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Fear factories

Haunting businesses unleash frights on patrons in the spirit of Halloween

Traditionally, thousands of Utahns file through elaborate spook alleys and haunted houses during the Halloween season. But do they still want to be scared out of their wits after the harrowing events of Sept. 11?

The hundreds of actors, directors and set designers involved in these businesses will find out in the next couple weeks as the Halloween season reaches its peak. Some haunted houses are already open; others are opening this weekend.

Some, such as the Institute of Terror in Salt Lake City, delayed advertising for a week, "out of respect for those who might have been in mourning," said owner Troy Barber.

Now, however, he thinks people might come as an escape. "People get scared, but then they know it's not real, it's all for fun," said Barber. "We might have a slow start due to the fact that everyone's feeling down about this and rightly so. We don't want it to be at the expense of anyone trying to mourn.

"But this is an escape where you know you can be safe. If people felt a real threat, we wouldn't have been in business 12 years. We don't do blood and gore, although I guess gore is in the eye of the beholder. Mainly we do some surprises that startle you and cool stuff, like spinning tunnels."

Last Friday night, a noisy line of customers — mainly teens — waited their turn to tour Rocky Point Haunted House, which has been a tradition for Halloween thrill-seekers for 22 years.

"I figure it this way, you have to get up and go on with your life," said customer Craig Bowser of Salt Lake City. "We are going to go through a haunted house just like we did last year. Why not show the terrorists that they can't affect us?"

Cydney Neil, Rocky Point's owner, said that when her haunted house was mentioned during a Fox TV news story that morning, a caller questioned whether it was appropriate to give the spotlight to businesses that dwell on death. "They don't glorify death," contends Neil. "Utah has been one of the biggest markets for the Halloween business for years. Last year, we had about 55,000 in attendance. This isn't something we do because a catastrophe happened. We do it all the time.

"It's really critical that, as a country, we don't devastate local businesses by not going out. We need to say that we won't live our lives in fear and take all our money out of the stock market and stay home, or the terrorists succeed in what they set out to do."

She pointed out that Rocky Point is a fund-raiser for Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake, and that they are accepting donations for the Red Cross. "We have kids whose lives are changed because of this program, their lives have purpose, hope and some fun. We realize children in New York have lost their parents, but there are kids here in Salt Lake City who don't have parents, because their parent doesn't want them."

Chris Hanson, a Hollywood special-effects artist who comes to work at Rocky Point each year, said he suspects that local haunted houses might eventually get an avalanche of business for the cathartic effect. "There may be people who will want to laugh in the face of fear."

But Hanson realizes that people are still very sensitive after the attack. The most recent movie he worked on, "Men In Black II," has been delayed to revise scenes that showed the World Trade Center towers in the background.

At Rocky Point, Hanson creates hundreds of fear-inducing faces like Frankenstein, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and generic vampires and mummies. "Monsters are all I wanted to do since I was 14," he said. "I guess it's part of an arrested adolescence. I never wanted to do beauty make-up. It's artistic, but I don't really have a talent in that field."

Instead, Hanson likes building aliens. He's especially proud of the 70-foot-long cross between a giant squid and a starfish used in Men In Black II. "It's not that scary but more humorous at the same time. My little nieces will look at it and be impressed, but they won't be too scared."

Even after creating these monsters and masks on a regular basis, Hanson says he still feels a bit jumpy if he's working late at night. "You keep looking out of the corner of your eye and thinking there's a real person in there. That's gotten to me many times."

Overseeing the make-up at Rocky Point is another Hollywood artist, Brian Penikis, who has worked on the movies, "Jeepers Creepers," "Batman and Robin" and "The Nutty Professor." He did old-age make-up on Robin Williams for the movie "Jack."

Penikis said he rarely gets hired to make up beautiful faces. "I would actually love to have my hands on pretty girls more often, but I've become stereotyped."

Big-budget movie sets are a far cry from the back stage of a haunted house. "Everyone's working a miracle here," said Penikis. "To try to do decent make-up in 15 minutes is a big task."

THOSE WHO DON'T FEEL UP TO the thrills and chills of a spook alley do have alternatives, however. One is the new Castle of Chaos, where the actors role-play with the audience.

"This isn't chainsaw-wielding high school students wearing masks," said Laura Bedore. "The focus is more on fun than fright. You use your brain to solve a mystery to escape the castle."

Cast members are from well-known improv troupes in Salt Lake City, including Quick Wits, Knock Your Socks Off and The Skinny Lincolns.

In the show, the audience members are captured and held in the castle by an evil prince. They must find clues to help them escape, while interacting with guards, ghosts, castle chefs, and so on.

Those who solve the mystery are eligible for a prize drawing to win U2 concert tickets, a Caribbean cruise and smaller prizes.

"This is a Halloween event for people who don't want to scream," said Bedore.

