THERE ARE THOSE who dismiss Halloween as Crazies' Night Out, a kiddies' candy fantasy completely unsuitable for adult Capital consumption. Halloween's sole magic trick, according to this view, is turning Georgetown's major intersection into a parking lot.

Anathema.

Halloween is a poet's heyday, a paean to the powers of the imagination. It's a chance to upend etiquette, shake out the social order, to rule by fiat (or limo, or subway). It's a celebration of our uncivil liberties, an emancipation propagation. Oh, Lord, who art uneven, Halloween be thy name. It's the one night that the whole Washington area has bats in the Beltway.

"Washington is a city of repressed persons," says Champions owner Mike O'Harro, whose Tramps disco was one of the first Washington nightspots to go wild for Halloween.

"It's the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing. People spend 364 days a year being conservative and button-down and wearing Brooks Brothers and wingtips, and underneath beats the desire to be unique. Halloween gives those people a chance to really express their fantasies . . . It's the adult holiday."

Halloween is a celebration with a Scorpio bite: it's part psychological revelation, part sensual indulgence and total self-invention. This is a time for exhibition, not inhibition: Never trust a man who doesn't lick his fingers or a woman who doesn't love Halloween.

So dare to be demonic. Come out of the closet in full costume, and don't make the mistake of thinking you're the only adult Halloween addict. I pulled a reverse trick-or-treat a couple of years ago, passing out candy in full Dracula drag in the newsroom of a major metropolitan daily, and I had to go back to the drugstore and restock three times.A SELECTIVE AND ENTIRELY BIASED DISCOURSE ON HALLOWEEN TRADITIONS

As a holiday, Halloween has been born again more times than Little Richard.

On the Celtic calendar, October 31, then known as Samhain, was the last day of the year, and so the witches and other elementals were believed to run free between the gods' unset clocks, so to speak.

The Druids built bonfires to ward off those lurking spirits, and jack-o-lanterns with carved faces (wood or mud and straw in those days; pumpkins are native Americans) were put out to decoy the night-flying demons away from human victims.

Once Christianity tromped into the West, the Church tried to cast a more spiritual light on Druids' night out by claiming November 1 as All Saints' Day. The night before, left just out of canonical reach, became All Hallows' (or "Holies") Eve.

Halloween salutes the "Horned God," a primeval party animal who appears in classical mythology as Pan and occasionally as Bacchus. Under the damper of Christian revisionism, he turns into the Devil. If you remember the "Night on Bald Mountain" segment of "Fantasia," you've seen the Churchly version.

The witches that wander Halloween night are adepts of the Horned God, and the traditional black pointy hat and poulaines -- those pointed fairy shoes -- are the witches' versions of horns. (The sorcerer's hat is the same symbol, of course, and it sometimes doubles as his magic wand.) The Church, which knew a phallic symbol when it saw one, really hated those shoes; during the 11th century, poulaines were reportedly used for rather sophisticated games of footsie.

Incidentally, it's only Revised Version witches who are withered and warty. Real witches are quite likely to have as many personal charms as magic ones. Think of Circe and Medea and Vivien . . . and Kim Novak and Elizabeth Montgomery.

There's a feminist Horned One, too: Diana, the first real Superwoman. Queen of the woods, goddess of the hunt, lord of the moon and Lady of the Lake, she wears a lunar crescent as a crown, and runs wild as an antlered hart.

Diana was into celibacy, making her an even more appropriate icon of these safe-sex '80s. The Amazons were dedicated to Diana, and thus the rather right-wing Wonder Woman is a more interesting role model than Mother may know.

On May Day, the Horned One is represented by Robin Hood, whose medieval derring-do was overlaid on legends of an older band of green men -- the elfin forest people. That interpretation makes Maid Marian chief witch of the Merry Men coven.

Joan of Arc is also considered by some to have been a devotee of the "old" religion, because she first heard her voices near a famous Fairy Tree, wore "mannish" clothing and refused to recite the "Our Father" . . . and if you can't find some costume ideas somewhere in here, you're really jaded.

