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FOR THE KIDS : Giant Rats, Live Bats and Other Spooky Stuff : County's Halloween offerings range from youth group's show at Thousand Oaks' Arts Council Center to the Boo at the Zoo.


What's Halloween without a little dripping blood, vampires, a mad scientist and a man-eating rat or two?

If it all sounds delightful to your kids, bring them to the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks this weekend for the Young Artists Ensemble's Halloween extravaganza.

The youth group has taken over the center and turned it into "The Haunted Center." But it's much more than just a haunted house. The kids put on a show that takes the audience on a horror-filled walking tour through the old Janss home that now serves as the center.

The shows run nightly beginning Friday and end on Halloween. Tickets are $7. The shows are fund-raisers for the ensemble's children's theater productions, now in their 10th season.

This is the third year the group has served up the ghoulish offering. Last year's shows sold out, and some performances this year already are filled, according to director Mark Reyes.

The show is made up of three 12-minute mini-plays set in three rooms, along with three-minute skits in seven of the house's rooms. The performers are 13 to 19 years old. After the audience has walked its way through the rooms, they are treated to a 25-minute comedy-horror show in the courtyard. It all takes about 90 minutes.

What are some of the sights on this spook-filled tour? The stops include: The House of Wax, where Madame Facade introduces a few lifelike characters like Lizzy Borden of ax fame; The Giant Rat of Sumatra, which sends Sherlock Holmes and his buddy on a ghoulish hunt; The Tell Tale Heart, a takeoff on Poe's heart-throbbing tale, and Graverobbers of the Living Dead, who tangle with flesh-eating zombies. The finale in the courtyard features a mad scientist intent on breathing life into some sort of creature.

This is not an in-your-face kind of happening where spooks jump out and yell boo at the audience, according to Reyes. But because of its horrifying nature, he doesn't recommend it for impressionable children.

Younger kids can get a toned-down version of The Haunted Center at "The Creepy Courtyard," another Halloween offering by younger members of the ensemble.

This year's junior production is called "The Witch Academy," a spooky comedy by Reyes and directed by Holly Anne Holst. The performers are 10 to 14 years old. The mini-tour is offered Saturday and Sunday afternoon, with three performances each day. Tickets are $4. Children may come in costume and receive treats from the cast during the performance.


For a truly scary experience, there's the Ventura Jaycees' Factory of Terror at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. This is the 20th year the Jaycees have put together the ultimate haunted house. It's in the 6,500-square-foot livestock building, where nine horror-filled rooms and two confusing mazes will please the fearless.

About 10,000 people a year have their spines tingled at this haunted house, dubbed "The Final Fright" this year. The Jaycees have recruited help from Ventura County high school students. Some 60 kids will be on hand each night to help with the spooky business.

The Factory of Terror, operating through Halloween, is open 7 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is $7, but coupons worth a $2 discount are available. This experience is not recommended for children under 6 years.


Even the Santa Barbara Zoo is getting into the Halloween spirit. "Boo at the Zoo" will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. A Haunted Habitat House on the zoo's hilltop will feature such spooky delights as The Extinct Animal Graveyard, The Skull Room and The Backyard Habitat. The zoo's raven will be on hand, and the nocturnal exhibit's bats, night monkeys and Geoffroy's cats will be featured on special tours.


If all the Halloween ghoulishness is too much, consider heading for The Oaks mall in Thousand Oaks on Saturday, when the Disney Store is planning to host an elaborate promotion of the new animated television series "Disney's Aladdin."

The mall's center court will be transformed into a kind of Arabian fantasy, with a giant magic lamp, Persian rugs, throw pillows, music and a fog machine. The characters Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, Jafar and the Genie will be on hand to mingle with families from 10 a.m to 2 p.m.


* WHAT: The Haunted Center.

* WHEN: 9 and 10:30 p.m. Friday; 7:30, 9 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday; 6, 7:30 and 9 p.m. Sunday, 6 and 7:30 p.m. Monday.

* WHERE: The Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave., Thousand Oaks.

* COST: $7.

* FYI: Younger children can visit the Creepy Courtyard at the Arts Council Center and see a mini-version of The Haunted Center. Show times are 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $4. Advance reservations recommended. 499-4355.

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