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The really scary part of Halloween: adults

anne mcdermott

By Anne McDermott
CNN Correspondent

October 23, 1998
Web posted at: 11:47 a.m. EDT (1547 GMT)

In this story:

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- If you think Halloween is simply a matter of grabbing the flashlight and shepherding your wee ones through the neighborhood as they collect enough sugary treats to keep them strung out for weeks, you are living in the past!

Halloween isn't just for kids anymore.

Did you know one-third of all adults will don costumes this Halloween, according to the International Mass Retail Association? That Halloween is second only to Christmas in holiday spending? And that it's believed that more parties are thrown on Halloween than any other holiday except New Year's?

It can get a little scary.

Masks waiting to scare people  

A treat for stores

Let me give you an example or two.

In the Los Angeles area, there's a year-round Halloween store (yes, open all year).

The Sonntags go shopping there each year. The family drives down from San Francisco. And they can spend a fearsome amount of money -- about $700 on one recent excursion alone.

And they're apparently not all that unusual.

According to the store management, some visitors from Asia have been known to drop as much as $10,000 a trip. Presumably, that was before the global economic crisis, but so far, business is reportedly every bit as good as last year.

So, what do Halloween shoppers spend it on? Costumes and masks are big business: while the Bill Clinton model provokes a lot of comment, the eerie-looking "scream" models remain the top sellers.

But a lot of money is also spent on accessories. Take the life-sized, gore-encrusted ghoul whose body gyrates wildly on a rack, at the flick of a switch; he goes for $2,625.

What do people do with such things? Atmosphere. Nothing perks up the old rec room like a Halloween tableau.

The aforementioned Sonntags are masters of this kind of interior design: last year, they created an indoor cemetery, complete with tombstones, zombies and real dirt, hauled into the house, bucketful by bucketful.

Decorative items include a gyrating ghoul  

The simple pleasure of being scared

Why do people do all this? Because it's fun. And that's what people like about Halloween. You can let your imagination go, create anything you want, BE anything you want.

Now there are those who suggest this is a return to childhood, etcetera, etcetera.

Maybe it's simply about the exquisite pleasure of a good scare.

That's where Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, California comes in. For the past 25 years, the management of this amusement park has filled a relatively dead period of the year with the Halloween Haunt.

Each October, people come here from all over, for a grown-up gore-fest. It's scary, all right. Actors playing monsters and zombies in realistic, stomach-churning make-up stalk park patrons, and the screams are non-stop.

Officials at Knott's wouldn't say how much money they make, only that business is very, very good. And at least one other theme park in the Los Angeles area is now also holding special Halloween evenings.

Your intrepid correspondent's plans

What'll I be doing on Halloween? Nothing grown-up, I'm afraid.

My little girl was born on Halloween, so, once again, I'll be hosting a party attended by many little children. Many.

Talk about scary.

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