There are some romantic traditions associated with Halloween. The Scots believed that anyone born on Halloween was gifted with second sight. It was also said that under the hypnotic Halloween moon, one could find one's undying love.

Which brings us to vampires. Vampires have no intrinsic connection to Halloween, but who cares? They're the sexiest archetypes of them all. "What an elegant monster he is!" Leonard Wolf wrote in the The Annotated Dracula. "How strong, how graceful, how lonely, how wise. And above all -- and here is his central mystery -- how deadly . . . and how erotic."

There are a number of independent and quite potent female vampires (see the 16th-century Countess Bathory, Coleridge's "Cristabel" or Le Fanu's "Carmilla"). But the Byronic swagger of the masculine vampire is no accident, considering that the 1819 "Vampyre," Lord Ruthven, was conceived by Byron himself. For seductive evidence, see Frank Langella ("Dracula," this Saturday night at 2:30 a.m. on Channel 13) with his consciously Romantic poet's collars and his polished waltz; or the worldly-wise roue' Louis Jourdan ("Count Dracula," at 10 p.m. this Saturday on 26).

The best vampires come in black tie -- with one exception, Anne Rice's Lestat, who is unwillingly initiated into the nightlife in plantation-era New Orleans and re-emerges as a charismatic rock star in the 1980s. He has a cool Sting-like sexuality, a kind of deadly Thin White Duke. In the perfect tit-for-tat, it's Lestat who speaks in Sting's "Moon Over Bourbon Street." Eat to the beat. QUOTH THE RAVEN, NEVERMORE

" 'Tis now the very witching time of night, When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out Contagion to this world." -- Hamlet "I have gone out, a possessed witch, haunting the black air, braver at night." -- Anne Sexton, Her Kind "I saw Lon Chaney walking with the Queen, Doing the Werewolves of London. I saw Lon Chaney, Jr., walking with the Queen, Doing the Werewolves of London. Ah-oooooh!" -- Warren Zevon HOME BODIES: OR, DUNNIT YOURSELF

The best way to get into Halloween is to throw your own debacle. Require (at least urge) guests to wear costumes, prepare a mind-boggling disguise yourself and hire haunting entertainment.

Magicians are rather passe', unless you know Penn and Teller. Go romantic; hire a palmist or Tarot reader (they're in the Yellow Pages, but you may have to call around; they go out of business fairly regularly). There are a handful of astrologers around, too; but they're always so encouraging. Halloween should have darker accents.

If you dance (don't all demons?), consider hiring a deejay, but make sure he's bringing appropriate music. Better yet, get a juke box and stock it with the best in shock rock.

Hang black drapes over any mirrors; confession is not good for the ghoul. Decorate the dance floor with a chalk pentacle, or mark out a dance diagram by painting step-by-step shoeprints with phosphorescent paint. If you happen to have a black light left over from your hipper heydey, haul it out and plug it in.

Go Victorian with a Stoker spectacular; ask your guests to wear high hats and long dresses. Light the house with candles, organize ornate charades and serve mulled wine. (I know, Dracula claimed "I never drink wine" -- but his guests did, so he got his secondhand.)

For the menu, consult Paul Kovi, owner of the Four Seasons in New York and author of the definitive volume on Transylvanian cuisine. His first flat ruling: "I hate garlic."

Seriously, it's an earthy, spicy cuisine from a rich agriculture. Kovi says, "Transylvanian cooking is the result of the mixing of five different nationalities and three outside influences. The five cultures are Hungarian, Rumanian, Saxon German, Armenian and Jewish; the outside influences are Greek, Russian and Chinese . . . because of the Silk Route. For {Europeans and traders} like Marco Polo, Transylvania was the last civilized stop before China and the first stop on the way back."

Kovi, Hungarian-born of an old Transylvanian family, has spent part of "every summer since the 1970s going village to village, library to library, person to person" seeking recipes.

