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SHOP TALK : A Shriek Is Music to a Ghoul's Ears : Gadgets that howl and gizmos that scream give Halloween the right atmosphere. But check to see if batteries are included.

October 20, 1994|LEO SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Come December everyone will be talking about the "sounds of the holidays." You know, sleigh bells a-jing-jing-a-ling, Bing Crosby crooning, that gentle sound of champagne glasses clinking in holiday toasts.

But it's still October, folks. And we've decided that it's about time people pay more attention to the under-appreciated sounds of the present holiday season. We're talking about the lovely, sweet sounds (OK, make it shrill, grotesque noises) of Halloween.

Halloween revelers pay plenty of attention to costumes . . . and fake lips . . . and oozing blood-like concoctions. But what would the occasion be without a fair share of clunks, thumps, shrieks, howls, and blood-curdling screams? Ahh, music to a ghoul's ears. So, last week we went shopping for those sounds.

We knocked on the doors of Michaels crafts store in Ventura, K mart in Santa Paula, Thrifty in Fillmore, and It's A Party (formerly It's My Party) in Ojai. The sounds we found came in many forms--from cassette tapes to high-tech sound-activated gadgets.

Let's start with the gadgets.

There were two that particularly caught our ears. The first, which we found at K mart, was a thing called "Lite-Up Spooky Tunes." It's a gizmo that looks like a Walkman (without a headset), but push the buttons on top and you get a trio of screams and growls (not to mention flashing lights). Price: $4.99, and that's with two AA batteries included.

Here's a good time to note that the biggest trick-or-treat for shoppers of sounds, is the batteries. Some gadgets include them, some don't. It varied considerably, so keep an eye on the small print.

The second item at the top of our list was the "It's Alive! Candy Dish" selling at Michaels for $19.99. The ceramic ghost-shaped dish lets out a scream when candy is taken from it. And it's not a bad-looking dish even without the electronics. Two AA batteries are not included in this one.

Michaels had some other pretty remarkable noisemakers too.

There was the "Pumpkin Impostor," a sound-activated Jack-O-Lantern look-alike that lights up and says "Happy Halloween" when someone walks near ($12.99, batteries not included); and the sound-activated "Electronic Door Plaque" that looks like Frankenstein's Monster and lets out a ghost laugh when approached. It's priced at $12.99 without the batteries.

Thrifty also had a version of an electronic door plaque. This one, a "Witch Head Door Plaque" or "Illuminated Screaming Door Plaque." The sound-activated device lets out "eerie screams." K mart also had "Boo Door Knockers" that look like demons of some sort, intended to be mounted to the front door. When a trick-or-treater knocks on it, it says, "Beware . . . Welcome," backed by an eerie bell toll. The words are barely audible, but the item is only $9.99 and that includes the batteries.

Assorted other items we found included little sound-activated boxes, covered with a ghost, witch, pumpkin, or spider cloth. K mart had them for $4.99 and $5.99 (for the spider), batteries included. Slightly higher-quality versions were going for $9.99 without the batteries at It's A Party.

It's A Party was also selling "Spooky Hammers." The cute, fluorescent toys, in the shape of a long arm and creepy hand, clenching either a scarecrow, ghost, or witch, make whistles and squeaky sounds. On a far less cute note, Thrifty had "The Electronic Devil's Sickle," which makes a screaming sound, for $5.99 with batteries not included.

Now for the cassettes.

Michaels had the largest selection, four tapes from K-tel, all priced at $3.99. There was "Screeches, Clanks, & Howls," featuring those old favorites "Demented Dentist," "Lunatic Laughter" and "Hits, Stabs, & Splats"; "Halloween's Greatest Stories" by Edgar Allan Poe; "Scary Sounds of Halloween"; and "Sounds to Haunt Your House."

K mart was selling a one-hour CD ($4.99) or tape ($2.99) called "Spooky Tales and Scary Sounds," featuring 35 sound effects including fighting cats, a heartbeat, and a creaky door. The store also had a 45-minute "Chamber of Horrors" tape for $1.69. Thrifty had a "Spooky Sounds" tape of "chilling sound effects for haunted houses, ghouls, and gremlins of all ages" for $1.49. And for $3, It's A Party was selling a 45-minute tape of "Peter and the Werewolf--A Ghost Story with a Happy Ending."

Yes, despite all the weird noises Halloween, too, is intended to have a happy ending--even without the jing-jing-a-ling.

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