As the leaves change colors and the days grow shorter, Cedar Point is making a transformation all its own.
Usually packed with people, the park appears eerily still ... aside from the gravestones, gargoyles and cobwebs creeping up along the Midway.
But behind the scenes, it's bustling with activity.
Between the boulders of Thunder Canyon, workers scramble to assemble stalks of corn to set the stage for a spooky walk. Carpenters hoist a giant skull over an archway while lighting technicians test the strobe effects that illuminate dangling body bags inside a vampire's nightclub.
Graphic services manager John Taylor, dubbed "Mr. Halloween," is the mastermind behind it all.
With HalloWeekends set to kick off its 12th sinister season next Friday, he's busier than ever.
"We're shooting for 35 to 40 monsters in each zone to scare you from all directions ... so it's a different experience every time," Taylor said.
Taylor is training a crew of more than 200 "screamsters" who lurk in dark corners of the park each night with one mission -- to make unsuspecting guests gasp in fear.
They frequent new attractions such as Club Blood, the hottest spot for A-list vampires, and Terror Island, filled with "every pirate scare you can imagine."
Some stay low to the ground and slide through crowds on special kneepads, jumping up at just the right moment in the Fright Zone.
"There's so much fog, you can't see your hand in front of your face," Taylor said.
Many of the park's props are redesigned or recycled for the eight-week scare fest, while others, including thousands of cornstalks and hay bales, come from local growers.
With HalloWeekends hitting a record attendance last year, Cedar Point spokesman Bryan Edwards said the park strives to offer more thrills than ever before.
Even the little ones can have their first taste of terror in tamer doses at the Magical House on Boo Hill, a funhouse featuring cackling witches, bathrooms overrun by alligators and a chemistry lab on the brink of boiling over with disaster.
"It's a startle scare that's still kid-friendly -- not something with a lot of blood and guts," Edwards said.
Even the restaurants, park benches and light fixtures are dressing for the occasion. Midway Mart becomes Medieval Mart, and Coasters Cafe takes on a new identity as an alien food stand with a low-budget horror movie theme.
Performances like the parade, a Graveyard Shift dance revue and a vampire-inspired show help to lighten the mood a little.
That is, until a ghastly-looking cornstalker crosses your path.
Ready for a scare?
WHAT: Cedar Point HalloWeekends
HOURS: Friday evenings, Saturdays and Sundays Sept. 12 through Nov. 2 at Cedar Point. Select rides will be open Friday evenings, and nearly all rides will be available Saturdays and Sundays.
COST: Event is free with park admission: $43.99 for adults, $19.99 for children and senior citizens. Starlight admission (after 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday) is $25.95.
INFO: Visit www.halloweekends.com.