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THE SCENE / ORANGE COUNTY

Nightmare on Beach Blvd. : Talk about a date from hell. At Knott's Scary Farm, chills and thrills go with the terrortory. And for the past 22 years it has been the in-place for teens who have outgrown trick-or-treating.

October 21, 1994|ROSE APODACA JONES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

BUENA PARK — Around first grade, we discover the secret identities of Santa, the Easter Bunny and the rest of those goody-two-shoes and reconsider our approach to the holidays. But we still hold on to the fright and dress-up of Halloween.

It's usually about the first year of high school that we come to the stark realization: Tricks are for kids. You can pretend to be escorting your younger brother and his friends on Halloween, but your days of holding out an open pillowcase are over.

Someday, when your 18 or 21, it'll be cool again to dress up.

Until then, the mature thing to do is hang up your rubber mask, retire the pumpkin-head flashlight and do what thousands of other teens in Southern California have done for the past 22 years: hit Knott's Scary Farm in Buena Park.

The amusement-turned-hell park has been a tradition for virtually anyone growing up within a 50-mile radius of Knott's.

Consider the experience a cross between a horror movie and a slumber party--minus the slumber. The screams, the chatter and the energy never seem to cease. Unlike fright flicks, where one civilian is attacked by an army of the living dead, at Knott's Scary Farm it takes only one park employee covered in ghoulish makeup and garb to invoke fearful thrills even among massive packs of teens.

"I love being scared," says Larissa Rehder, a sophomore at Sunny Hills High in Fullerton. She had such a eerily good time last year that she decided to return last Friday with four of her good friends.

"I'm supposed to be too old to trick or treat," she continues. "But I love Halloween, and I love getting scared. So what else is there to do?"

Hang out with Larissa around the park for a while and that "love" comes through loud and clear. Her shriek is deafening. And as the only girl in the group, the guys endlessly try to freak her out, only to tell her to shut up when she screams. She says only her best friend and classmate, Mike Moran, 16, protects her from her mischievous pals.

Not that these dudes are too tough to flinch when a zombie-like Dean Martin falls out of the machine-generated fog. Larissa's friend and fellow Sunny Hills sophomore Joon Lee admits that even horror aficionados are not immune.

"You don't think you're going to get scared," the 15-year-old says. "Most guys say they don't get scared. Then we do," he admits, losing the eye contact.

Whether they're genuinely scared is not the point. Few try to act cool and unaffected when confronted with one of the 1,000 monsters the park has on hand for the monthlong event. At $28.50 a ticket, the night better finish with a sore throat.

There's the usual cast of characters such as vampires, werewolves, the grim reaper and disfigured mutants. Yet apparently there's an equal-opportunity-for-monsters clause that states all nightmare fodder serves as scary game: gargoyles, a scarecrow, a gnome, enemy space aliens, sadistic Vikings, hunchbacks with bubonic plague.

The creepiest, however, are those who seem almost human: the sunken eyes shadowed by dark makeup, the powdery white skin, the torn flannel shirt and crazed hair. Not unlike some of the grungy die-hards who paid to get in.

One chain-saw-toting guy--who is on the payroll--elicited some of the most delicious dread.

Pulling the cord on the saw (minus the blades), a loud, gas-fueled grind causes everyone around him to break into B-movie panic. The crowd pushes one way and another trying to distance itself from him. "C'mon baby," he cries, running after a half-dozen screaming teen-age girls.

A young guy, about 14 or 15, walks by and, over the roar, yells "Dude, you're cool."

Stopping the madness for a moment, the tormented handyman throws out a "thanks" before running off.

*

So it's no shock that guests walk cautiously, perpetually unnerved and recoiling at every shoulder tap. (Shoulder tapping, in fact, is a favorite pastime among guests who get caught up in the fright fever).

That's why they're here, notes Larissa, 15. "I just like the whole aura of it and that at every corner I'll get scared."

Pal Abel Penya, also a Sunny Hills sophomore, echoes others, however, when he confides that the event is a great opportunity to meet new friends--especially of the potential mate variety. "You meet a lot of girls, get a couple of numbers. . . ."

In fact, for these guys, the biggest nightmare is that there's "too many girls with guys," Joon says.

It's true "most teen-agers come here to meet girls or guys and get phone numbers," says Buena Park High sophomore Jeremy Garrett, a friend who met up with Joon, Abel, Larissa and Mike that night.

"But it's pretty fun coming with a girlfriend, because she gets scared," he says.

Ah, yes, a chance to hold her even tighter as she cringes into his side. It's indeed one of the benefits of the visit, says the 16-year-old.

Sound effects alone keep them close. Amplified winds howl so loudly that subconsciously a chill can come over guests, Jeremy says. "I love the sound effects. I mean they really do make you feel cold."

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