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3-HOUR TOUR : A Great Place to Meet Creeps and Clowns

October 20, 1994|BENJAMIN EPSTEIN | Benjamin Epstein is a free-lance writer who contributes frequently to The Times Orange County Edition

Elm Street had the concession long enough. It was about time nightmares came to Irvine.

6 to 7:10: The capacity of pizza to cause nightmares may not yet be scientifically documented, but it's already made the annals of popular wisdom, so pizza's a perfect warm-up for the Creep Festival.

That's especially the case when you load up on anchovies, which is what my wife and I did with two anchovy-optional dishes at Peppino's down the road in Lake Forest: a Caesar salad gloriously sloppy with the little fish and mozzarella ($4.45, enough to split), and Carlo Special, a fresh tomato, olive oil, basil, garlic and Romano pizza on an ultra-thin crust ($10.45, enough to split many ways). The family restaurant offers an extensive Italian menu, and Italian beers including Peroni and Moretti.

A sign says "Italian pastries & cakes" in red, green and white neon; on the tables are typical red and white tablecloths and on the walls less typical prints including "Reclining Salad," in which various vegetables get together to depict a female nude from the rear. The place was bustling when we walked in--there wasn't an empty table--but by the time we left, the line was out to the parking lot.

7:10 to 7:15: The Creep Festival ticket ($9.75) includes admission to Halloween-inspired attractions as well as carnival games and rides. (And Linda Blair will be there tonight, with her head on straight.)

If you've got little ones (free admission for kids under 5), stop first at Kiddie Krypt. It's about as scary as Casper--these ghosts shake hands! Even Barney was there. An animatronic skeleton puppet performed acrobatics on a gym bar in the middle of a pumpkin patch, but perhaps scariest of all, a slightly flustered Bozo asked my 7-year-old, "Would you like a little clown?" Ryan accepted the balloon he was actually offering.

7:15 to 7:35: At Nightmare Castle, we smugly noted signs such as "Warning: Not recommended for people with weak hearts." The greeter looked like Uncle Fester in monastery garb. Admittance is staggered so that castle inhabitants can give you their frightening best.

The walls literally had eyes, severed heads came alive, and a surprise waited around every corner. Characters jumped out from nowhere, and everywhere, wielding butcher knives and the like, and soon we were surprised to the point that we started to move as a huddled unit. Apparently endlessly recycled blood spewed forth from one skeleton's mouth; no bones about it, it was a veritable fountain of guts.

Cockroach Cavern offered tactile effects of an indeterminate nature. In the graveyard, an epitaph said, "Here lies the body of Henry Moore, he got in the way of a .44." I figured the great sculptor had died peacefully; that rhyme would have stopped him in any case.

7:35 to 7:50: "Look, there's even a spooky moon," Ryan noted on our way to the Hayride.

But the characters we encountered on the ride--a truck pulled a trailer using bales of hay for seats--got no respect. When one that looked like a bloody Al Bundy, only worse, ran menacingly behind the truck, one passenger commented, "I think he needs to change his clothes." When a particularly grotesque female character threatened, "I'd love to have you for dinner," the kids yelled back, "Hi, Mom!"

As in the original movie, Frankenstein's monster was a pitiable creature; Franky frankly didn't scare anybody. When one girl accepted a ghoul's invitation--"Room for one more," he beckoned--the truck began to pull away and leave her with the creatures of the night, to everybody's delight. Whereas Nightmare Castle left us a tad jumpy, the Hayride just proved a hoot.

7:50 to 8: The midway is dotted with a variety of activities. Kids can play, for instance, inside an inflated castle and apparently have as much fun as on more sophisticated attractions; for adults, it's a bit hard on the knees. At Sing Your Heart Out Creepy-oke, six preteen girls tackled "Love Shack." It's $1 per song to sing; a recorded memento is $3, or 2 for $5.

8 to 9: The carnival offers several free rides.

The high point of my night, literally and figuratively, was the Toboggan. You ascend vertically, one car at a time, do six fast loops down and come to a bumpy conclusion. Two people in the claustrophobic little cages is bad enough; we squeezed in three. When it was over, we rode it again. The Spider actually looks like an octopus, and appears innocent enough at rest. But once in motion, the legs not only go around but up and down while the car itself spins in both directions. "You're going to barf your head off," a little girl screamed down to her friend. Moments after the ride began, I thought out loud, "When does it ever end?" "It doesn't," Ryan answered. "That's the fun of it!" I closed my eyes and somehow got through. Ryan went on again.

You can save $3, and your innards, by just watching the gyroscopic, one-seat Spaceball, which spins the rider in every direction.

By contrast, Go Gator took off with a screech but was perfect for the truly wee ones. Because this ride, as well as the Toboggan, Spider and a Superslide, are free, even if the kids want to go on again and again and again, there'll still be money left over for churros and cotton candy.

* Times Line: 808-8463

To hear brief capsules of other "3-Hour Tours," call TimesLine and press *7150

1) Peppino's

23600 Rockfield Blvd. Lake Forest, (714) 951-2611. Open Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

2) Creep Festival

Lion Country Center 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, (714) 798-5458. Through Oct. 31. Open Sunday through Thursday, 7 to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. to midnight.

Parking: There is ample parking in lots at both locations.

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