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Shutter to Think - A Low-Tech Automated Effect
By Joe Meils

Think about it; how many illustrations of a Haunted Houses have you seen, that feature a manse with old style window shutters banging slowly in the October wind? How often have you heard the squeaking slap on a sound effect CD's or seen in a scary movie, the shutter of the crumbling building, that would suddenly stop banging or more startlingly mysteriously start slamming right when the hero is about to reach for the door knob? The look of dilapidated window shutters is as much an Americana as apple pie.


  • 6" Square Steel Rod Stock
  • Rotisserie Motor With Some Kind Of Mount
  • Old Shutter
  • 1/8 Inch Masonite Or Luan, The Same Size As The Shutter
  • 2 Strap Hinges (About 6")
  • 2 Small Elastic (Bungee) cords
  • Heavy-Duty Electric Terminal Lug
  • Duct Tape
  • Wood Glue
  • Tools
  • Standard Screw Driver
  • Drill With Drill And Screwdriver Bits

Rigging a shutter to sway mysteriously in unseen winds, or to slam suddenly as our brave patrons pass by, is a great way to set the mood of a scene or to get a good startle. The following is a simple method for creating just that effect, and depending on just how fancy you wish to get, it will not cost you more than a few bucks. The basis for our spooky animation is a rotisserie motor with rubber band returns. This contraption is so simple, that it has very few bugs to work out, and with proper adjustment, the strain on the components is minimal, so it should give you a season or two of service before the for any major repairs on it.

What we are building is essentially a crank arm holding an elastic strap, In turn, (no pun intended) this crank is attached to the shutter of your haunt via a low strength bungee cord. A second, mostly slack, bungee cord pulls the shutter back open again as the crank moves back toward the shutter. The shutter is alternately pulled shut, and flung open by these two rubber cords, as they are alternately being pulled or released by the motor.

The Motor
Although various speed motors can be used, I prefer one that is 30revolutions per minute (RPM). This motor turns at one rotation every two seconds, and seems to give the best effect of a shutter being randomly blown around by the wind, or a restless ghost. This is really a matter of taste, so I encourage you to experiment to find the speed you feel is right. My first experiment in this used an old Bevel BBQ motor. It was a little slower than the optimum RPM, but I got it for free, so the price was right. Mounting the motor will depend on the style of motor. I fashioned a mounting bracket for mine out of some scrap aluminum plate so that the motor could be held horizontally, and the shaft (in my case a 3/8 inch square chunk of metal called "key stock") would be pointing upward.

Garage sales are a great place to pick up these motors, and I use them for many things. Unless the motor is visibly burned, chances are its still operational. With a little time and a little oil, but you can usually get any BBQ grill motor to start running again by rotating the gearing through a few revolutions by hand.

The Crank
In order for this effect to work properly, you need to decide how far you want the shutter to move. For engineering reasons, it is best not to have the shutter pull back more than 45 degrees (1/4 of the way open). If you go back farther than that, the conflicting stresses on the cords will end up compressing against the hinges of the shutter, and the shutter will eventually self-destruct, like so many machines on Junkyard Wars do. This banging shutter will open about six inches. So, the crank needs to have a radius of about half that. Cut the key stock to about six inches, and bent the last two inches over into an "L" shape. Drill a 1/8 inch hole in the long end of the "L" (a drill press would come in handy here). This is where I would mount a screw to hold the bungee cord.

The Shutter
The shutter can be either something that you find at a scrap yard, or something you buy for the occasion. I like the look and style of the scrap yard variety, myself, as they do not need to be painted to look weathered. Before mounting the shutter, go over the entire framework with a generous amount of carpenters glue. Make sure the joints are sound or the shutter will just bang itself to pieces. If this shutter will be banging closed, you will want to reinforce it buy backing the whole frame with a piece of 1/8 inch masonite or Luan, cut to the same size as the shutter. The hinges, too, must be of a heavy-duty variety. This effect will be torturing itself throughout the run, so make sure all the places where it could crack, chip or otherwise fly apart are well built.

The Bungee Cords
The size of the bungee cord needed to move the shutter will depend on how big and how heavy your shutter is. In most cases, the pencil thick bungee cords used for strapping down cargo will be sufficient. For a light shutter, you may be able to get by with a couple of lengths of dress making elastic. (My prototype used a fairly lightweight shutter 30 inches tall and 10 inches wide and used the elastic from an old set of briefs) If you intend to be banging something larger, say, like a cemetery iron fence gate, you will have to scale up the components accordingly.

Mount the motor on the inside of the window, slightly back, so that the crank does not hit the window.Depending on they type of motor you have, you can mount it so the shaft is either in the horizontal, or vertical position. I mounted mine vertically, simply becasue it allowed gravity to help keep the shaft in place. Attach a length of bungee to the crank using a heavy-duty electric terminal lug. Just roll up the cord, shove it into the lug, and crimp it down. Mount the lug to the crank by the screw on the end of the lug. Make sure that as the crank turns, it will not catch on the bungee.

Mount the shutter to the outside of the window. I attached mine at an odd angle, so that gravity was also helping it to open it in operation. Mount the shutter about one half-inch lower than the window, to make sure that there is plenty of room for the bungee cords to move back and forth without rubbing the frame opening.

With the shutter held in the closed position (with the help of a piece of Duct Tape) move the crank to the position farthest away from the window. Screw the lose end of the elastic cord to the shutter itself. There should not be slack in the cord, but the Bungee should not be stretched either. Removed the Duct Tape and move the crank into the position closest to the window, where the elastic was at its most slack. Attach a second length of elastic to the shutter frame and then pulled the shutter open until the cords are just slightly taught. Secure the loose end of the elastic cord to the wall about eight inches away from the window frame.

Testing And Adjustments
Turn on the motor and check for tension of the cords and the action of the shutter. On my first try, the shutter was not being pulled quite hard enough to make it slam. By increasing the tension on each of the cords, I got the effect I wanted. A little trial and error is needed to finesse all the parts into working properly. The shutter should now ease open, and then slam shut with a loud bang! With the addition of "wind" sound effect, the action of the shutter was very believable.

Extras And Alternatives
Depending on what you have available, and how fancy you want to get, this basic rig can be made to turn on and off randomly, using timer relays, a mat switch, motion detector or a photo cell. I had a simple timer rig from a surplus store to turn on the effect every three minutes, and stay on for about a minute before repeating the cycle. I used my shutter on the façade of our attraction, and placed a set of glowing red eyes inside the darkened window looking out.

Some of the other possible uses for this rig might be to open and close a cemetery gate, or make a porch swing thump back and forth (a la Evil Dead). With the proper motor, this same rig could be adapted to move dummies, or any other prop that needs a slightly erratic, repetitive motion, and is much cheaper than getting into pneumatics, of other kinds of higher tech articulation. And now when patrons see your Haunted House, it will remind them of something they have seen before, perhaps in a movie, or illustration; an old a manse with dilapidated window shutters banging slowly randomly blown around by the October wind, or toyed with by a restless ghost.


Joe Meils is a lifestyle haunter, having worked various haunts in Illinois and Colorado since 1980. Currently he is living in Conway, Arkansas, where by day he's the technical director for the Snow Theater at UCA. At night he becomes the evil genius of "Goblin Grove" a five acre haunted trail, located on his own land. Currently, he's preparing to start a small latex prop and decoration business, called "Boojum Studios, LLC."Contact Joe at BoojumStudio@aol.com

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