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Tromping through six Salt Lake haunted houses to write this review of them was, to say the least, a "cryptic" experience.

Nevertheless, journalistic courage must overcome childhood terrors.Anyway, who cares that until an unquestionably mature age, turning out the light and getting into bed was a nightly terror, due to the existence of a demon dwelling under my bed - the wicked Grabfooter (who lived on lint and sleepy persons.) Turning out the light and sprinting for mattress safety was an Olympian endeavor. The alternative was to be dragged beneath the box springs and consumed, along with the lint balls.

Some fears are hard to overcome.

Take the Wicked Witch of the West . . . please.

When Margaret Hamilton decided to change her witchy image to the kindly old neighbor lady on television commercials, I just knew lips that touched instant Maxwell House coffee would be melted into a steaming heap, never again to hum "Ding, dong, the witch is dead!"

And then there was another irrational fear of things gruesome.

My teen years were ruined by a whining New Jersey teenager whose records were incessantly played on the radio. Tunes like, "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to" . . . by Leslie (get this) GORE!

The mere suggestion of scary, bloody or ghoulish was enough to send me shrieking into the sunset.

However, the annual rundown of Halloween haunts must override this writer's hangups. So, let my well-earned nightmares lend credibility to the following report. A Halloween gift to our readers: May my nightmares prevent all you seemingly well-adjusted parents out there from losing sleep over post-haunted house syndrome!

After all, some witches are nice, and some witches are naughty!

-ALIEN ENCOUNTERS, Help for the Homeless Inc., 8700 S. Sandy Parkway (450 West), across from the Sports Park. Through Oct. 31 (closed Sunday); 7-11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Cost $6; $4 with coupon or non-perishable can of food. Discount coupon available at 7-11 stores, Domino's Pizza, or KKAT Radio. For group rates call 561-8400.

There's a newcomer on the tour of macabre mansions this year, and it's a winner! The old Photon building, designed for laser tag freaks, is an ideal setting for a realistic abandoned space station, with startling freaks of its own.

The ramps winding through darkened passageways are fully accessible for the handicapped, and the terrifying twists and turns lead the adventurous earthling through a macabre maze - the final resting place for captured space travelers.

I clawed my way through the darkness with an assistant critic, 11-year-old Trisha, who was frightened but not terrified. It was classic Halloween fun.

Smoke, laser lights, realistic sound effects and technically first-rate monsters made this a real adventure. In Trisha's words, "It was one scare after another!"

Recommendation: Too scary for children under 11. A young child in front of us was sobbing after the first 10 seconds. The realistic masks and excellent timing of scares makes this haunted house our favorite.

-DARK SIDE OF THE OLD MILL, the American Heart Association, 6900 S. Big Cottonwood Canyon Road (approximately 3500 East). Through Oct. 31 (closed Sunday); 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Cost: $4 (6 and under, free); discount coupons available at Osco Drug and Holiday Oil. Outdoor dances on remaining Saturday nights in October, 9 to 11 p.m.

With the eeriest location and structure in the area, the Haunted Old Mill thrills and chills thousands each Halloween season.

As a fund-raiser for the American Heart Association, the mysterious climb up dusty stairs is indeed a "heartening" experience, but watch out for hatchet-wielding, hooded demons who love to follow their terrified victim for what seems forever. But it's tantalizing terror to enter various chambers where grisly scenes unfold.

Slanted walkways and shrouded walls lead to several rather disgusting glimpses of very visceral victims. However, the gaggle of sixth-grade girls from Brookwood Elementary School thought the "gore was great!"

Recommendation: Leave kids 8 and younger home! There are a couple of rather weird scenes with frightening, ethereal little girls in a bloody tableau that could upset younger children (and paranoid older folks!). Thankfully, the intensity of the gore is softened by well-timed Halloween humor.

-LOST IN THE HAUNTED WOODS, Wheeler Historic Farm, 6351 S. 900 East. Through Oct. 31 (closed Sunday); 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday (box office closes at 9:30 p.m.); 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday (box office closes at 10:30 p.m.). Cost: $5 ($2.50 for ages 3 to 11); $1 discount with proof of purchase from Citrus Hill or Sunny Delight product.

Thanks to being spoon-fed psyche-warping literature dealing with little lost children in forests by most of our "mummies," this outdoor walk through the woods can bring out the beast . . . literally! And several really frightening creatures are out there shocking thousands every night.

