Remember that time you watched Brahm Stoker’s Dracula starring Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder, fell in love with the decadent costumes, watched it five times in a row and then started turning up at university lectures dressed in giant ‘Victorian’ bows and ruffles that made your tutor wince? No? Just me then…. That being said, anyone with a love of dressing up and costume will know how much fun ‘Victorian’ and ‘Vampire’ are as fancy dress themes. Indeed, it was this period of the history that the vampire went from the very unsexy ‘possessed corpse terrorising villagers’ to the infinitely more attractive ‘handsome undead nobility haunting upper-class bedchambers’. The vampire became glamorous, if you like — and much more fun to dress up as.
Key to the Victorian vampire look is the hair. Indeed, I’d argue that you can get away with rather token costume gestures if the distinctive Victorian hair is right. I have an intense dislike of online hair tutorials which stems from the time I got half way through creating 1950s victory rolls only to discover I was missing a very specific kind of curling iron, not to mention a large chunk of my life. You may rest assured, therefore, that these tutorials are simple and can be easily achieved in 30 minutes or so before your vampire party. Or your Victorian party, for that matter, though I see less evidence of those. (Shame. The Victorians had a healthy love of gin which no doubt enlivened even the most staid of soirees.)
For more hair, makeup and costume ideas on how to make ‘undead’ look very much alive in 2014, join me on Pinterest. To cheat and purchase amazing actual costumes visit my Prop Shop here. Anyway, enough talk; more hair:
When hosting a murder mystery dinner party there is one thing you want to avoid above all and that is stress. There are two good reasons for this: A) Stressing yourself out trying to make the perfect meal will mean that by the time your guests arrive you will look wired and possibly angry, and definitely not like someone it’s safe to spend the evening with, let alone preferable. And B) To counteract the stress you will probably drink too much and, as we all know, stressed drunk people are LOUD and break things.
Also, if you don’t have the deadly sharp organisational skills of the SS, this following may occur. For one party I decided to make vegetable soup and stuffed pancakes. As usual, I was running late and upstairs wrestling with a costume when my guests arrived; I eventually came downstairs to find them eating the raw vegetables for the soup. I guess they thought it was the ’90s and they were crudities. Also, cooking, flipping and stuffing pancakes while everyone else tries to get on with the game does not a good party make, however good they taste. Here are my murder mystery tips for making the ‘dinner’ part of the event a breeze:
#1 However organised you are, you will not have time to cook three courses on the day of the party itself. Be content with making one and buying two. Alternatively make and freeze at least one course beforehand (soup is always cheap and easy, if potentially a little boring).
#2 If you don’t want to cook, forget structuring your party around three courses. This way there is less interruption to the game and you save a tonne of money. Recently, for a French-themed game, my friends bought lots of interesting French cheeses, grapes and baguettes. This approach can be applied to most themed games: for Spanish buy spicy chorizo, olives, Manchego; for English, apples, cheddar, ham, mustard etc.
#3 Most guests worth inviting again will want to bring something to the party. Get them to bring a bottle of something each, as buying enough wine/beer to stock a murder mystery party is surprisingly expensive. If you have a really good, reliable friend coming, ask them to bring one of the three courses, as this will really take the pressure off you on the day.
#4 If you are determined to cook three courses single-handed, good on you. It helps to look up recipes well ahead of time. A practise run or two will take pressure off the day itself – and make you very popular at home. Avoid risotto (too much stirring), pancakes (what was I thinking) and anything that can’t just be shoved in the oven or left to bubble on the stove while you get into costume.
#5 A box of chocolates and coffee (with cream instead of milk) makes a suitably decadent desert.
If you have any tips of your own, I’m dying to hear them. One can never have too many partners in crime.
And I certainly have been. I’m very happy to finally — after many a desperately dark hour battling HTML — introduce my new murder mystery party website to readers of The ABC of Murder blog! My first game completed, a downloadable no-holds-barred, Vampire-themed thunder and lightening thriller — featuring an untimely death by paper knife for an unfortunate Lord, and a host of sinister suspects — it’s onto the next.
My second game is a fully interactive murder mystery party set in the glamorous 1930s on tiny island inhabited by a colourful, charismatic and somewhat criminal community. It was written for murder mystery masters Freeform Games and is due out in late July. But until then, here’s a taster of the setting:
‘It is 1936 and you are on the notoriously cold and windy Gull Island, just off the north east coast of England, whose perilous rocks have claimed many a victim. It is 7pm on the eve of the winter’s Solstice, a traditional day of celebration for the villagers of Little Bleakly — much to the horror of the local Reverend. The wind is howling and the rain is coming down in sheets, but inside the village hall has been cheerfully decorated with brightly coloured flags and bunting.
