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MOUNTAIN'S FRIGHT FEST SET TO PEAK AS SCARIEST SEASON KICKS OFF TODAY.

Byline: Mary Schubert Daily News Staff Writer

Things have gotten creepy this month at Six Flags Magic Mountain, what with zombies lurking in dark shadows, spooks terrifying all who wander into a haunted house, and a roller coaster running backward.

Not to mention one of the most repulsive sights that anyone dead - or undead - could imagine: a vampire who feasts on live crickets.

``The worst part about it is when they grab onto your tongue and won't let go. You can feel their legs crawling on your tongue,'' said Jonathan David, who has transformed himself into a Gothic-style vampire for the sixth annual Fright Fest, which will open today and continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October.

``I made at least three people throw up last year,'' David added cheerfully. ``I wanted to get people to become squeamish, to have their skin crawl.''

By day, the 36-year-old Woodland Hills man is a teacher and office manager at a West Los Angeles traffic school, who also dabbles as a surfer and rock musician. But Halloween is his favorite season, so last year David signed on as one of Magic Mountain's 200 costumed ghouls who roam the Gotham City Backlot and Samurai Summit areas.

Ingesting bugs wasn't a job requirement, just something that David felt would lend his white-eyed, pale-faced, sharp-fanged alter ego some authenticity. His research source: the vampire lore in the assorted novels of Anne Rice.

``(Vampires) eat live crickets when they can't eat human prey,'' David explained. ``I thought it was a great effect, and part of the character. The reaction is so worth it.''

David said he buys the inch-long bugs - bred as lizard food - at a local pet store, a dozen for a dollar. On a typical night, he'll eat up to 30 crickets.

Those who want a scare of a different sort will revel in Magic Mountain's other Halloween trick: the seats of the roller coaster Colossus have been reversed so riders will experience it backward, while the looping and spinning Viper and Batman The Ride roller coasters will run without illumination.

The 20-year-old Colossus, the park's dual-track wooden coaster, feels like a brand-new ride when experienced backward. Passengers can't see the attraction's 14 hills ahead of time, and therefore can't brace themselves for the ride's plunging drops and stomach-churning speeds of up to 62 mph.

The 2-1/2-minute ride seems an eternity as the cars - borrowed for the backward run from the park's Psyclone ride - whip around the hairpin turns and steep descents that have made Colossus one of Magic Mountain's most popular attractions.

Six Flags spokesman Andy Gallardo noted that, while Colossus riders normally must meet a height minimum of 4 feet tall, the requirement has been boosted to 4 feet 6 inches for the backward run.

Psyclone will continue to operate despite the loan to Colossus, Gallardo said. Its trains fit on the Colossus tracks and they are able to roll backward, whereas Colossus cars have a type of brake that doesn't allow reverse motion, he said.

Meanwhile, scares aplenty await brave souls who venture into Willoughby's Haunted Mansion, in which visitors forge through a gantlet of blood-curdling special effects, animatronics and gruesome monsters scattered throughout the hilltop home's twisting hallways.

Willoughby's Haunted Mansion is not intended for young children or the faint of heart, park officials caution.

For less intense thrills, the Joker's Hideout offers a gore-free zone of frights inspired by Gotham City's arch-villain. Grotesque faces, lit in red, protrude from the black walls of the maze, where a roomful of clown statues may come to life without warning.

Even sure-footed visitors will stumble in one room of the Joker's Hideout, where a catwalk passes through a spinning drum made to look like a starry sky, toward a giant, neon-colored spiral pinwheel. The effect is disorienting, even when visitors steady themselves on the catwalk's railings.

Other Fright Fest attractions include two shows a night by the High Sierra Hypnotist act in the park's Golden Bear Theatre; chain-saw juggler Chad Taylor performing in the Gotham City Backlot area; assorted mimes, face painters and tumblers; the Creepy Crawly Pet Show featuring snakes, tarantulas, a raven and a wolf; the Sphere of Fear 14-foot diameter globe in which three motorcycles perform death-defying loops; and assorted Halloween-themed crafts and games for kids in Magic Mountain's High Sierra Territory pumpkin field.

One other new attraction is Monster Alley, where the hills near Superman The Escape will be dotted with coffins opening and closing, spooky voices emanating from them all the while.

Brian Morgan, sporting foam latex facial prosthetics and ghastly makeup, is one of the zombies waiting to frighten park-goers this month. ``I become another person. I'm not myself anymore,'' said the 19-year-old Burbank resident, an aspiring firefighter who usually plays one of the Looney Tunes characters that stroll the park and get their pictures taken with children.

``Most people like them and think they're cute and cuddly,'' said Morgan, whose ghoul persona has sparse, wispy gray hair, a chunk of flesh gouged from his nose and a greenish lichen growing on his neck. ``With this, they run away from you, screaming.''

CAPTION(S):

4 Photos

PHOTO (1--Color) (Ran in SAC Edition only) ``Psycho Clowns'' await visitors at Joker's Hideout, a gore-free fright zone at Magic Mountain inspired by Gotham City's archvillain.

(2--Color) (Ran in SAC Edition only) Jonathan David's meal of live crickets is one of the more stomach-turning events at this year's Fright Fest.

(3) (Ran in SAC Edition only) Makeup artist Tara Emerson prepares Sara Grey for Magic Mountain's Fright Fest activities.

(4) (Ran in AV Edition only) Monsters take a ride on Magic Mountain's Colossus, which will feature backward seats in October.

John Lazar/Daily News
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Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 9, 1998
Words:955
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