Is the point to show that you yourself are not scared by the scary things you have arrayed outside your home? (“Some people might be afraid of a man with a bloody burlap sack over his head wielding a chainsaw next to their mailbox, but not me.") Passersby know the decorations don't scare you. You're the one who put them up. Why not just tape a handwritten sign inside your front window that reads “TOUGH GUY LIVES HERE”?
The aim of your Halloween decorating should not be to make people wonder whether your home has been literally transformed into Hell, because no one is going to wonder that. Anyone old enough to appreciate the bloody artistry of your grisly display will know that what they’re looking at is a hodgepodge of Halloween decorations doused in fake blood, and adults are not typically amazed by the vast quantities of trash other adults keep in their yards. Anyone young enough to be astonished will probably also be alarmed and confused that their neighbor's home has apparently turned into a plein air shambles where children are murdered.
This is not to say you should limit your decorations to window decals of big-eyed black kittens mischievous gourds. Spooky is fine. The outside of the building where I live is currently covered in giant ground-to-roof fake cobwebs, with result that the building looks very spooky or maybe just 10,000 years old.
There is no fake blood anywhere. It doesn't look like a realistic cobweb, let alone a murder scene. [A/N: I had nothing to do with the cobwebs going up. They simply appeared one day. Perhaps they are real.] But all day, every day, people walking down the street stop, gawp, and take pictures of it on their phones.
Your decorations don't have to scream "UNSPEAKABLE HORRORS HAPPENED HERE." They just have to say: "The inhabitants of this residence acknowledge that Halloween is happening. Return in costume for candy."
A good rule of thumb, when it comes to exterior decorating is to ask yourself: “Is this the kind of thing that would prompt my neighbors to call the police if put it up on the second Tuesday in March?”
“Pat, why are all those dismembered kid-parts hanging from your dogwood?”
"Oh, I’m hoping to scare some tots.”
If the answer is "Absolutely," "Hopefully," or even a soft "Maybe?" reel it in.