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The Dropping Portrait

You're walking down a dark hallway, with portraits lining the walls on both sides, then suddenly one of them falls with a bang and a monster is in your face! The dropping portrait is one my favorite scares. Its fairly simple to build, reliable, and easy for an actor to use. I've put together an overview and video of how it all goes together, but I intentionally left off detailed dimensions. Why? Because everything depends on the size of the portrait and what space you have to work with. So, look at this as a fun way to experiment and build your own version of a time-honored haunted house scare, the dropping portrait!


This Quicktime video shows the details how everything works together for a great scare!



    • A portrait - that can be glued to a piece of plywood
    • About 20' of 1"x2"
    • Enough window frame moulding for the front of the portrait
    • A 3/8" plywood panel, a bit larger than the portrait you want to use - you may need more, depending if you need to build the wall as well
    • One 8' 2"x4", maybe more - depending if you need to build the wall itself too
    • A small 4"x4" block of 1"x4" or something similar to make the rear handle
    • Glue, screws
    • Paint or stain (as needed)
    • A 16p nail or about 3' of rope (for the release)


  • Drill/screwdriver (a cordless drill/screwdriver - the haunter's friend!)
  • Saws (It's best to use three saws if you can for good cuts: scroll saw for the portrait hole, circular saw for cutting plywood & 2x4's, and a miter saw to cut the portrait moulding)
  • Eye protection (always!)


Everything starts with the size of the portrait you want (or have) to use. The plywood back should be at least an inch larger on all sides than the portrait.

Measure the portrait to be sure you know its size.

Cut the plywood to size (remember, make it at least an inch larger than the portrait all the way around), and on the rougher side, attach the handle (see the video for placement and size). I recommend both gluing and screwing the handle so its very secure.

Once the handle is on, then carefully glue the portrait to the smoothest side. Set this aside to dry.

On the wall you want to put the dropping portrait, measure out a hole just slightly smaller than the portrait (about 1/2" to 1" smaller on all sides is about right). Make sure the hole is in a spot where it's easy for an actor to lean or reach through - and that there's enough room to move on the actor's side! Mark the location - this is where the portrait will be. Check to be sure this is good spot in the room on the guest side. Checking several times for correct placement is a very good idea - you're going to have a big hole in the wall when you're done, and being sure it's in the right place is worth some time to be sure!

Now measure twice the vertical size of the plywood panel. Use this measurement, plus 2" to be the size of the side rails. At the bottom of the side rail measurement, mark the location of the top 2x4. This tells you how to cut the 2x4's to fit across the bottom.

Be sure everything fits
where it needs to!!!

Now you can cut out the portrait hole. Clean the edges so they're free of any wood bits. The edges can be sanded if not straight.

Cut and assemble the 2x4's on the wall. It's a good idea to glue and screw these in place. As noted in the video, be sure the bottom piece is resting firmly on the ground, and the other pieces are pressed together. This area will take a beating, so a tight fit is a good idea.

Cut out the 4 1"x2" pieces for the rails, and screw them together. Offset the rails about 3/4" to 1" (see the top view).

Use the portrait to set the placement of the side rails. Leave about 1/2" open on the sides so the panel can move easily and freely. Yes, its loose - and that's on purpose!

Screw the side rails to the wall. Check that the portrait slides very easily in the slot created by the side rails.

Go ahead and cut and assemble the moulding/framing around the guest side of the portrait hole, stain and finish it as needed.

Place the portrait so that it looks good from the guest side, and mount a cord or drill a hole in the rail for a holding screw (as noted in the video).

Now mark and drill an eyehole for the actor to see the victims approach.

You're done!















 Scare Somebody!
The great thing about the design is just how simple it is to operate. All the actor needs to do is wait for the right moment and release the portrait, and jump into view!
The noise of the drop, and the actor's roar (or babble, as the case may be) makes for a really great scare that will put the shakes in anyone's knees!




In Closing...
That's a quick overview how to build a great prop that's guaranteed to make 'em jump everytime! Pay attention to the set around the portrait to make it appear part of the scenery. It works great in a hallway of portraits because it will look just like one of the other framed portraits. But the choice is yours. Have fun and make it your own. If you come up with any varitions or shortcuts, let us know. We'd be happy to share your innovations with other ScaryGuys. Happy Boos!



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