NEW YORK -- If you're too old for trick-or-treating but still love getting spooked on Halloween, it's time to trade in the superhero costume for a ticket to a haunted house or theme park.
But attractions like Universal's Halloween Horror Nights and Atlanta's Netherworld Haunted House are not for the faint of heart. You'll be trapped in creepy mazes, disoriented by strobe lights and fog, and confronted by crazed monsters. Experiences like these are not recommended for kids under 13, but even some grown-ups may not be able to handle them. If watching a Stephen King movie keeps you up all night, or you're prone to panic attacks in small spaces, better stick to apple-picking or the child-friendly "Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party" at Walt Disney World.
On the other hand, if you love the tingle of terror that comes with a really creepy horror movie, this is your kind of fun.
David Mandt, spokesman for the International Association of Amusement Parks, noted that a number of parks have added new elements to their Halloween events this year: "They're figuring out new ways to scare the daylights out of you."
This year's Halloween offerings include a number of behind-the-scenes tours and other sights:
Busch Gardens Williamsburg in Virginia
Busch Gardens is offering "All-Access Insider," "Eerie Insider" and "Monster Stomp Revamped Insider" tours for the park's Howl-O-Scream, www.howloscream.com. The tours include front-of-the-line access to a haunted house and a chance to have your makeup done like one of the performers.
Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia
The penitentiary, which was a real prison until 1971 and today is a National Historic Landmark, hosts an annual Halloween event called Terror Behind the Walls. The attraction also offers an after-dark VIP tour, where you get an hourlong flashlight-guided tour of cellblocks, including Al Capone's cell, isolation cells and Death Row; www.terrorbehindthewalls.com.
Knott's Berry Farm
Knott's Berry Farm, a theme park in Buena Park, Calif., boasts one of the oldest Halloween theme park events in the country, dating to 1973, when "it was a few decorations and a few employees putting on some masks," said spokeswoman Jennifer Blazey. The event, now called Knott's Berry Farm Haunt, has grown dramatically. This year it features 13 mazes (including "Terror of London" with foggy streets and Jack the Ripper), three "scare zones," 1,000 monster-actors and seven live shows ranging from improv comedy to a hypnotist. While Knott's does not release attendance figures, Blazey said the month that the Haunt runs makes more money for the company than any other time of year. And while Knott's does have a weekend daytime event for ages 3 to 11, with a costume party and trick-or-treating, the after-7 p.m. Haunt is for age 13 and up; haunt.knotts.com/ for dates and tickets.
Universal Orlando in Florida
Universal Orlando began its Halloween attraction as "a tiny little experimental event with one haunted house over one weekend" in 1991, according to Jim Timon, senior vice president of entertainment. This year, hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the country are expected for the park's 20th annual Halloween Horror Nights, with eight haunted houses, six scare zones and 1,000 "scareactors" in the park. The content is newly created each year for the Horror Nights, with original story lines and characters. This year's characters include an evil master named Fear who drives all the other monsters' diabolical deeds. Details about the back stories in the park attractions can be found on Universal's website, www.universalorlando.com; fans can then see them come to life in the park.
Timon said the costumes, stories and sets are so realistic that they are "film-quality. We could literally make our own new movies from these characters. The lighting, the special effects, the visuals -- we do everything we can to suspend your disbelief and take away your illusion of control."
One of Universal's haunted houses this year is called Legendary Truth, an estate home with a history of murders that have resulted in paranormal activity. Timon said the house has an unusual setup in which visitors trigger the special effects themselves. "People are used to us scaring them," he said. "When they are the ones triggering the effects by how they are interacting with the haunted house, that's even scarier. It's a cool trick when they eventually realize, 'I'm the one causing this.'"
A note to Harry Potter fans: Universal Orlando consists of two parks. Halloween Horror Nights takes place at Universal Studios Florida, not at its sister park, Islands of Adventure, where The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is located.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Hollywood theme park in Los Angeles has its own Halloween Horror Nights, which are mostly themed on horror films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. For a new maze this year unrelated to the movies, Universal created an original graphic novella, Vampyre: Castle of the Undead, which can be seen online. The park also created a new scare zone haunted by La Llorona, based on a Latin-American legend of a crying woman who drowned her children in anger over her philandering husband.
Details and tickets for Universal parks on either coasts can be found at www.HalloweenHorrorNights.com.
Six Flags Over Texas
And then there's our very own Six Flags' Fright Fest in Arlington. The event features haunted rides, wandering zombies and goblins. Open weekends through Oct. 31. Features include Arania, the Black Widow Bride; live music; and The Final Freak Out party every evening at closing time. And for the younger folks, Looney Tunes Spooky Town will offer other events. More info: www.sixflags.com/overtexas/.
A sister park, Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., is counting two decades of Halloween events with its own Fright Fest. The park's new "Saw Live" haunted house is themed on the "Saw" movie series, with props, characters and scenes from the films. Details at bit.ly/cVcqyq.
Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta
This haunted house -- www.fearworld.com -- ranks No. 1 on a list of top scariest attractions compiled by Larry Kirchner, editor of Hauntworld Magazine, an online industry publication. Netherworld promises that visitors will find themselves fleeing flying gargoyles, escaping from a house where the floors crack open and furniture comes to life, and trying to avoid capture by a mad scientist known as the Mangler, whose victims meet their fate in a drowning tank, flesh compactor and acid room.