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HAVE NO FEAR -- FUN IS HERE : Treat Yourself to a Clean Halloween: Goreless Entertainment Is in the Bag

October 27, 1994|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

There have been at least as many ways to celebrate Oct. 31 as there have been Freddy Krueger sequels.

On this night, Druids once marked the end of the Celtic year with massive hilltop bonfires (marshmallows, we would guess, were optional) and dabbled in equine and human sacrifice to placate the spirits of the deceased--a practice that continued as late as AD 400 (although by that time it was oxen, not their countrymen, that were getting the ax).

Witchcraft was all the rage in the Middle Ages, and All Hallow's Eve was thought to be one of the cult's biggest blowouts. On this night in medieval Europe, witches were believed to cruise the skies on broomsticks co-piloted by black cats. (Folks believed the cats were witches in disguise, so they torched them, too.)

The witch thing, of course, continues to be a classic. As late as the 19th Century, rural residents in the British Isles plaited pitchforks with straw and placed them afire on hilltops to singe the brooms of low-flying witches.

In 20th-Century Orange County, black-peaked hats and warty rubber noses are still hot Halloween sellers, but the tradition of dressing up and making the trick-or-treat rounds is waning as parents become more wary of sending their kids out into the night armed only with a pillowcase and a plastic mask.

So, how to celebrate? You could pack the teen-agers off to Knott's for its annual thrill fest, but the younger ones (or you, for that matter) may not be ready for an evening of roaming mutants and synthetic gore. If so, there are dozens of local options, ranging from a garage version of "Phantom of the Opera" to spooky storytelling to a Halloween-themed science workshop. Here's a sampling.

Phantom," Family Style

Three-car garages are good for more than storing junk and keeping bicycles from underfoot. If you're a lovesick musical hermit, they also make a dandy Halloween hangout.

So thought Peter Parker, a Cypress real-estate appraiser who turns his family's garage, 5803 Holmby Court, into the setting for a truncated "Phantom of the Opera." For the fifth Halloween running, Parker and a passel of his friends and family will stage their "Phantom," complete with music, lights, billowing fog and all manner of theatrical wizardry. Spectators (anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 each year) of all ages gather on Parker's driveway and spill out into the street to catch the 20-minute show, he says. (Viewers are asked to bring a canned food item to donate to the St. Iraneus Church of Hope project.)

"If I could design Halloween as a parent, this is what I would want: It's a little scary, so it keeps (kids') interest up and blood rushing, but there's a lot of great lights and color and music, too," said Parker, the father of three children, 7 to 13.

"Phantom" started out as a way to avoid schlepping his kids door-to-door on Halloween night. Parker built a coffin on his driveway and his neighbor, dressed as a vampire, rose out of it to hand out the trick-or-treat goodies. It was nice, but after Parker saw the real "Phantom" in L.A. a few years back, it wasn't nearly enough.

Now, visitors to Parker's garage are greeted by a disembodied head (a video image projected on a plaster model fashioned for him by a college mortuary science class; he says he got the idea from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion ride) that synopsizes the "Phantom" legend. The scene switches to Christine's dressing room, where, with the help of a seven-foot-tall trick mirror and other special effects, the phantom and the heroine dance and sing until he disappears amid thunder claps and deranged laughter. Seconds later, his "corpse" swings out over the audience's head, the head comes back for a chat and the curtain falls.

The "Phantom" almost didn't sing this year. In the past, Parker has footed much of the bill for the show with help from a local real estate company, but he didn't have the extra cash this year. When friends on his softball team heard about this, they gave him his Halloween treat a little early.

"The guys took (up) a collection and gave me a Halloween card with $1,000 inside," Parker said. "People really come through for this show; I guess it wouldn't be Halloween without it."

Oct. 31 performances of Parker's "Phantom" begin about 5:30 p.m. and run continuously until 10 p.m. Call (714) 826-6911.

Scaring Up a Good Story

Ghost stories and spooky tales will be told at several sites countywide this weekend, and kids are encouraged to turn out in costume for all of them.

On Saturday at noon and 1:30 p.m., professional storyteller Jim Lewis will perform at a Halloween festival at Placentia Town Center (Yorba Linda Boulevard and Kraemer Avenue). Admission is free, and the event also includes a magician, games and Halloween contests. Call (714) 348-2972.

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