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DRESSED TO KILL : Halloween Psychos Throw On a Sense of Humor to Go With Their Horror

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Strange business, this Halloween stuff. Like all these people smearing their faces with gobs of rubbery guck, jabbing lots of holes in it to give it a disgusting, pockmarked look and then twisting their thin little lips into a sneer and yelling, “Ahhhh, fresh meat!”

That’s Freddy Krueger, you see. He’s Orange County’s most emulated psycho, a real slime bucket who stars in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and is this year’s undisputed king of Halloween.

Or at least that’s what people in the know are saying. And these are people who live and work in places surrounded by the accouterments of fantasy and horror, things like bloody limbs, hairy ears, black leather whips and Ninja swords--so you don’t ask them more than once.

But why Freddy?

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“Of all the horrible, mean characters that have come along, Freddy’s the only one with a sense of humor,” says Morgan (I Am Halloween) Morganoff, owner of Morgan’s Novelties in Anaheim.

“Even what he’s done to those kids, it doesn’t matter,” Morgan says. “He’s got a sense of humor. . . . There are going to be 10,000 Freddy Kruegers in Orange County this year.”

(For the record, what Freddy has done to those kids is torture and murder them. But it’s Halloween we’re talking about here, so we’ll overlook that for now.)

Jason, he of “Friday the 13th” fame, is also big this year, as are the California Raisins, and Alf, believe it or not, that weird-looking alien who has his own TV show.

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“Alf is big,” says Henry, who works for Morgan. “I think that happened because Alf was on Johnny Carson. He just sat there, on Johnny Carson, right where Johnny Carson sits.”

Henry didn’t want to give his last name because right after talking about Alf, he started recounting a tale about one of his customers who came in looking for a costume but ended up walking out of the dressing in a birthday suit--her own.

“Yeah, I guess she was an exhibitionist,” Henry says.

But birthday suits are for the unimaginative. Should you despair about just what to drape over your own nakedness this Halloween, be assured that Morgan and the rest of the county’s expert costumers can supply you with whatever it takes to fulfill your dreams or, as the case may be, your nightmares.

“Look at all those noses,” Morgan was saying as he swept his arm in the direction of several varieties of human and animal appendages. “I got thousands of noses. Ears? You want ears? Here, ears. And makeup! Look at the makeup. I got $100,000 worth of makeup on that wall.”

Incidentally, Morgan says, he’ll be open before dawn this weekend to begin making people up as Freddy Krueger. It takes 2 hours and $100.

But Freddy may not be for everybody, as George Negrete, 27, a truck driver from Garden Grove, explains.

George was in Unique Costume Rental in Fullerton sizing up the rubber masks. There was one of Ronald Reagan, another of George Bush (Michael Dukakis was a no-show), one of Adolf Hitler and an assortment of ghouls and beast-like personages.

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Chainsaw Look

Nothing seemed to quite meet George’s requirements, however, because he was in search of that Texas Chainsaw Massacre Look for a Halloween party that he and his wife are throwing tonight.

“You know, he’s the guy who goes around cutting people up,” George says. “What he did is he took a piece of skin and then stretched it over his face.”

George is pretty sure that was how he did it, although he was planning to rent the video of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” one more time just to make sure.

“I already have the chainsaw,” he says. “And I used to be a meat cutter, so I have a lot of the other stuff.”

George says he’ll also be wearing the sweat shirt, the one splattered with what seems to be blood and filled with holes, that he uses as “the centerpiece” for all his Halloween costumes. He says the sweat shirt was originally seen on “Hill Street Blues” and that he, George Negrete, actually got that same sweat shirt from the show’s crew members after watching them on the set one day.

And what get-up will George’s wife be wearing when she greets their guests?

Fairy Princess

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“Oh, she’s going to be a fairy princess,” George says. “I guess we’re pretty different.”

But even the likes of George isn’t much of a surprise for Elsie Van Riper, the 76-year-old owner of Unique Costume Rental.

“Most everybody’s strange,” Elsie says.

You want to know strange, Elsie can tell you about strange. She’s big on the national costumers circuit, never misses a convention, and is herself past president of the National Costumers Assn. She opened her shop, where all the costumes except the men’s suits are made on the premises, in 1959.

“Back when I started, it was all plain, old-fashioned,” she says. “But it’s going wild and wilder. The wilder the better. And we rent a lot of animal heads. Now why people want to be animals, I don’t know.”

Of course, there was that time when Elsie whipped up a costume of Daisy the Skunk, wore it in a competition, and won a prize. But that’s nothing. Elsie’s got a whole shelf full of trophies that her costumes have won.

“It’s crazy,” Elsie says. “It’s fun.”

Sizing Up Customers

Elsie and her staff are also good at sizing up their customers to help them figure out just what their fantasies might be.

“We hire people with some creative ability,” says Elsie’s daughter-in-law, Laura Van Riper, the store’s general manager. “Somebody who could say, hey, you would look good as a Viking or something.”

Vikings, go figure it, have been big movers this year. So have Indians, as in Geronimo and all that, and the Musketeers. Of course, most of the more bizarre costumes, Laura says, have been rented.

Included in that category are The Flasher, an old man mask with a trench coat, and a huge two-person camel. Laura says the guys who got the camel are planning to wear it to the office.

Jerry Rice, meantime, looked muy bizarro in the voodoo get-up he was trying on in the store’s dressing room. But for a man who spent last Halloween as an infant--diapers, pacifier and blankee included--a radical departure it was not.

“I guess I like the attention,” says Jerry, otherwise a mild-mannered copy editor at the Pomona Progress Bulletin. “I was looking for something unusual.”

Voodoo Outfit

Jerry, 29, says he’s going to wear the voodoo outfit, complete with black shock wig, a black body stocking and a sort of African-looking leather tutu, to a party tonight and to his part-time job as a cashier at Alpha Beta.

And even if one is not inclined to rent or buy a Halloween outfit, there are still plenty of other options.

Cherri Melamed of Laguna Beach says she is going to a party tonight dressed as a brick wall, which means she strips masking tape on a pair of overalls, spray-paints them red, stuffs cardboard down her front and back, and then provides her friends with Magic Markers to scrawl graffiti.

“It’s an old standby when I don’t have time to do anything else,” Cherri was saying as she eyed a pink flowered hat for her husband at Hill House Costumes in Costa Mesa.

“My husband’s going as an old Jewish woman--we’re Jewish so we can do this--and he’s going to kvetch all night.”

Oh, and one more thing, for those among you who really want to make a statement, one that will be remembered long after Halloween, you might consider what Elsie Van Rip has in mind.

Elsie, as you will remember, has a store full of costumes. But there is one, a gorgeous Marie Antoinette costume that Elsie made herself and that she rents to no one.

“That’s what I’ll probably be buried in,” she says.


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