Believe it or not, there's a lot more to planning a Halloween event than daubing stage blood on some college drama majors and setting them loose on a busload of old people with pacemakers. You also have to make sure that your walk-through attraction or themed party doesn't betray any uncomfortable similarities to actual horrors that may have made headlines over the past year. This is particularly important in Central Florida, where the daily news customarily contains more than its share of gory details. You'll understand what we mean when you read these capsule descriptions of "inappropriate" scary-season promotions that were pulled off the corporate drawing board at the last possible minute.
The Ass-Is-Grass Menagerie
Vicious pit bulls! Feral cats! Wayward alligators! Displaced black bears! Goldfish with an ax to grind! Your Florida-bred fear of fauna is wholly justified as the pitched battle between man and beast reaches a whole new level of ferocity. The setting is a dimly lit pet shop after midnight, where creatures both great and small have run dangerously amok. It's up to you, the Great White Hunter, to beat back their fang-baring assault on civilization. Spay and neuter? There's no time left for that kind of namby-pamby attempt at population management. Your only hope now is to raise your sidearm and fire indiscriminately into the heart of this surreally overstocked shooting gallery. As an added complication, one berserk tiger in every four is the beloved pet of a former B-movie actor; if you take his baby down, you're looking at a mother of a wrongful-death suit.
Mickey's Not-So-Statutory Halloween Party
Kids don't have to be any particular height whatsoever to ride the magic of this spooktacular salute to innocence lost. Neither is there any point in wondering which costumed character is actually a grabby pervert with a history of on-site misconduct: Just for tonight, they're all convicted child molesters, set free from their state-supervised rehabilitation programs and bused in to give the wee ones nightmares as only they know how! Running the gauntlet of this specially conscripted rogues' gallery grants youngsters an instant introduction to the adult reality that sex and a perpetual state of anxiety are one and the same. It's difficult enough to escape the roaming appendages of Captain Hook, but only the most resourceful tykes will be able to avoid the smooth advances of his frisky first mate, unrepentant butt pirate R. Kelly. Meanwhile, older boys will be lined up to share a poison apple (so to speak) with the newest addition to our stable of villainous vixens, the trÂs terrifying Mary Kay Letourneau. Show Mommy where she touched you … but save the keepsake photo for your buddies at computer camp.
Halloween Horror-cane 2004
A blanket of misery enshrouds the damned, doomed town of Punta Gore, where natural disasters of Old Testament proportions have left the surviving humanoids defenseless against an upsurge of cannibalism, price gouging and other inhuman acts. The history-making tour de fear only ends when a vampiric air-conditioner repairman accosts you with a bill for $4,000 and you stab him square in the chest, miraculously opening up a hidden portal to the safe haven of Port Charlotte.
Night of the Living Brain-Dead
There's only one thing worse than being stuck in the murky limbo between this world and the next, and that's knowing that grandstanding politicians will do everything in their power to keep you that way forever. In a grimly imaginative twist, this hellish hospital scenario makes you the helpless prisoner of the "pro-life" ideology, issuing you a fluorescent feeding tube as a festive fashion accessory and then consigning you to bed to stare glassy-eyed at endless reruns of Joan of Arcadia. The real nightmare, however, is watching animatronic versions of your loved ones playing rock-'em-sock-'em-litigants over your true wishes. But no matter who wins out, don't think that the chilling atmosphere of surrendered control will subside once it's time for a new touring party to come in and a pair of troglodytic orderlies starts to roll your rusty gurney out the exit doors. The totalitarian terror persists all the way to the adjoining snack bar, where blustery senatorial stand-ins are waiting to decide exactly what you can ingest and when.
Hell-tona House Party
Squatters check in but they don't check out of the most notorious address on Fear Street! Visit the site where a bunch of high-spirited kids redefined the concept of property rights, with only their wits, some aluminum baseball bats and a few concealed knives to back them up. Easily offended killjoys may fret that this reality-based attraction cuts a trifle close to home, but trust us when we say that the experience is totally suitable for children: In our version, the dog makes it out without a scratch. Visitors who follow the plucky pup all the way through the labyrinthine maze of murder and mayhem will automatically become entered in a grand-prize drawing to win a brand-new Xbox. Just don't become fatally detained by Ima "Coffin" Closer, your friendly local representative from the real-estate firm of Cemetery 21. She'd love to sign you up as the cursed property's new groaner … we mean, "owner." As she reaches ominously for her clipboard and red pen, you may notice that this rotting ghoul's withered arm is hanging precariously from its shoulder socket. Dislocation, dislocation, dislocation!
Return to Abu Grave
When you walk through the front door, you're an unsuspecting Florida reservist who's only interested in squirreling away some money for college. By the time you realize there's no end in sight to this lovingly rendered wartime quagmire, you've become a half-human monster leading petrified Muslims around on a leash with the full approval of your dark master of a commander-in-chief. In his corner are hordes of Sunshine State zombies who are going to let him go right on doing what he's been doing, in part because he's promised to toss them a few billion bucks of "relief funds" to spend in the Halloween Horror-Cane gift shop. Scream as loud you want to; deep down, you know nobody's listening. Instead, do something that'll actually make you feel better … like visiting the attached Internet kiosk and composing an indignant e-mail to some chuckle-headed newspaper columnist who's recently pissed you off by making fun of a senseless tragedy. After all, bad judgment like that is what's really sending this country to the dogs.
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