Dead Games

Halloween ain't no spectator sport around here

Pagan and Anglo-Saxon traditions aside, Halloween is basically about scaring the crap out of people and eating little candy bars until you're crippled by nausea. While standard trick-or-treating used to cover the bases, Twin Citizens are coming up with more elaborate ways to terrorize and overindulge.

The Halloween theme park Trail of Terror is located on the same Shakopee lot as the equally creepy Renaissance Festival, and apparently it's staffed by many of the same people. The parking area is starting to fill up on this Thursday night, and an appropriately spooky mist hangs in the air, heightening the excitement of the suburban families and spoiled young folk lining up to get in. A greasy hobo type, who may or may not be in costume, takes our tickets and babbles something about waiting our turns for the Haunted Hayride. "Write when you get work," he calls after us, then turns to an impatient group of teens who have no time for the etiquette lesson. "Hey, get back here, I'm not done!" he shouts, grabbing for a handful of Polarfleece.

Our first stop is the haunted maze, located inside a benign-looking pole barn. As we wait in line, a scarecrow mounted on the wall suddenly comes alive, choosing a gum-smacking preteen as his first victim. She lets out an embarrassing shriek, much to the delight of her snickering girlfriends. The older kids in line have more important concerns. "We've gotta get that alcohol in here," whines a privileged young man behind me. "Maybe we could pour it in a soda bottle," his stylish girlfriend ventures. "No, that will never work! Hey, he's good at sneaking stuff in!" he shouts, noticing a savvy classmate. Sensing restlessness, a staffer starts a video, forgetting to fast-forward past the previews and treating the fourth grader ahead of me to an eyeful of Eighties starlet Helen Slater's bod. Even when the feature, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, commences and the line begins to move, the youngster remains fixated on the screen.

A pretty young blonde in Victorian corpse attire rattles off the house rules to each group in a bored, self-conscious tone. "And don't spit, that's just, well, we can't have that here," she tells us, her eyes betraying her contempt for costumed characterhood. Inside the maze, overzealous ex-drama clubbers delight in jumping out in front of us (and the middle-aged strangers to whom we cling), taunting, shadowing, and breathing down our necks.

The maze empties into the beer garden/gift shop/dance party tent, where "Thriller" is blaring from overhead speakers, attractive women are hawking head-shop candles, a man and his young son are getting a tarot reading, and successful maze navigators are chilling out with bottles of Bass ale, asking one another, "Were you scared?" "Were you?" Their fearless offspring wolf down standard festival fare, no doubt fueling up for the freak show in the next tent.

 

FOR THOSE TOO jaded for trick-or-treating, there's no better way to celebrate Halloween than getting smashed and acting like a jackass. On Friday night, having paid $7 for my wristband, I enter the Xanadu of smashed jackassdom: the party tent at Gabe's by the Park. The massive structure encloses a dozen or so vendor booths, a giant stage, and about 3,000 square feet of dancing/mingling room. No one's hammered yet, but Kooky Uncle Tony's hackneyed guitar rock is influencing most to expedite the intoxication process. A handful of revelers surround a booth that features a tree stump and a hot young coed. The banner above the booth reads "Hammer-Schlagen"; the object of the game is to drive a nail into the stump in one stroke. Success gets you a lame prize. Failure gets you a sticker like the ones that decorate the coed's derrière (e.g., "I Got Nailed"; "Got Wood?").

Although nothing has been announced, I suspect a costume contest when an eight-foot dinosaur with light-up eyes walks through the door and takes a proud lap around the room. "That's lame," sniffs an uncostumed partygoer. "He can't even drink in that thing." A pair of tipsy young ladies dressed as angels sway seductively to the music as a disturbingly authentic Don King tries to look the other way. Still, the most popular costume by far is Frat Boy--at least half of the attendees sport khakis, untucked button-downs, Abercrombie caps, and plastic cups of Leinie's. Several women wear little more than six coats of Maybelline Great Lash, making Slut a close second in costume commonality.

Most of the crowd is strategically clustered about, separated by gender and costume status, hatching meet-and-greet strategies. "Woooooo!" scream two Fifties teenyboppers as they pass packs of single guys, eliciting second glances. A proud Mary Katherine Gallagher demonstrates the SNL character's signature moves for anyone who'll watch. And all the while, two waitresses in Lycra slacks enhance the party atmosphere by circulating trays of little paper cups. "Ya wanna shot?" one asks suggestively. As she well knows, the party's not really swingin' until someone pukes through his mask.

 

FOR ONE SATURDAY afternoon, the Minnetonka Center for the Arts has been transformed into an orange-and-black nirvana for the Sesame Street set. A nice woman dressed as a kitty-cat ushers us into the main gallery, where free treats include homemade sugar cookies and cans of name-brand pop.

In the various studios, masked Romper Room types lead hyperactive tots in creative seasonal crafts. The most popular room is musical shaker making. Instructor Janis Lane-Ewart demonstrates the multiple uses of paper towel rolls, complimenting youngsters on their work. A blue M&M and a Britney Spears are twisting wire sculptures in the studio next door, while a Tweety Bird refuses to leave her mother's arms to join the scavenger hunt, having spotted two boys identically dressed as the monster from Scream.

We can't leave without taking a peek at the 200-pound pumpkin in the painting studio, where we're invited to paint a pumpkin with artist Karla Lenzin. We decline, but Lenzin is persuasive. "Come on," she insists with genuine Halloween spirit. "You know, you're never too old."

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