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LAS VEGAS

Sin City gets creepy? Bet on it

It's Halloween with an edge -- a 'Christmas gone bad' theme and then there's the embalming room.

October 12, 2008|Jay Jones | Special to The Times

In sin city, Halloween is circled in red.

The Circus of Horrors, Hillbilly Hell and Vampire's Blood Feast are among the many haunted houses that promise to terrify Vegas visitors. There's even a haunted casino for folks who don't find the real gambling halls scary.

"The feel of fear, that's what you want to give them," says Jason Egan, the founder of Fright Dome, the largest Halloween attraction in town, at Circus Circus. "To give them that feeling, you need to make sure you've got the fog, the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells of fear."

This is Egan's sixth season of wreaking havoc on the paying public, and he promises a bevy of bone-chilling surprises from Fright Dome, which opened Oct. 3.

A sinister Santa greets visitors to one of Fright Dome's five haunted houses, the Hex-mas Nightmare.

"We kind of went with a 'Christmas gone bad' theme," Egan says of the attraction, which from the outside appears to be a cozy cottage -- "like Grandma and Grandpa's house."

In a heartbeat, the cheery greeters -- the elves -- become "hellves," and the choreographed chaos is underway. Actors and animatronics help bring Egan's scenes to life -- and in some cases, death.

The haunted-house craze in Vegas began in 1992, when Duke Mollnar opened the city's first free-standing Halloween attraction. Now his company, Freakling Bros., has three haunted houses, which are purposely devoid of bloodied zombies oozing their insides. Mollnar uses other methods to make his patrons scream.

"Throwing blood on the wall is the easy way out," he says. "There's very little gore here."

Instead, Mollnar employs dozens of actors to create what he calls "theatrical illusions" -- terrifying yet realistic scenes. A visit to his oldest attraction, the Mortuary, drives home his point as effectively as a razor-sharp scalpel.

"It's our creepiest show," he begins. "It's very realistic . . . the embalming room, the catacombs, the chapel. Everything in it is extremely morbid."

For folks who want a dose of spookiness but without the skull saws, a trip to some of Las Vegas' purportedly real haunted houses can provide plenty of ghost stories -- without causing nightmares.

"This tour has to do with real sightings, real ghosts. We don't make up any stuff," says Robert Allen, an amateur ghost hunter and founder of Haunted Vegas Tours.

Still, Allen and his guides are sure to cause goose bumps as they pull up outside Carluccio's Tivoli Gardens, a restaurant that used to be owned and operated by Liberace. More than 20 years after Liberace's death, his presence reportedly continues.

"At least once a month, something happens," Allen says. "Bottles fly out of the rack. Drinks get tipped over with nobody standing there. Bathroom doors lock and won't open, and the toilets flush on their own.

"This has been going on for years and years."

Allen's coach tour also passes by the former home of an old friend, comedian Redd Foxx, who died in 1991. Two years earlier, the star of "Sanford and Son" had been evicted when the Internal Revenue Service seized his house for back taxes.

"He said when the IRS took his house, that when he died, he wasn't going to heaven or hell, he was coming back to his . . . house. And he did," Allen says.

The house has been converted to office space, and according to Allen the owner has had difficulty keeping tenants.

"Eight different businesses have moved out because it's haunted," Allen says. "Doors fly open. Lights go on and off. People hear someone walking down the hall when nobody's there."

Between stops on the Haunted Vegas tour, guests are shown photographs that contain flashes of light that Allen thinks are proof that the specters are real.

"We don't do any silly stuff," he adds. "People don't jump out from behind bushes."

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travel@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Halloween haunts

Fright Dome, inside Circus Circus, 2880 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Select dates through Oct. 31, 7 p.m. to midnight. $33.95. www.frightdome.com

Circus of Horrors, United Artists Theatre, 2321 N. Rainbow Blvd. Select dates through Nov. 1. $11; $18 for both Circus and the Mortuary. www.freaklingbros.com

Castle Vampyre, Sunset Station, 1300 Sunset Road, Henderson. Select dates through Nov. 1. $11. www.freaklingbros.com

Monster Mayhem, Town Square, Las Vegas Boulevard South and Interstate 215. Through Nov. 1. $20. www.monstermayhem.net

Haunted Vegas Tours, Thursdays and Saturdays, year-round. $56.25. www.hauntedvegastours.com

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