Seek out secondhand treasures: real or fake taxidermy, stone bust bookends, antique dolls and toys, and vintage books and laboratory or surgical equipment.
If you’re lucky, you might even come across some old mannequin heads. What was once a wig display can serve as an eye-popping Halloween centerpiece.
Other inexpensive additions to your party space: Fill vases with bare branches spray-painted black, tying a few small bats from a craft store to the limbs.
Flynn also suggests slipping belts around the backs of chairs to suggest that dinner guests may not escape the table easily.
And Brooks recommends using a hodgepodge of mismatched and even scratched dishes from thrift shops (cleaned well, of course) to give your table an off-kilter, haunted house feel.
A finishing touch to inspire Halloween guests: “One of my neighbors here is an actor,” says Brooks, who lives in Antioch, Ill. “So she’s going to come in as a guest and get the conversation going in a creepy direction.”
Chances are you know at least one person who would take on the role of spooky storyteller or mystery visitor, adding a layer of theater to the party.