The needle of the gramophone is poised over ‘Music Maestro Please’, and many of the villagers have already arrived in the village hall, when Little Bleakly is suddenly plunged into darkness by a power cut. Stumbling along the shadowy and winding paths with candles in their hands, the remaining villagers are on their way when light returns.
The festivities are ready to begin! Except someone is missing: Hugo Malady, the dashing heir to the legendary Malady fortune, who traditionally kick starts the Winter Solstice Celebrations, is nowhere to be seen! The villagers spread out over the island in search. Soon, a shrill scream is heard from Lighthouse Bay: Freda, the local pub landlady, has discovered the body of Hugo Malady on the beach, lifeless, with a dagger protruding from the back of his neck! Who murdered Hugo Malady?’
And there’s more crime to come, as work has now joyfully commenced on Deadly Nightshade Game’s third downloadable murder mystery party: a 1920s classic, set in Egypt amongst pyramids, political tensions and rumours of Pharo’s curses. Hold on to your feathered headbands, this one’s going to be a riotous ride!
Recently, and I think it might be the dark, moody weather talking (summer, where did you go? Come back!), I’ve started to crave a really over-the-top, thunder and lightning, cobweb-bestrewn murder-mystery party.
When I was little I was obsessed with ghost stories. My best friend and I used to have sleepovers involving chocolate (usually sneaked into the house underneath our knitted jumpers) and freaking each other out late into the night with scary, highly improbable, tales. I am not a brave girl; I usually got so involved in the story I was telling that I scared myself, and had to stop.
My favourite kind involved vampires, which I used to research obsessively. I was armed with a battery of vampire-repellent knowledge. Most of this I have forgotten, but the one thing I have not is that a vampire can only get into your home if you actually invite them in. Needless to say, you should never invite a vampire into your home. Erm, unless you are hosting a vampire themed murder-mystery party that is.
The most important thing to do before you have a vampire themed murder-mystery party is to get in the mood, properly in the mood, by watching something spooky, turning all the lights out and surrounding yourself with candles… you need to be scared enough to be inspired, and also, more importantly, to stay awake and thus not burn the house down. The best, I’d say, is the 1992 Dracula, a fantastic and slightly mad cacophony of thunder, lightening, absinthe, lace and weird sex scenes you wouldn’t want to watch with your mother.
Five things you will definitely need if you decide to host a vampire themed murder mystery:
For a few vampire make-up and costume ideas click here.
When finding your costume for a murder-mystery party, there a few issues with buying your outfit entirely from a fancy dress shop. Such ‘fancy dress’ is usually made of highly synthetic fabric and looks like it was designed to feature in a bad porno. Not really a good look, unless, of course, you want to get cast in a bad porno (not what this blog is about, in case you were wondering).
I recommend instead a dressing-up box, so you can gradually collect bits and pieces and then fit them together for each murder-mystery party. I say this so casually; of course, I don’t have a box myself so much as a collection cotton bags under the bed. But when I grow up I hope to have a massive oak trunk to keep my costumes in… and a big house by the sea, french doors leading onto a rambling garden, shabby velvet armchairs etc. (None of the latter are looking terribly likely but I live in hope that the box, at least, will be mine.)
This week I seem to want 1920s-style things, and I’ve found them all over the place (the 1920s, apparently, are having a second wind) but mostly on my nemesis Asos (vortex of wasted time and money) and Etsy (much better as it supports small, independent sellers).
If you decide to do a ’20s murder mystery, think decadence and glamour. Also think drinking too much and at least one guest accidentally incinerating your curtains with a cigarette in a long holder. Good times will be had by all.
Some great 1920s-style bits and pieces around at the moment (January 2012): Sass and Bide ‘Winding Road’ feather and Battenburg dress, SOS; Detail of beautiful beading, vintage 1920s bag, Etsy; 1920s replica ‘Ritz’ shoe; Revival Retro; Faux fox fur stole, Wrap Me In Couture, Etsy; Black metallic turban, ASOS
1920s-themed murder-mystery games: A First Class Murder, Paul Lamond Games; Murder at the Four Deuces, Dinner and a Murder; The Chicago Caper, How to Host a Murder; My Deadly Valentine, Whodunnit Dinners; Pyramids of Giza, Paul Lamond Games
I hope you enjoy being a flapper for the night, if you need a few tips on hosting a 1920s dinner party, click here.