- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Bunny Lavalliere’s recent Halloween costumes have been mostly “fluffy and fairylike,” as she puts it — but not this year.

The 19-year-old fashion design student is making an outfit that pushes the boundaries of gore. From the front, it will have a sullen zombie look. But when she turns around, fake bones and organs will be protruding in the back. It’s another sign that, after taking a respite, darker Halloween themes are making a comeback.

“I’m big on surprises. This one is going to have amazing amounts of blood,” Miss Lavalliere says, sounding gleeful about the costume she is making at her school, the Art Institute of California-San Francisco.

Her inspiration came from the revival of the slasher movie: genre classics such as “Friday the 13th” and “Halloween” that her generation is flocking to see, as well as newer horror films, including “Saw” and the remake of “House of Wax.”

Retailers and trend watchers also are sensing a heightened comfort level with scarier costumes and decorations, a full return to the dark side after many revelers toned down their outfits in the wake of the September 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax threats in 2001.

“It was tough for a while,” says Dave Dering, a 39-year-old resident of Lawrenceville, N.J., and a longtime fan of Halloween. Known as “Uncle Deathy” to family and friends, even he displayed only one yard decoration four years ago. It was a monster carrying an ax — and an American flag — to indicate Mr. Dering’s support for the victims of the World Trade Center attacks and their families.

It turned out to be one of the most patriotic Halloweens on record, with many children dressing up as firefighters and police officers, a nod to the ranks in New York.

Of course, recent months have had their share of sad news, too, from ongoing casualties in Iraq to a seemingly endless string of natural disasters. But this time, Mr. Dering and others see scary, sometimes kitschy Halloween traditions as a way to escape tough realities.

“It takes some steam off; it’s a diversion — a way to have a little fun,” says Mr. Dering, who is going all out to decorate his yard and home this year and who hosts an annual Halloween bash.

One trend watcher sees it this way: “Gore we can manage is very much on fad right now, as we feel the increasing need to become familiar with bad things — bad things that don’t get the best of us,” says Marian Salzman, director of strategic content for the advertising agency JWT Worldwide. “I think it’s also why we love our crime television. While the solutions are not as black and white as the days of ‘Dragnet,’ there is still a sense that good will beat evil in those shows.”

Retailers say they first sensed an increased appetite for darker Halloween themes at trade shows last winter and stocked up their inventory.

At the national Halloween Warehouse chain, there has been big interest in the “Gothic Manor” section, where customers can find capes, chokers with studs, and costumes that include the “emperor of evil” and “dark vixen,” a hooded black velvet dress.

These “slightly edgier themes” are particularly popular with teens and young adults, says Malinda Behrens, vice president of brand development for Party City, which runs the Halloween Warehouse chain.

A big seller at the Spirit Halloween Superstores is a life-size, razor-fingered Freddy Krueger character, which utters well-known phrases from the still-popular 1984 film “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

“People are easing back into it,” says Tonia Farinha, the stores’ marketing director.

Still, those who work in the fright industry say they also have been careful not to take it too far. Lynton V. Harris avoids words such as “terror” and “horror” in the theatrical arena shows he produces and directs during Halloween and other times of the year.

“Unfortunately, those words became part of everyday language, as opposed to entertainment,” he says. His productions have included “Madison Scare Garden” in New York, which he closed after the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Harris has since taken his shows to other parts of the world and, last year, to Philadelphia, where he will open the “Nightmare X-treme Scream Park” at the Wachovia Spectrum arena this week.

“We rely on being clever, instead of cliches. For example, we don’t have any chain saws,” Mr. Harris says. “My blood budget will be the smallest of anyone in the country.”

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