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Fairy tale frights come alive in Burbank

In the cool darkness, high above the San Fernando Valley's bright lights, under a sliver of a moon, a half-dozen or so volunteers gathered Thursday night at the Starlight Bowl gates preparing to explore the frightful scenes that lay before them.

"Our fairy tales have gone mad up here," said Carol Mercado, their guide.

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As they moved closer to the Starlight Bowl, through what felt like a gauntlet of cobwebs, a girl emerged out of the darkness dragging a velveteen rabbit by its foot and warning them of the madness that lie ahead.

Nearby, a gnome that could almost be confused for one of the seven dwarfs lurked among giant glowing mushrooms and trees with screaming faces. Elsewhere, Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel awaited terrifying fates, while Peter Pan prepared to face down a pair of pirates. These were not Disney tales and "not your parents' stories," Mercado said.

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This was a run-through of the annual October haunting of Stough Park, which this weekend welcomes the daring on a 15-minute tour through the gruesome scenes of "Forgotten Fairytales."

The Starlight Bowl stage and grounds have been converted into freaky fantasy forest, which visitors can tour tonight and tomorrow night. Children under 6 will not be allowed and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

"It's always fun," said Judie Wilke, director of Burbank's Park, Recreation and Community Services Department, who was checking out the event while dozens of teen and adult volunteers worked to finish the creepy conversion. "I've been spooked a few times."

Tickets for the tour will be on sale from 7 to 9 p.m. A 15-minute guided tour costs $5, but curious adventurers awaiting their turns will have a chance to have their faces painted, enjoy refreshments and play free carnival games, such as bobbing for Snow White's "poison" apples.

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The tour begins at Stough Park, 1335 Lockheed View Drive. Visitors can park in the lot across from Stough Park. No flashlights, costumes or props are allowed on the tour.

Jon McGinley, recreation coordinator with the parks department who oversees the event, said it's more haunting and less gory this year than the past few.

"This is actually a theme that the volunteers have been wanting to do for a couple of years," he said, adding that they were all pretty enthusiastic.

Meanwhile more than 60 volunteers busied themselves setting up a "rabbit hole" to take visitors into a scary version of Wonderland, laying out tables full of mock human victims in the Big Bad Wolf's "slaughter room" or creating other blood-curdling vignettes.

"We couldn't do this without these guys," McGinley said.

Matthew Common, a Burbank resident who has participated in the hauntings for a decade, was on stage instructing young minions in how to properly frighten visitors. Common said he became involved in the event when he and his wife moved to the city and she had been looking for something the family could do together.

In the maze-like bowels of the Starlight Bowl, under the stage, dolls and stuffed animals were being strung up and arranged in tortured poses. Dressing rooms had been transformed into warped fairy tale settings such as Gepetto's "chop shop."

Outside, Hannah Chullack, 13, was dressed to play a doomed good fairy for her second year scaring people. Her brother, 15-year-old Luke, the gnome among tall toadstools, was figuring out how to be his scariest. He said he's been a volunteer on the haunted adventure for three years. Both said they do it for the fun of it and to support the city's parks programs.

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Luke said he doesn't go trick-or-treating, preferring to hand out candy instead, but he does like dressing up for the haunting.

Jason Dyer, a Burbank city employee who volunteered for the event, said "the spirit of trick-or-treating" has died a little, but haunted houses seem to be growing in popularity.

"We're going against stiff competition," Dyer said, adding that at $5 the cost of tickets for the Stough Park haunting are a bargain compared to other productions in the area.

However, organizers have warned there are no refunds for guests of the fantasy forest who are too scared to complete the tour.

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