Ghouls Night Out 

Night & Day's patented Terror-o-Meter judges the local haunted spots

Current Night & Day intelligence suggests that Halloween is imminent; this intelligence also indicates that area haunted houses are open for business. Determined to, uh, determine if the haunted houses are the place to be -- and also to determine the horror quotient of this cottage industry -- a team of analysts was assembled for a journey into Darkness. Unfortunately, The Darkness was experiencing technical difficulties on opening weekend, so we hit the other three spots on our list.

We started with the County Morgue in Fenton. This was promised to be the splatter house, and we were in it for the blood. After the maze came rooms populated by people in bloody surgical scrubs mistreating splayed cadavers. The Morgue was our first encounter with the pitch-black maze. Each venue had one, each as dark as closing your eyes, which makes for ten minutes of bumping and groping as you shuffle toward scraps of light. The Morgue's maze was the shortest of the three, but it had a strobe-lit house of mirrors, which gave the kids a chance to scream at themselves.

Next up was Silo X, conveniently located in the same spot as the Morgue. Our advice: If you only go to one of these, make it this one. The Silo's a great marriage of concept and execution, and it's full of the best props we saw, including a giant alien and a leaping monster-dog. Oh, and a helicopter. The place is dressed as a military installation that housed some aliens and suffered a zombie-creating toxic spill; we all felt like we were in a video game. The Silo X maze stands out for the room at the center, which is suffused in fog and green lights. Nothing freakier than zombies wandering in and out of thick fog -- except for the room full of dangling body bags, the aforementioned giant dog and the missile silo. Thumbs up.

Tombstone has undergone the most change from last year, we've heard. The haunted ghost town in Kimmswick was as detailed as Silo X. The scenes were classic Hollywood-western: a haunted train, a haunted saloon, a haunted inn and a haunted mine, though everything felt a little underpopulated. This, we're sure, owed to it being a Sunday night -- Friday and Saturday draw the largest crowds, and it seems Tombstone has more actors working weekends. Instead of zombies, you have undead cowboys; the team was fairly impressed.

One of our analysts said it best: "I know where they are and what they're going to do, but they get me every time. You can't help jumping, even when you know the score." Not everyone feels the same way, of course. Some of the creative preteens decided they weren't scared -- in these instances, the blackout maze became a prime make-out spot. Take it under advisement.

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