If you're just in the spirit for something scary, this is your time of the year.
Halloween traditions are rooted in ancient times, but Americans have turned the holiday into their own thoroughly modern festival of tricks and treats. It's third only to New Year's Eve and the Super Bowl for the sheer number of parties, Hallmark reports.
We surveyed this year's offerings and came up with these frightful and delightful ideas:
The next time a cashier asks you "Paper or plastic?" say "Paper, please." Then you'll have one of the essential ingredients for making the "paper bag gargoyles" featured in the October issue of Family Fun magazine.
The gargoyles, which are truly odd-looking, are inexpensive and easy-to-make decorations that can be set along a window sill or on a porch or front steps to "welcome" trick-or-treaters.
Once you have a supply of paper bags, thumb through magazines and newspapers and cut out facial features -- eyes, noses, lips, ears -- to glue onto the bags to make faces. Don't worry about matching the features -- in this case, the weirder, the more disproportionate, the better.
Use scissors to make fringes along the top edges of the bag and twist or curl the strands into a "do."
A brick, soup can or other weight placed inside the bag will help keep it upright.
Once you get going, you might come up with your own creative touches.
Book into this
One never knows what will pop up on Halloween. It might even be one of the pages of a pop-up book such as "Alfred Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense" (Little Simon, 29.95) by Kees Moerbeek.
This album, coming out this month, celebrates Hitchcock's work by depicting scenes from seven of his classic suspense films in colorful 3-D displays that spread 2 feet wide.
Open the page for "Vertigo" and up springs the long, winding, dizzying staircase so central to the plot. Ominous black birds take flight on "The Birds" page. And a long-dead but grinning skeleton "sits up" to greet visitors to the Bates Motel as they open the page for what is probably Hitchcock's most famous film, "Psycho."
Accompanying the action is text that provides brief plot summaries and behind-the-camera production information.
Hitchcock himself also pops up on every page -- as he did in each of his films -- but the reader might have to flip a flap or two to find him.
Although designed as a children's book, its 3-D depictions of a strangling, a knifing and a hollow-eyed (yet hairy) skeleton makes this book one that should be enjoyed probably by only older kids and adults.
You put your hand into the orange plastic bowl marked "Trick or Treat" to grab a bite-size Baby Ruth or a little bag of Skittles -- it's only natural. But then, something unnatural happens: A rubbery green hand with black fingernails grabs you!
"Want some candy?" a creepy voice intones. If you summon the courage to double-dip for another goodie, the voice will say, "Trick or treat!" and "Happy Halloween!"
You've met the Animated Candy Bowl, a battery-powered 10-inch-wide dish that is sure to evoke chuckles from Chuckles-choosing partygoers and snickers from Snickers-snatching trick-or-treaters. Even for adults who may guess what is coming -- the bowl has been around for a while -- the thing pretty much always gets a laugh. And the hand really does feel freaky.
The dish also has an on/off switch, which the host might want to use in case very young and easily frightened children use their little fingers to grab a little Butterfingers.
The Animated Candy Bowl is available online, including at www.amazon.com and www.target.com, for around 20- 25.
Jack-o'-lantern? Check. Fake cobwebs? Check. Rubber spiders suspended at just the right level to tickle the forehead of your unsuspecting trick-or-treaters? Check.
Now complete the eerie effect by shrouding the ground in a layer of damp, swirling, mysterious mist. But you don't need to go the complicated dry-ice route. Fog machines have become widely available in recent years.
Party City, for example, sells a small remote-control fog machine for 24.99 and a deluxe model for 59.99. Quench their thirst with a gallon of "fog juice," which costs 14.95. (An electrical outlet is required to run the machines.)
Those who are in the fog about how fog machines work might want to visit http://gotfog.com.
It's an experience that is not to be "mist."
If you have the notion to brew a potion, set your idea in motion with "The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Potions" (Alpha, 9.95).
Create your own Halloween magic by whipping up a concoction from one of the many recipes provided by Kerri Connor.
This pocket-size paperback provides instructions for fixing teas and tinctures, infusions and oils, and lotions and potions said to be capable of doing "magical" life-improving things: relieve stress, increase self-esteem, encourage creativity and, it claims, even bring love, money, success, courage, happiness and other good stuff.
Information boxes throughout the book provide definitions, preparation tips, historical tidbits, precautions and advice about using your magical mixes.
So stock up on your clover, bee balms, loosestrife and ylang ylang -- you're going to need them.
Every party needs a soundtrack. And ready to provide an eerie aura to all those ghoulish galas is "Halloween 2: Creatures Collection" (American Gramaphone, 18.98), a three-disc set featuring creepy songs, sound effects and video, all by Mannheim Steamroller.
The first disc contains a "lucky" 13 cuts, including the themes from "The Addams Family," "Psycho," "Dark Shadows," "The X-Files" and "The Munsters," as well as the group's renditions of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and Santana's "Black Magic Woman."
The second disc includes eerie audio effects, among them "Demon's Dance" "Purgatory's Pond" and "Alien Space Battle," along with DJ mixes of "Creatures of the Night," an original composition by Chip Davis, founder and leader of Mannheim Steamroller.
The third disc is a DVD that introduces a group dance performed to "Creatures of the Night." On the disc are demonstrations of the dance and step-by-step instructions.
And what would a Halloween party be without hearing "Monster Mash"? Thanks to this set, you might never know.
If you've never eaten a Marshmallow Peeps, you've probably at least seen them: Zillions of the colorful little candy figures have waddled off the assembly line since the brand began in 1953.
Among the many incarnations of the original yellow Easter chick is one that's just right for Halloween: the orange-colored Peeps pumpkin.
Peeps maker Just Born Inc., of Bethlehem, Pa., offers a Decorating Kit that contains four of the marshmallow pumpkins and a tube of black CakeMate glossy decorating gel.
The package shows one pumpkin decorated like a traditional jack-o'-lantern and another with the outline of a ghost and the word "Spooky" written below. Another idea requires drawing a spider web with white gel and making a spider out of a mini jelly bean and black gel.
How about a pumpkin Peeps pop? Just insert a lollipop stick into the bottom of a decorated pumpkin Peeps.
Additional ideas can be found at www.marshmallowpeeps.com.
Grim (and great)
So it's getting close to Halloween and you haven't a clue what to wear. Stop worrying -- this is supposed to be fun. Grab one of the dozens of Halloween T-shirts out there now. These are perfect for parents handing out candy or hosting parties; for kids to wear to school on Oct. 31; and for teens who are too cool to dress up as a pirate or princess. They're available from a variety of retailers and Web sites, with slogans ranging from "Got candy?" -- from www.grimreapers.com -- to "I love my Mummy" -- from www.cafepress.com.
Also popular are T-shirts bearing images of glowing pumpkin faces and skulls such as those at www.choiceshirts.com. Prices range from 12- 20.
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