Beginning Oct. 13, a children's adventure called The Dragon's Castle will share space with the Castle of Chaos. Young audience members and their parents must solve the mystery of the disappearance of Princess Saphira, with a dragon possibly lurking in the castle halls. Those who solve the mystery will earn a reward.

"This is much more than just a walk from room to room for an obligatory piece of candy," said Bedore. "This provides a fun, theatrical, scare-free environment for children ages 2 to 8, where their decisions and involvement create the show and influence the ending."

The Treehouse Museum in Ogden has traditionally offered a non-scary "Enchanted Woods," event. "Our stand on that has always been that violence and frightening things are not a good thing for children anyway," said Treehouse Museum director Lynn Goodwin. "We attempt to provide the treats and the pretend and dress-ups that children like, without the fright."

Red Butte Garden also bills its "Garden After Dark" as a "kinder, gentler Halloween experience," where kids and adults can toast marshmallows and hear stories around a bonfire, watch a puppet show, work on crafts and see the "Critter Crawl Costume Parade."

The following Halloween spook alleys take place through Halloween:

INSTITUTE OF TERROR, 300 W. 1300 South. Monday-Thursday, 7:30-10 p.m.; and Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-midnight. Admission is $12 for adults and $8 for children. Donations taken for Utah Food Bank. 467-8100

FEAR FACTORY, 264 N. 100 West, Provo. Starting Oct. 1, Monday-Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, noon-midnight. Admission is $9 for adults, children under 5 are free (but parents are encouraged to bring them only during family hours, 3-5 p.m. Saturdays, when the scares are toned down) and combo passes (which include the haunted house and laser tag) are $12. 370-0680

CASTLE OF CHAOS, 4650 S. Highland Drive. Wednesday-Friday, 6:30-11:30 p.m.; and Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight. Shows begin every 45 minutes. Concessions, costume vendors, fortune telling in the castle courtyard. Admission is $12 for adults, $8 for kids 21 and under, and for $3 more per ticket, customers can buy "The Royal Treatment," which allows them to come at a specific show time without waiting in line. 347-1675 www.castleofchaos.com

DARK DOMAIN HAUNTED HOUSE, Wall and 23rd Street, Ogden. Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30-9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7:30-11 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for children under 8 and young children are discouraged; group rates are available for 20 or more people. Bring a can of food for the Utah Food Bank and get a $1 discount. 395-9397

ROCKY POINT HAUNTED HOUSE, 3400 S. State. Tuesday-Thursday, 7:30-10:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-midnight. Admission is $13 for adults and $8 for children. 322-4411

LAGOON'S FRIGHTMARES, 375 N. Lagoon Drive, Farmington. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sundays (through Oct. 21) 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Spook-a-Boo maze for children, amusement rides, the 15-room NightMare Midway and musical entertainment. Admission is $19.95 for ages 4-64, $10.95 for toddlers and $11.95 for seniors. 451-8000

THE HAUNTED FOREST, American Fork (exit 279). Weekdays, 7:30-10 p.m.; weekends, 7:30 p.m.-midnight. Admission is $11 for adults and $7 for children 10 and under. www.hauntedutah.com

THE HAUNTED HOLLOW,1900 W. 16th St., Ogden (exit 347). Weekdays, 7:30-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m.-midnight. Outdoor scares in 10 wooded acres. Admission is $11 for adults and $7 for children 10 and under. 282-1040 www.hauntedutah.com

The following events are geared to younger children:

THE DRAGON'S CASTLE, 4650 S. Highland Drive. Beginning Oct. 13, open Monday and Tuesday, 5-9 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $5 per person; group discounts are available. A young children's theatrical adventure. 347-1675

SCARECROW FESTIVAL, Sandy Centennial Park, 10000 S. Centennial Parkway (between the South Towne Mall and the Sandy City Hall). Through Saturday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Fund-raiser for the Utah Boys Ranch. Admission is $1 per person or $5 per family. 282-1040

THE GARDEN AFTER DARK, Red Butte Garden. Oct. 4-29, daily, 6:30-9:30 p.m. Admission is $6 for adults and $4 for children, students, seniors and garden members (members are admitted free on Thursday nights); family pass (up to four children) is $20. Halloween snacks, creepy-crawly arts and crafts, Halloween storytelling. www.redbuttegarden.org

THE ENCHANTED WOODS, Treehouse Children's Museum, Ogden City Mall. Beginning Oct. 5, Friday, 4-7 p.m. and Saturday 1-6 p.m. Admission is $6 for children and $4 for museum members; parents are admitted free. This non-scary event, themed "Walk With the Wizard Through the Woods," is geared toward children ages 2-10. 1-435-394-9663

HAUNTED TRAIL, Murray Park, 330 East and Vine Street. Oct. 29 and 30. Admission is $1.50 per person (and includes a doughnut and hot chocolate). Geared for children ages 12 years and younger.264-2614.

If you have a haunted house or other Halloween attraction to add to our weekly calendar, contact Valerie Phillips by phone at 236-6099 or by fax at 237-2550 or by e-mail at vphillips@desnews.com