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Wednesday October 25, 2:19 pm Eastern Time
Halloween is even scarier on the Net
By Sue Zeidler
LOS ANGELES, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Scared of things that go bump in the night? How about things that go bump online?
Like everything else, Halloween in the new Millennium is a lot more complicated and high-tech than it used to be when carving pumpkins, visiting haunted houses and trick-or-treating were the height of excitement during the spooky holiday.
Now, purveyors of the Halloween trade -- which has become the second biggest U.S. holiday in terms of spending after Christmas -- are casting their spell on the Internet and spending lots more money on cutting-edge equipment to elicit screams from savvy patrons.
Haunted house operators are depending more and more on 3-D technology, animatronics, moving floors and spruced-up lighting and sound systems to frighten people who are jaded after watching Hollywood movies full of special effects.
``In the old days, most Halloween attractions were controlled by a CD player or were manually triggered,'' said Jackie Lockhart of Prophet Systems Innovations, a unit of Clear Channel Communications Inc. (NYSE:CCU - news).
Prophet Systems shipped truckloads of equipment such as two industrial Pentium III 500 computers with 100 gigabytes of storage capacity, to Anheuser-Busch Co.'s (NYSE:BUD - news) Busch Gardens' theme park in Florida for its Halloween display.
``We shipped the computers, which are programmed to trigger everything from screams to fog to black lights. It allows your shows to be scarier and a lot more realistic. There are some amazing things that you can do with these programmes,'' she said.
ONLINE CHATS WITH VAMPIRES
Meanwhile, on the Internet, entrepreneurs -- or ``hauntrepreneurs'' as some like to call themselves -- are going all-out with scary Webcasts, inviting users to participate in events like cyber-rituals, interactive horror-themed games and interviews with vampires and witches.
``This is first truly online Halloween season. No matter what you see online for Halloween this year, it will be like baby steps compared to next year,'' said John Hegeman, president and chief executive of Distant Corners Entertainment group, a studio specialising in science-fiction and horror.
Distant Corners is launching a Halloween Webcast on Monday at (http://www.distantCorners.com), which promises to ``scare the cyberpants off you'' with frighteningly original content and other features like chats about nightmares with a dream doctor.
While such Web sites are finding a decent following among horror fans, several sceptics say the Internet is still no substitute for real-life haunts.
``It's hard to make the Internet scary because people are looking at a computer in a well-lit room. It's not as conducive as sitting in a dark movie theatre and watching a horror film,'' said Eric Scheirer, analyst with Forrester Research, an Internet research firm.
Witches say the Web is both a blessing and a curse.
``Witchcraft has totally exploded with the Internet in the past few years. Teenagers and young pagans all over can actually reach out to each other and a community on the Web,'' said Peg Aloi, a practicing witch for the past 13 years who works for Witches Voice, a nonprofit group that speaks out against witch stereotypes in films.
But Aloi said some of the Internet witchcraft phenomenon has been misdirected. ``Lots of the teens come to our Web site, seeking things like spells to put on their best friend who stole their boyfriend,'' she said.
``Witches don't do manipulative spells,'' she said. Furthermore, Aloi said that online rituals have also been disappointing. ``I've attended one cyber-ritual but I don't think it's a substitute for the real thing. It was just a bunch of people typing,'' she said.
PEOPLE ARE THE SCARY PART
Indeed, Marc Scarpa, chief executive of Jumpcut Inc., which recently produced a 64-hour Webcast to promote the sequel to last year's blockbuster ``The Blair Witch Project,'' said the scariest things about Webfests are the users.
``You go to a Webfest, expecting to get shocking content and it's up to the users interacting with each other to perpetuate that,'' Scarpa said.
The Webcast for the sequel, ``Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2,'' which opens on Oct. 27, offered footage from the film, chats, panels, and appearances by stars like Linda Blair of ``The Exorcist'' fame.
But it also offered a file-sharing service for users to swap creepy and scary images and music, much like music fans swap songs on the popular but controversial Napster Inc. programme.
``You might open a file which may scare you, offend you or make you laugh. You may get a file of something like a mutilated animal, which is something I don't want to get on my hard drive,'' he said.
-- (Halloween@in.2000), October 25, 2000
Just passing through...heeheeheeheehee!
-- Peg (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 25, 2000.
stop, can you um give me a ride to myrtle beach? heeeee hee
-- consumer (email@example.com), October 25, 2000.
Seems I'll hafta get my extra long broom out so I can pick up Pat and Doc too...I'll get you on the way back, K?
-- Peg (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 25, 2000.