Halloween’s grand spectacles serve up tricks and treats

Kennesaw’s Owl-O-Ween Hot Air Balloon Festival will feature about 20 hot air balloons.

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Kennesaw’s Owl-O-Ween Hot Air Balloon Festival will feature about 20 hot air balloons.

Story by Curt Holman.

During All Hallow’s Eve and the weeks leading up to it, people want their breath taken away: to get scared, but not too scared. Consider the following for Halloween spectacles in and around the Atlanta area.

With chilly winds carrying falling leaves, Autumn makes the most atmospheric time for cemetery or ghost tours. The Capturing the Spirit of Oakland Halloween Tour offers a chance to explore historic Oakland Cemetery at its most spooky from Oct. 18-28.

Many parts of town have their own ghost tours, so you may not have to travel far to learn about the macabre moments of local history: Roswell, Lawrenceville, Stone Mountain and Decatur all have well-established tours, with downtown’s Fox Theatre Halloween Tour putting a supernatural spin on its backstage excursion.

Perhaps the single biggest seasonal event is the Little 5 Points Halloween Festival & Parade, which started 18 years ago and draws more than 10,000 spectators. Beginning at 4 p.m. on Oct. 20, the parade features costumed creatures, elaborate floats, marching bands and other kinds of creative pageantry. The Little 5 Points Business Association frequently points out that it’s a family-friendly event by day — with food vendors, an artists market and other festival mainstays — but tends to become more grown-up after the sun goes down.

The Little 5 Points Halloween Festival & Parade. Oct. 20. Euclid and Moreland avenues. 404-762-5665. L5phalloween.com

Insider tip

Unless you live in the neighborhood, don’t even think about driving in and finding parking. It’s much easier to take a MARTA train to the Inman Park station and walk up.

Up, up and away

Promoter Andy Miller doesn’t mince words about the primary draw for Kennesaw’s Owl-O-Ween Hot Air Balloon Festival.

“Balloons are the star of the show,” Miller says. “At other ballooning events, you’ll go in the morning, the balloons will take off and leave the venue, and sometimes return at night. Our balloons don’t take off and leave, they stay on site. Kids can trick-or-treat from balloons, take tethered balloon rides and talk to the pilots.”

Every since 2013, Owl-O-Ween has put on a unique display at the Kennesaw State University Sports and Entertainment Park. Drawing an estimated 50,000 visitors, last year’s two-night event featured 20 hot air balloons, including seasonal designs like jack-o-lanterns. This year is expected to bring a similar lineup, with such additions as Sylvester and Tweety-themed balloons.

In addition to enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the KSU campus from a tethered flight 75 feet in the air, Owl-O-Ween has many earthbound attractions.

The event includes multiple stages for entertainment, with the “Levitation” stage featuring such performers as “American Idol’s” Jessica Meuse. “We also have a costumed catwalk events, where guests can strut their stuff in front of an audience,” Miller says. “Once we had a family dressed like M&Ms.”

The “Busker Bus” stage will have roving acrobats and circus performers. “It’s like Cirque du Soleil meets Ringling Brothers,” Miller says. All told, a dozen bands and about 100 performers will put on a show for Owl-O-Ween.

Owl-O-Ween attendees can visit the Merchant Marketplace, an Artist Alley and an Oktoberfest craft beer garden assembled with input from KSU’s German Studies students to ensure authenticity.

Other attractions include a costume pole vault exhibition and pumpkin carvers from Arizona’s Villafane Studios, who turn jack-o-lantern creation into a spectator event.

Each evening, balloons light up in a climatic “glow show” that’s visible from anywhere within the 88-acre park.

Owl-O-Ween Hot Air Balloon Festival. Oct. 19-20. Kennesaw State University Sports and Entertainment Park, 3200 George Busby Pkwy, Kennesaw. Owl-O-Ween.com

Insider tip

Miller recommends buying tickets in advance for practical reasons. “If you buy at the gate, the lines can get enormous, with 60-90 minute waits,” he says. “Buy ahead of time, you get a discount and can walk right in.”

Horror’s new home

For more than 20 years, Netherworld Haunted House terrorized Atlantans from its longtime lair off I-85 in Norcross. Don’t be scared to find its old home abandoned, as Netherworld has translocated to a more spacious plot in Stone Mountain.

Netherworld co-founder Billy Messina says that new complex, with 70,000 square feet on 9.5 acres, allows more room for bigger frights. “Guests can experience two new larger haunted attractions, play three thrilling escape rooms, discover “The House of Creeps” (our museum of movie props and monsters), book private event spaces for meetings and gatherings, explore an elaborate gift shop and visit an outdoor midway packed with food, games, photo ops and monsters galore.”

The facility made its unofficial debut in 2017 with “Escape the Netherworld,” several escape room-style ventures that offer guests the options of “scary” and “not scary” versions. Currently, Netherworld features three escape rooms open on weekends, with an eerie laboratory (“Haunted”), a vampire lair (“Nosferatu”) and a mountain cabin (“Sasquatch”).

Netherworld begins its Halloween season on Oct. 5 with two new attractions. The first, “The Awakened,” set in the benighted town of Whyshberg, promises such sites as the “Stone Giants Gateway,” the “Twisted Coffin Labyrinth,” the “Feral Bone Gnawers” and the “Basement of Unspeakable Horrors.” The second, “Subject: UNKNOWN,” presents a sci-fi setting in which a rapidly mutating virus turns a scientific facility into a chamber of horrors, with deadly elevators, alien autopsies, “massive warbots” and more.

If you’ve never been to Netherworld, its haunted houses involve self-guided tours with lavishly designed locales, props and costumes: imagine a theme park “dark attraction” like Disney World’s Haunted Mansion, only with a more intense and grisly sensibility that doesn’t stint on jump scares. For the uninitiated, it’s definitely worth a visit – if you dare.

Netherworld. Oct. 5-Nov. 4. 2076 W. Park Place Blvd., Stone Mountain, Ga. 404-608-2484. fearworld.com

Insider tip

The NetherSpawn, the haunted house’s ensemble of dozens impeccably costumed and made-up performers, sometimes sit for two hours of monster makeup before showtime. Know that they maintain a strict hands-off policy, so don’t touch them and they won’t touch you.