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The high point of Bruce Averett's career as a vampire came one night in 1987. "I scared three big football players all in a row," he reports with satisfaction, his grin spreading two blood-stained lips.

He is standing in a crypt in the Dungeon of Darkness, one of several haunted houses open for business in the Salt Lake Valley this Halloween season.In a few minutes the doors of the Dungeon of Darkness will open and in will come a steady stream of shrieking preteen girls, timid preschoolers and 10-year-old boys who are of afraid of nothing.

Like many of the young volunteers working at the Dungeon - this year's March of Dimes haunted house - Averett is a veteran demon, and he is prepared. After several years in the Halloween business he has learned that being scary is harder than it looks.

Before October is through, Averett can expect to be punched several times by startled visitors.

"I've had to send a few of our kids to the hospital," says Linda Gomez, co-chairman of the March of Dimes haunted house the past 12 years. "One boy had four front teeth knocked out."

The young volunteers say the occupational hazards are worth it. Many come back year after year to help build and run the house.

"We're a family," says Gomez, who herself now returns yearly from her home in California to help supervise the terror. "A lot of these kids are the ones society looks down on." Some have been in trouble with the law. "But they're devoted to this cause."

Matt and Robyn Love met while working at a March of Dimes haunted house three years ago. Gomez "married" them in a make-believe ceremony in The Bloody Ballroom the next year and they were married for real a year later. This year they brought baby April May Love to get a preview of the macabre rooms filled with coffins, gore and ghouls.

Salt Lake is apparently well-known for its haunted houses. Of all the March of Dimes organizations nationwide, the Greater Utah chapter manages to raise the most money with its haunted house. And Salt Lake can usually count on several other major pieces of haunted real estate during the Halloween season.

The newest entry is "Nightmare on State St.," devised by Salt Lake sign painter Duane Webb, who says his goal is terror with social value.

Webb's haunted house will include anti-hitchhiking and anti-drug messages and will also feature a '66 Ford Mustang with two heads smashed through the windshield - a graphic reminder not to drink and drive.

Although Webb's haunted house is a for-profit enterprise, the valley's other houses are generally geared toward charity or non-profit organizations, relying on volunteers to create more gruesome haunted houses each year.

Like the other March of Dimes volunteers, Wayne Rollins and his team started planning their room in July. The result is a torture chamber that includes a gallows, a cage and a Fountain of Blood imbedded with plastic skulls.

Each night, Rollins dons a 30-pound shirt of chain mail, a fashion accessory that took him three weeks to construct out of steel loops. Then for the next three hours - four on weekends - with only one 15-minute break, Rollins screams and growls at the thousands of chillseekers who pass by.

It's more than just jumping out at people, says Gomez of her volunteers' scare tactics. "It's acting."

Gomez loves the energy released by 80 kids who love their gruesome work. She sums up the excitement with an observation apparently influenced by all those years of rubbing shoulders with vampires: "It gets in your blood."


(Additional information)

Where the ghouls are

It's Friday the 13th, the perfect time to take in some of the ghoul parade of homes along the Wasatch Front. This year's haunted houses include:

-The American Heart Association's Haunted Old Mill, 6900 S. Big Cottonwood Canyon Road. (approximately 3500 East). Through Oct. 31 (closed Sundays). Mondays through Thursdays, 7 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 7 to 11 p.m. Cost: $4; discount coupons available at Osco Drug and Holiday Oil. Outdoor dances on the remaining Saturday nights in October, 9 to 11 p.m.

-March of Dimes Dungeon of Darkness, at the former Capt. Nemo's Dinner Theater, 4000 S. 900 East. Through Oct.31 (closed Sundays). Mondays through Thursdays, 7 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 7 to 11 p.m. Cost: $4; discount coupons available at Little Caesar's Pizza and Wendy's.

-Nightmare on State Street, 4081 S. State. Through Nov. 4 (closed Sundays). Mondays through Thursdays, 6 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 6 to 11 p.m. Cost: $5 per person.

-Wheeler Historic Farm's "Lost in the Haunted Woods," 6351 S. 900 East. Through Oct. 31 (closed Sundays). Mondays through Thursdays, 7 to 10 p.m. (box office closes at 9:30 p.m.); Fridays and Saturdays, 7 to 11 p.m. (box office closes at 10:30 p.m.). Cost: $5 ($2.50 ages 3 to 11); $1 discount with proof of purchase from Citrus Hill or Sunny Delight product.

-Wheeler Farm Tot Walk, same address. For ages 3 to 8. Mondays through Fridays, 2 to 5 p.m.; Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cost: $1.50 per person.

-Utah State Mental Hospital Haunted Castle, 1300 E. Center St., Provo. Oct. 20 through 31 (closed Sundays). Mondays through Thursdays, 7:30 to 10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays (and Halloween), 7:30 to 11 p.m. Cost: $4.