The experience here is wrapped around a spoofish mini-play at every bonfire. Listen to the dialogue, if you can hear it over the screaming. My favorite line was from the deranged Dr. Gore (Leslie's uncle?), who quipped, "Blood sucking is an addiction that the Betty Ford Clinic isn't about to tackle!"

Nightmare-invaders who look a lot like Jason, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and a cast of other creeps add their scare tactics. And the three chainsaw encounters don't hurt, really. (The saws have been disabled, but the noise alone is terrifying!)

Recommendation: My 12-year-old Jana hung onto Mom for dear life, but thought it was cool! I don't know if she would have handled it well without an adult. Brian, 13, acted blase, but loved the realistic monsters and sudden surprises. Pretty gory, but gore seems to be the winner among the jaded kids I interviewed. I wouldn't bring a child younger than 9. I talked to a frightened 5-year-old and a shaky 6-year-old who were obviously not thrilled with the evening's activities.

-WHEELER FARM TOT WALK, same address. For ages 3 to 8. 2-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Cost: $1.50 per person.

Our guide, Audrey, who turns into a giant monkey for the nightly show, walked our small group through the usually terrifying landscape.

The explanation about how each monster is constructed seemed to ease the fears of my 4-year-old helper, Kellie.

During the Tot Walk, younger children get to touch the props and listen to their guide tell all about what occurs at each scene. This often eases the fears of those who visit the woods at night. The dialogue about the trio of carpet-loving skeletons, Andy, Phil and Dan, was worth the second visit!

Recommendation: This is an excellent way to alleviate fears of things that go bump in the dark. Kellie bravely admitted that she was a little bit scared, but loved the "monster toilet."

-DUNGEON OF DARKNESS, March of Dimes, at the former Captain Nemo's Dinner Theater, 4000 S. 900 East. Through Oct. 31 (closed Sunday); 7 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Cost: $4; discount coupons available at Little Caesar's Pizza and Wendy's.

In its 16th year of production, with a cast of over 100 volunteers, this haunt always seems to be a favorite. And this year's medieval theme is definitely well done. The makeup is the best we saw, and the spooks the most persistent, even annoying at times.

The gore is heavy-duty, with strobe lights and lavish settings lending to the ambience of fear. The constant din really drives you, well, batty. I found the most startling scene to be the den of luminous-eyed vampires, who followed us up creaking stairs, hissing and snapping their fangs. Really awful!

Trisha, 11, was annoyed at the clinging characters, who didn't let up on their enthusiasm. She hated the piercing screams in her ear. Great timing and surprise lurk around every corner here.

Recommendation: I wouldn't bring a child younger than 10 or 11. The flamboyant actors here could frighten some. (I'm still seeing glowing fangs and eyes in the dark!)

-NIGHTMARE ON STATE STREET, 4081 S. State St. Through Nov. 4 (closed Sunday); 7 to 10 p.m Monday through Thursday; 6 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Cost: $5 per person.

Situated in an abandoned warehouse, another neophyte to the haunted house market is attempting to draw crowds. However, on the two nights I followed the klieg light to this location, the parking lot was nearly empty.

Developed by sign painter Duane Webb, "terror with social value" is the theme throughout. An anti-drinking scene graphically illustrates how to make a "Bloody Mary." Other none-too-subtle messages prevail along the wildly illustrated walls and walkways, all done by Webb.

Expect to wander through an eerie outdoor graveyard, perhaps to be awakened from the standard bloody repitition by, what else, a whirring chainsaw, which seems to be the Cuisinart of chill this year.

Recommendation: Sophisticated Salt Lake cadaver connoisseurs could find better haunted houses to visit, although the messages within are important. Webb has aimed this venture at young adults and 17- to 18-year-olds.

-THE HAUNTED CASTLE, Utah State Hospital, Provo. Through Oct. 31 (closed Sunday); 7-10 p.m. nightly; 7-11 p.m. weekends and Halloween. Cost: $4 donation for those 5 and older; $3.50 for individuals in groups.

The Utah State Hospital is sponsoring its Haunted Castle for the 19th year. Patients at the hospital help plan the project and appear in the spook alley. "This year, they seem really excited about it," a hospital official said.

The "castle" is actually the old amphitheater east of the main building at the hospital - in the pale moonlight the ampitheater often looks like a place only Boris Karloff could love.

Donations go to the hospital's recreation fund.