Guide to Age-Appropriate Halloween Fun in Birmingham

Let’s evaluate the options for Halloween entertainment in Birmingham. Think of it as a continuum from oblivious, thumb-sucking infants to consensually terrified, thumb-sucking adults.

1. Stroller – Kindergarten: Boo at the Zoo

Boo at the Zoo is for all ages and is one of the best venues for Halloween fun in town. However, once your kids stop sleeping in costumes and wearing Spider Man/Dora underwear, they will likely be less enthusiastic. After all, there are no animals in the evening and the attraction is all about lights, the train ride, and the thrill of riding a carousel backwards.

That said, there is nothing like BATZ for photo opportunities and wild-eyed wonder for young kids who are still amazed that you can hold open a bag and get candy. If your kids are school age, invite younger cousins to go with you and everyone gets to experience the fun all over again. Point is, you need little kids to really enjoy it.

2. Daycare – 2nd grade: Pumpkin Patch

Ah, the pumpkin patch, one of the last relics of agrarian life in Alabama. Would your great-grandparents ever believe that you would pay money to pick cotton or pet a goat? These are wonderful school field trips and you really must go if you can. Beyond that, the goat petting and gourd seeking routine gets a little tiresome after a few years. Take pictures, bounce around on the hayride, and just be thankful that you don’t have to wake at dawn to milk a cow.

3. Elementary – Intermediate School: Fall Festivals

School festivals are the best, thanks to some tireless volunteer moms and dads. You can get a lot of mileage out of a festival, and the amazing part is that that all this entertainment is generating money for the school. Buy tickets and let the kids blow them recklessly. The kids are on “home turf” and can fish for candy, have their hair painted, and eat wads of cotton candy. They run around with their friends but you can keep an eye on them. In no other venue does $10 go so far and it’s all for the benefit of your school.

4. Middle School: Sloss Fright Furnace

It was genius for the Sloss people to play up the whole abandoned furnace concept and create haunted trails around the furnace, a harmless landmark in the daytime. As for nighttime, shadows, flames, rusty equipment…that’s all the suggestion a middle schooler needs. After all, he/she WANTS to be scared so it won’t take much. The venue itself isn’t particularly scary (and would even be fine for an upper-elementary kid) but of course a small group of kids can do all the work to frighten themselves.

5. Middle School to High School: Alabama Theatre Movie Series, esp. Phantom of the Opera

Alabama Theatre has a packed schedule of recent and classic horror movies. Besides the fact that the Alabama is palatial in comparison to current theater standards – forget surround sound, I’m talking about velvet curtains and bullion fringe! – it has the dramatic staircases, balconies, and old-time marquis out front. There’s something especially appropriate about watching a film about an opera inside a gilded theater.

A special note about Phantom of the Opera featuring Tom Helms on the Mighty Wurlitzer: Phantom is one of the coolest things I have done as an adult. From the initial audience sing along (soo much better than watching previews) to the realization that there is live accompaniment with the hair-parting force of the pipe organ, it’s just an uncommon experience that trumps the usual big chain venue. Come to think about it, forget the kids and go on your own date. (Bonus: Lots of people dress up, either more formally or in costume, so get another wear out of that class reunion cocktail dress.)

6.  Junior High – College: Atrox Factory

This time of year Atrox Factory runs more ads than a politician in a swing state. Atrox is for the true horror/gore fan. Did you know there were celebrities in the world of horror? Atrox has them as special guests!  If your older kid appreciates a good Freddy Krueger film, he or she can handle Atrox. On the other hand, if your kid just giggles at Chuckie or isn’t much for being startled, you might want to redirect. As with anything horror related, anticipation is essential to the effect.

6.  College (Rated R)Rocky Horror Masquerade Ball

Here’s an Alabama Theatre event that’s for folks who know the inside jokes. You’ve got to be a participant to get the most out of this classic, throwing rice, dressing in character, and yelling at the screen. It’s great fun, but the truth is this film is best enjoyed with a rowdy crowd and a sense of camp. Note that this film was selected by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Sadly, your kids will just see the leather-clad transvestite and say, “Hey – Isn’t that guy the hotel concierge from Home Alone?”