Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Halloween Countdown: Post-Apocalyptic Costume Ideas

Last Saturday was my friends' big annual Halloween bash.  This time around, the hosts decided upon a zombie theme and asked everyone to come dressed as either the walking dead or as survivors.    Now, zombies are so last year, and I hate having make-up on my face, so I decided to go as a survivor.

When you dress up as a zombie, you just don't want to go as "Generic Zombie #257".  You want to add a little flair, a little personality to the costume - Zombie Stewardess, Zombie Construction Worker, Zombie Sex Therapist, etc.  I think the same rules should apply when dressing as a survivor; just as you don't want your zombie costume to be *you* with some blood stains, you don't want your survivor get-up to be *you* with a little less blood stains. I really struggled for a hook to base my costume around, until I stumbled across the "wacky" doctor/nurse aisle at the Halloween store.  The sight of the doctors' coats sparked something in me gulliver.  I decided to go as a scientist, perhaps the very one that caused the undead outbreak in the first place. 

(Somebody really needs to base a horror flick on those stores.  They sprout like mushrooms after the first fall rain, occupy long-empty store fronts and abandoned strip malls, and disappear completely the day after Halloween.  The places are filled with the most horrific things imaginable, but people stroll right in all smiles with their children.  Essentially, they're the commercial version of the mysterious stranger that moves into the empty house down the street, the one that all the kids believe is haunted.)

My first step was ordering a lab coat, and not one of those cheap, ill-fitting ones sold at the costume place.  I went with a nice Dickies lab coat from Amazon; I threw a 3X coat in my shopping cart and watched the price for a few days, eventually purchasing it when it hit $18.  When I first tried it on, it was like being reunited with a part of me that had been missing my entire life.  It just felt so right to be wearing it, like my true destiny would have involved me wearing one every working day.  I had a hard time bringing myself to bloody it up, and I still might order another just to wear around the house.  Creepy or just sad - you be the judge.

After that, it was just a matter of accessorizing.  I had a safety mask and goggles lying around the apartment from when I had been doing some DIY.  I picked up some cheap green latex gloves and a gag syringe.  I even made up a fake ID badge to wear on a lanyard.  The name was chosen while I still had hopes of adding an Airsoft shotgun to my ensemble, the Darrow Chemical Company (logo resourced from Dow) is the source of 2-4-5 Trioxin in the Return of the Living Dead films, and the QS code takes you to a free Paper Zombies game.  All I was missing was a cool melee weapon, something to wield while going toe-to-toe with the undead.

Meanwhile, my brother and cousin decided they were really going to run with the whole "survivor" concept and dress as post-apocalyptic warriors ala Mad Max.  We got together for a couple of build sessions over the last two weeks, and when my cousin saw me using my Dremel he realized it would make a great addition to my costume.  My brother had some foam pads for a cup holder lying around, so I coated one of those with metallic silver paint and drew in "teeth" with a Sharpie.  The finished effect look pretty cool and made a scary noise when attached to the Dremel.  I had to be careful, of course, as even a foam blade still gives you a really nasty rope burn at 15,000 RPM - I think it actually sanded down my skin during a test - but it was still much safer than a plastic blade.

Before and after.  Thrilling, ain't it?

My brother, of course, went whole hog and bought a cop jacket from the Alley and a whole mess of athletic pads from Play It Again Sports.  He ended up as an almost dead ringer for the Road Warrior when he was finished, and his girlfriend also exhibited the "pro look" as a post-apocalyptic moll.

Mikey went with a low-tech approach.  He gathered some old license plates with the idea of making crude armor out of them.  We ended up attaching several to an old pair of military suspenders.  We drilled holes in the suspenders, knocked in some 6mm rivets to keep the material from tearing, and attached the license plates through their existing holes with 6mm x 10mm hex bolts.  We made sure to have the head of the bolt facing towards the wearer for comfort, so I wanted to use short bolts to prevent them from snagging on stuff.  I used slightly longer bolts (12mm) for the shoulder plates as the material there was a bit thicker.  We attached one across the chest with four bolts, but left the bottom of the plate across the stomach hang free to make sitting down easier.  Mikey bent a couple more plates around his wrist and fixed them with duct tape.  The whole thing came out pretty spiffy.

Above is Mikey's proof-of-concept photo.  The shoulder plates actually fit closer to the body when they were attached.  He ended up painting grinning jaws on the face mask, which was part of some old paintball equipment he had lying around.  That's a loose Airsoft shotgun shell duct-taped to one of the cords hanging from the suspenders, and the shotgun's "side-saddle" shell holder taped to his right-hand armband.

When Mikey's son saw his dad's costume, he wanted in.  Mikey spray-painted a smaller set of pads black and added a rabbit pelt I picked up at the craft store.  I also made a necklace out of some plastic fingers from the Halloween shop.  I think his mom added the chain, which was a nice touch.

All that left was weapons.  Mikey had an old, cheap Airsoft riot shotgun he was fond of, so I ducttaped a flashlight to the barrel, wrapped rubber bands around the grip, and improvised a sling out of athletic shoelace.  I picked up some decorative barbed wire from the Halloween shop - string coated in thick grey paint - and wrapped some around the end of an old baseball bat.  Mikey liked the idea, but went with a soft toy bat instead as he didn't want to be carrying anything that would actually hurt someone.  Which doesn't sound like the Mikey I know and love.


The one piece of kit I am really proud of was the one item no one ended up using.  I was trying to come up with ideas for improvised weapons, something that was unique and cool but still believably functional.  I came up with this:

Yes, that is a Magic 8 Ball.  And yes, it still works. 

There are instructions on taking apart a Magic 8 Ball on-line.  The video I watched included an off-handed comment about using a Dremel to cut open the ball along the seam.  Not so with my underpowered handheld jobby!.  The plastic on the 8 Ball is tougher than a drunken Finn.  I ended up having to put the ball in a vise and hacksaw it apart.  I needed to be careful to avoid cutting into the "magic" tube in the center of the ball, as I wanted it to still function when I was done (and I also didn't want inky liquid all over the place).

I was able to use the Dremel to cut a groove for the eye bolt (you can see its twin in the picture above).   I used a bolt and nut because I was worried that a simple eye screw would work its way out of the plastic.  I then used plastic epoxy to join the pieces back together. 

The handle is about ten inches of a toliet plunger handle.  Don't worry, I bought a new one for the project.  I duct-taped the cut end of the handle to prevent splintering and put in a large eye screw to affix the jack chain to.

Aside from the hour or so wasted with the Dremel, the whole thing was pretty easy.  Total cost was under twenty bucks, with the 8 Ball itself being the biggest expense.  If I had to do  it over again, I would make darn sure I used masking tape or a Sharpie to mark the ball before I cur into it; I wasn't able to realign the ball properly and had to rely on the epoxy to fill in all the uneven gaps between the two halves.  As a result, the ball isn't truly round any more.

The ball is actually pretty heavy and while I don't think it would hold up to more than one or two whacks before shattering I have no doubt those whacks would really ruin someone's day.

The party itself was a blast.  It was great to see some old friends, almost all of whom were dressed up as the undead.  The hostess really knocked herself out on the decorations and displays, and the host had hired a professional bartender for the occasion.  The party wasn't just for the grown-ups, though, and there was plenty of excited kids and teens exploring the haunted garage and picking the snack tables clean.

I hope your Halloween festivities are/were/will be as much fun!