In honor of my trip to Salem Massachusetts, I decided to do a witch trial theme for my outdoor Halloween display this year. Under different conditions, I would gladly have decorated my yard in a far more grandiose manner. But my home doubles as my office, so I had to exercise some measure of restraint.
My Corpsing Technique
This was the very first corpse I built, followed by the ones I built for Dad’s Cabin and Positive Voice. Since it was my first corpse, it lacked some of the detail and depth that I have since learned with subsequent attempts.
I base my technique primarily upon a method demonstrated by Stiltbeast. However, I’ve studied, experimented with, and incorporated elements of other techniques to try to create a style that is uniquely my own.
Each corpse begins with a simple skeleton prop for the frame. I prefer to use higher grade “Harvey” skeletons because they are more realistic and I have more freedom to pose individual bones. Cost is a factor for most jobs, so almost any cheap skeleton will do the job.
I accomplish the bulk of the flesh sculpting with just two items: plastic drop-cloth and a heat gun. I wrap the skeleton with the plastic and use the heat gun to melt it in place. Over time, I’ve learned very particular techniques to manipulate the plastic into doing what I want, even though the process inherently lacks a certain level of control. But I am able to steer the process along by wrapping the skeleton in a strategic manner, use of multiple layers, and deliberate application of the heat gun.
It’s really very difficult to describe this process in words, and I will probably shoot a video the next time I build one.
I prefer melting plastic because it is inexpensive, lightweight, waterproof, and easy to work with. Other common techniques involve the use of latex or silicone. But those materials are more expensive, messier, and take longer to dry and cure. However, latex and silicone create more realistic texture, and I will sometimes use them as a thin finishing layer.
For coloring, I favor wood stains (golden oak for light flesh and espresso for dark flesh). And of course almost every project I do involves some amount of PermaBlood. Sometimes, I will apply a thin coat of silicone lubricant to the corpse so that it slimes anyone who touches it.
The Dead Witch
After I fitted the corpse with a noose and hung her in the tree, I installed the rest of the scene. I created a Puritan ghost out of chicken wire fencing, cheesecloth, and glow-in-the-dark spray paint. Having done it once, I can safely say that I will never do it again. Working with chicken wire in this manner is a painful and bloody experience. Moreover, my property doesn’t receive enough direct sunlight to render a glow.
The Puritan ghost is meant to be the remnant spirit of the hanging corpse. She hovers over a small graveyard. I didn’t have the patience to build gravestones for all 19 accused witches hanged in 1692. I chose four of them plus Tituba. (Tituba was eventually released, but her’s is arguably the most iconic name associated with Salem.)
The grave markers were simple wood cut-outs using pre-treated plywood. To create the illusion of stone, I used textured Rust-oleum spray paint.