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First System - Halloween FX - DMX based?

This is my first post here, and I'm going to lead in with mentioning that my neighborhood goes BONKERS on Halloween night. We live in a big circle of about 50 houses, and they literally bus the kids in from local schools to trick or treat in our area.

The kids don't have to go to anyones front door, as all the candy givers are out in their driveways or on their porches. There are typically several haunted houses, lots of fire pits, and people selling coffee, water, etc.

Well, I'm a bit of a showman, and always like to improve what we do every year, and this is our third year. (Technically the 4th year, but we moved in in late Sept, and were caught off guard, and didn't do much the 1st year.)

Year 1, we made the front yard into a massive graveyard, and dressed as zombies (with friends) and scared and lurked the kids and parents. Fun but a bit tame.

Year 2, we added a cheap disco ball light thing, and did a "Dead Man's Party" with zombie dancing, inviting up the kids and parents to dance with us. Was much more fun.

Year 3, (this year, and the first time it's been on a weekend night) I want to do a "Thriller" live dance performance about every hour, with the 12 or so people that always come over our house for poker. We are currently working on the routine and the dance steps.

My question to you all: I need some special FX. Real stuff, but on a budget. The wife gave me the go ahead to spend about $500 for fog, lighting, etc, since up until now we have been using really cheap "costume store" FX stuff (like the $40 fog machines, $10 lighted ball...) that really don't have the quality feel that I want, or the long term usage down the road. (Nor the reliability.)

At first I was thinking about getting 2 of the American DJ 1200HD foggers (about $149 each) but saw that most of the "controls" were not included with them except for a simple push button.

Then I looked at the American DJ 1700HD fogger, (about $300) because it came with a remote timer and saw a term I had never heard of before associated with a fog machine: DMX-512 connectivity.

A bit more studying showed me that is how you can control your effects from a specific location via a control board using this protocol. Friggen cool. Now we are talking about the kind of stuff that floats my boat.

So now my goal (for my $500 budget) is to put together the "base" of a decent control system, starting with a small but expandable DMX board, a decent fog machine and one good multi-colored "movement" light that all can be controlled by the DMX board. (speed, color, fog output, etc.) Nothing uber professional, but something that if I wanted to, I could add a few more lighting devices over the years, they could all be controlled by the same board.

I currently also own a Fender Passport 250. It is a bit of an older model, but still works great. I don't know if it can also be controlled (at least just the volume) through the same DMX board or not, but that would be nice, however that is not a priority. We do run the Passport from an iPod, so even if THAT could be volume controlled through the DMX board, that would be OK too.

I have no reason to think I can't buy a decent high-output fog machine, a cool looking "flower" type movement light and small scale DMX board (and all the cabling) for my budget to kick this system off the ground. I'm just not sure how it all works together.

I want something simple but expandable. If I EVER controlled 6-8 devices, I think that would be about the most we would ever go. Remember this primarily for Halloween, but might get used a few times during the summer for backyard parties. 3 times a year at the most. Not for professional usage, and probably never traveled with.

First, how does the DMX system work? Nearly every board has only 1 or 2 "outputs" but a mass of controls, and claim things like "controls 8 devices" or "16 devices"? But they only have a plug or two on the back.

Do they daisy-chain together? Do the lines need splitters? Does each device need a control board, or some other kind of device management?

Any product suggestions will be earnestly listened to, and any input on how to build a workable base system will be very appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
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