Have yourself a ‘Property Brothers’ Halloween

It shouldn’t seem surprising that Jonathan and Drew Scott would have cut their home-design teeth building haunted houses.

Indeed, the twin hosts of HGTV’s “Property Brothers,” airing Wednesdays, are so passionate about Halloween that they have been creating them since childhood as part of their elaborate celebrations and they’ve been a hit ever since. In fact, they’ve even been hired to build one at a hotel on The Strip in Las Vegas. Halloweens are special to these real-estate men and they discuss some of their most memorable designs – along with many other things Halloween – that they get involved in.

Q: What goes into your Halloween celebrations?

Jonathan: We’ve done huge, huge house parties of our own. We’ve also done costume contests and things like that. Every year, we usually dress up in something ridiculous and that’s been going on since we were teenagers.

Drew: On top of that, Jonathan and I have been building haunted houses since we were kids. So it sounds stupid, our house when we were kids we used to do it up like a haunted house so people would have to enter the haunted house if they wanted to get candy. And we went all out. I mean, we would even do things like – you know, it would look like there were a bunch of bodies hanging from the rafters that you’d think were just fake bodies but in fact we were one of them. So if someone came to the door, all of a sudden the body came to life and scared people.

Q: How big are the haunted houses you build?

Jonathan: So last year, we filmed a Halloween special for Scripps Network and it was the first time in history they simulcast it across all of their networks. So Travel, Food, HGTV, Great American Country. We built two massive houses in Las Vegas and did them up with every scare we could think of. All of the different food and drinks you could think of and we had the public come through and judge the houses, which was a blast. And then even going all the way back to when we were in elementary school, we built haunted houses to raise money for charity, for UNICEF. And so we had everything from – you know, when people would first come in, there’d be like an old, rickety library with a cauldron in the middle and a witch. And then one of the panels of the bookshelves opens up and that takes you into the tunnel, where there are all these scares.

Drew: And you know what’s the funnest thing for us is when you put people out of their comfort zone, and so one thing we found that people really don’t like in a haunted house is when you make it so they can’t stand straight up and walk, they have to crawl through a space. It really freaks people out and so we’ve seen it all and we throw it all in. It’s just understanding the psychology behind scaring people and putting them out of their comfort zone, so we did that. And even years ago in Vegas, I built – New York, New York, there’s the Brooklyn Bridge out front of the New York, New York Hotel. So we took over this bridge and we built a big haunted house on the Brooklyn Bridge and it was great. So tourists, we put thousands and thousands of people through that haunted house. It was a lot of fun.

Q: How long does it takes to do one of those?

Jonathan: It just depends on the size and the magnitude. The one we did last year for the HGTV special, we only actually had four days to build it?

Drew: Yeah, and those houses, they each had I think three to four rooms, so maybe it was a total square footage of four or five hundred square feet each. But yeah, it’s the way you work with it. With a haunted house, you can get away with it not being big and open because if it’s a little more cramped in it keeps people a little bit more on edge, and then it’s how you activate the space within.

Q: So did these projects get you interested in home construction in the first place?

Drew: I guess, partially.

Jonathan: It’s always making things and creating things. And you know, we never bought costumes. When we were kids, Mom would make them with us, so we would say what we wanted to do and then we’d start brainstorming. I remember that Drew wanted to be a robot that shot its arms out 20 feet at people and we were all laughing. And then we actually figured out a to do it where we wrapped a cardboard box, had the hole for the head on top, wrapped in all in tin foil and then we attached the dryer vent hoses as arms so they retract all the way back. And then when he wanted to, he would shoot his arms out and it would go 20 feet. So that’s how we did it. We always made our costumes from scratch and it’s something that created a lot of great memories.

Drew: It really was, I would say, probably one of our first designer endeavors.

Q: What are typical things you can do to take people out of their comfort zone?

Jonathan: You want to take away all of their sensibilities, so usually the dark is scary. You can fool people. One of the things that always creeps people out is if it’s pitch black and we would hang hundreds of pieces of string from the ceiling just at face height, so when they’re walking through it feels like cobwebs going across their faces. Uneven ground is a big thing, too, so we’ve had it where there’s a tilt mechanism underneath or even hydraulics and it’ll change the floor level and then people will feel uneasy if they feel it moving. We’ve also had where we built it where you get into an elevator and then they feel themselves moving – you know, the feeling of an elevator when you’re going all the way up. People feel that they’re going up multiple floors but in reality it’s just the way we have the hydraulic system working that it gives you the sensation you’re going up but it’s all on one floor. The average homeowner is not going to go that elaborate when putting together an experience. However, we even had it at our own house parties quite often where we would convert the garage into a little haunted house and have some of that fun stuff in there.

Jonathan shares Halloween memories

Q: What is your favorite Halloween movie or TV special?

I want to see the new ‘It’ remake. I’d heard, actually, good things about it. But movies, classics like Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Halloween’ and what not. ‘Beetlejuice.’ Some of the cartoon ones that came out, Peanuts (‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’), the one we watched when we were kids.”

Q: What is your most memorable Halloween costume?

You know what’s interesting, is when we were younger in our teenage years and what not, we would always dress as the same thing but in different variations. So when we were cavemen, Drew was actually a cavewoman and I was a stilt caveman so I was about 10 feet tall. And then we had a bunch of different funny things like that. We’ve done zombies, we’ve done Peter Griffin. I was Bane from ‘Dark Knight.’ We did Thing 1 and Thing 2. Drew was also Honey Drew Drew, it was his take on Honey Boo Boo. We actually have pictures of all of the costumes we’ve done in recent years. Some of them have full prosthetics and everything. But the big thing is if you’re hosting a party, you’ve got to have a good costume because the host should always have a pretty top-notch costume.”

Ghoulish party tips

Jonathan and Drew have been doing Halloween right since childhood.

They’ve thrown elaborate parties with great attention to detail, dressed up as everything from clowns and giants to TV and movie characters and built haunted houses with sophisticated special effects. And they’ve had many a laugh when their guests have jumped with fright.

When it comes to parties, the Scotts admit to being Halloween snobs and they believe the success of such an endeavor starts with the host.

“We believe that if it’s a Halloween party, it is mandatory that you are in costume,” Jonathan says.

And you don’t have to go to great expense to pull a party off, they say, but a good imagination helps.

For example, the menu can be all about finger foods.

“We’ll do finger foods but it’ll actually be like severed fingers,” Drew explains. “Sausages that look like fingers. You take wieners, basically, and then you can cook them but them you cut little bits off so it looks like a nail bed and it looks like fingers. ”

The drink selection needn’t be especially spooky but the effects you create for them can be.

“If you have a martini where you have an olive in the glass,” Jonathan says, “you basically can skin a grape or you do something so it looks like an eye. Like you have little touches that it just gives it that extra spooky flair.”

For the décor, oranges and blacks, fake cobwebs and insects, and fog can all create the proper atmosphere. And for scares, pitch-dark rooms, uneven terrain, confined spaces and cold temperatures are capable of putting guests on edge.

“It’s just understanding the psychology behind scaring people and putting them out of their comfort zone,” Drew says.

“It helps the hackles go up on the back of the neck,” Jonathan adds.

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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