SAN DIEGO — No one ever confused the old Sears store on Cleveland Avenue with the castles of Baron Frankenstein or Count Dracula--at least not until now.
But the landmark department store, now vacant, is just one of the unusual sites being pressed into service this Halloween season for haunted festivities where partygoers will hob-nob with hobgoblins.
Among the other sites are:
- The Museum of Man in Balboa Park, where family-style Halloween festivities have become a tradition.
- The Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park, where the Junior Theatre and the Civic Light Opera Assn. will stage a "Halloween Terror Tour."
- A showing of horror films at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.
- Haunted houses at the Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista and at Plaza Bonita in National City.
- Costume contests at Pacific Beach and Seaport Village.
A group of high school drama classes has moved its scary "Scream in the Dark" festival from the College Grove Shopping Center to the vacant Sears store, where it will have twice as much space.
According to Ken Overstreet, who helped originate the event, "Scream in the Dark" has become a tradition. The 22nd annual attraction is expected to draw between 35,000 to 40,000 people, Overstreet said.
A parking-lot carnival is included in the event, which runs from from 6:30 to 10 p.m. through next Saturday.
Drama classes from 14 high schools around San Diego have been planning the event since last month. Each school is responsible for decorating its own haunted room in the store; the most horrific room will win a prize. Most of the youngsters have chosen to reenact scenes from horror films such as "Alien," "Friday the 13th" and "Psycho."
A tour of the 21 haunted rooms in the store takes 15 to 20 minutes. Overstreet recommends that adults accompany children younger than 12.
Janalee Shelton and Kelly Fitzgerald, seniors from Santana High and Granite Hills High, respectively, who have worked with "Scream in the Dark" before, said this has been the best year.
"It's really great because drama kids love to be hams," Shelton said. "This is a way for them to do it without anyone knowing who they are."
The Museum of Man's haunted museum is both a hair-raising and cash-raising event. Staged yearly by a volunteer women's group, the Klee Wyk Society, the festivities annually bring in $50,000 or so for the museum.
Being held today, Sunday and Oct. 28 through 31 from 6:30 p.m. until 9 p.m., the event consists of several "halls of terror," in which many of the attractions are actual museum artifacts such as skeletons, a huge stuffed ape and models of early humans. Most of the exhibits are draped with black for the event.
A cast of 50 high school drama students, dressed as Frankensteins, Draculas, goblins and mummies roam the museum.
"We try to change it a little bit every year," said Ellen Craig, spokeswoman for the event.
"In rooms like the 'Torture Chamber' we try not to make all the victims women because we have had complaints about that."
Craig said that in past years as many as 22,000 people have attended the "Haunted Museum."
The museum is also holding a costume contest for children at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. A "Monster Mash" dance will be held from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday with music appropriately provided by a band named The Ghouls.
Also in Balboa Park, the Junior Theatre and the San Diego Civic Light Opera Assn. will present "Halloween Tour of Terror in Starlight Bowl." The group has been planning the event since spring.
An elaborate labyrinth, built around the stage, is reminiscent of Disneyland's "Haunted Mansion" and the "Pirates of the Caribbean." According Robin Stevens, the Starlight Bowl's spook house is meant to be more artistic than the average haunted attraction but still scary.
"We didn't want people to just wait in empty halls before they enter another frightening room, which is the way most haunted houses work," said Mary Oswell, marketing and box office director. "Our cast of 43 monsters will be performing rather than jumping out and scaring people."
Oswell said that they are aiming the event at an 18- to 25-year-old age group, but everyone is welcome.
Other Halloween activities:
A program of horror films by Italian film-maker Dario Argento at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista will present "Haunting of the Moonlight," a haunted house, from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through next Saturday.
The San Diego Girls and Boys Club is sponsoring "Dark Castle," a haunted house, at the Plaza Bonita Shopping Center from 7 to 10 p.m. through Halloween.
The Promenade Shopping Center in Pacific Beach is holding a costume contest and will have magic shows at noon and 12:45 p.m. on Halloween. Seaport Village is also holding a costume contest and will be giving treats to children 3 to 12 throughout the day next Saturday. At Mission Valley Center, there will be free psychic readings Friday and Halloween.