Hayride to Heck 

Lake Farmpark's Haunted Hayrides go light on the fright.

There are kinder, gentler Halloween chills going on at Lake Metroparks this year. For the parents who don't want to cradle their crying little ones in their laps all night, Haunted Hayrides offers a horrorfest that's much less, well, horrific.

"We're the alternative to the blood-and-guts haunted houses," says the event's director, Brian Fowler. "The 2-year-olds think we're colorful, the 5-year-olds think we're mildly scary, and the 10-year-olds think we're fun."

Aimed at the pre-tween crowd (and their parents), the 25-minute ride cruises past the usual eerie sights of skeletons, graveyards, and . . . SpongeBob SquarePants. Well, sort of. Fowler says the familiar-looking Nickelodeon cartoon character appears under a different name "to protect copyrights." Scary indeed.

The ride, which seats about 30 people, also features themes based on recent films (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Signs) and not-so-recent pop-culture phenoms (a "Thriller"-style dance number is performed by students who weren't even alive when Michael Jackson had his 1984 hit). Fowler says "scaring" isn't the hayride's purpose. "We can be humorous, we can be spooky, we can be entertaining," he says. "It's harder to do what we do -- make it interesting without [the gore]."

The hayride evolved out of seasonal campfire stories and traditional night walks. In the mid-'70s, loose limbs and the walking dead started to make appearances. In the '80s, chainsaws and corpses still figured into the hayride, Fowler says. But in an effort to court an audience too young for the growing number of ultraviolent haunted houses, the tone eventually softened from slasher-flick terrifying to cartoon-spooky. Now, besides the actual hayride, the G-rated event features magicians, a cornfield maze, and rides on pretty ponies. Even Scooby-Doo is scheduled to make an appearance. Zoinks!

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