If you'd like to work up a festive menu fit for a Dracula -- or a 17th-century Transylvanian nobleman -- start with a soup, heavier or lighter, meatier or thinner depending on the rest of the menu. "Thirty years ago, when I was in school, a girl who didn't know how to make 200 kinds of soup didn't have much chance of getting married," Kovi says.

After that, consider game or fish from forest or stream; capon, duck or goose, force-fed for fat; poached pears, stuffed with chopped raisins, walnuts and cinnamon; and a gingercake or strudel or torte or rolled log with chocolate walnut filling. No wonder Dracula went on such a strict diet. THE MONSTER MASH: A HALLOWEEN TOP 40

1. Werewolves of London (Warren Zevon) 2. Moon Over Bourbon Street (Sting) 3. Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner (Warren Zevon) 4. Don't Fear the Reaper (Blue Oyster Cult) 5. Magic (Cars) 6. Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac) 7. Sympathy for the Devil (Rolling Stones) 8. Tales of Brave Ulysses (Cream) 9. Fire (Crazy World of Arthur Brown) 10. Gris-Gris Gumbo (Dr. John) 11. White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane) 12. Born Under a Bad Sign (Cream) 13. Black Magic Woman (Santana) 14. Spirit in the Night (Bruce Springsteen) 15. Magic Man (Heart) 16. Witchy Woman (Eagles) 17. Timothy Leary's Dead (Moody Blues) 18. Hotel California (Eagles) 19. I Put a Spell on You (Screamin' Jay Hawkins) 20. Maxwell's Silver Hammer (Beatles) 21. All You Zombies (Hooters) 22. Thriller (Michael Jackson) 23. Mack the Knife (Bobby Darren) 24. Bad Moon Rising (Creedence Clearwater Revival) 25. Evil Woman (Electric Light Orchestra) 26. Psycho Killer (Talking Heads) 27. Excitable Boy (Warren Zevon) 28. Witch Queen of New Orleans (Redbone) 29. Eye of the Zombie (John Fogarty) 30. Ghost Riders in the Sky (Outlaws) 31. One of These Nights (Eagles) 32. Spooky (Classic IV) 33. Devil Woman (Cliff Richard) 34. Lucifer (Bob Seger System) 35. Tombstone Shadow (Creedence Clearwater Revival) 36. Abracadabra (Steve Miller Band) 37. Tubular Bells/Theme from "The Exorcist" (Mike Oldfield) 38. Season of the Witch (Donovan) 39. Cat People (David Bowie) 40. Island of Lost Souls (Blondie)

NOVELTIES AND HONORABLE MENTIONS

1. Monster Mash (Bobby "Boris" Pickett) 2. Love Potion No. 9 (Searchers) 3. Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr.) 4. Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group) 5. Puff the Magic Dragon (Peter, Paul & Mary) 6. How Come I Can't See You in the Mirror? (Tonio K) 7. Boris the Spider (Who) 8. Witch Doctor (David Seville) 9. Devil Went Down to Georgia (Charlie Daniels) 10. Spirit in the Sky (Norman Greenbaum) 11. Look Out, There's a Monster Coming (Bonzo Dog Band) 12. Eggplant That Ate Chicago (Dr. West's Medicine Show) 13. Laurie (Dickie Lee) 14. Godzilla (BLue Oyster Cult) 15. Scorpio (Dennis Coffey) JIMMY CARTER AND OTHER JACKS-O-LANTERN

Here are four tricks to a really professional jack-o-lantern.

1. Use a big knife for taking off the top, etc., but for the features themselves, use a small, flexible paring knife, preferably one of those inexpensive two-inch blades, that will allow you to carve in curves.

2. Don't settle for grade-school style -- three triangles and a half-moon. Look at real faces: Jimmy Carter made a great pumpkin, bangs, big smile and all. Cat eyes are like two concave lenses with a pupil left solid in the center. And if you can't figure a nose, forget it.

3. For optimum light, carve at an oblique angle, so that the insides of your cutouts are bigger than the outsides. You can't tell this in daylight, but when you light it from inside, the thick flesh blocks your artistic outlines.

4. Finally, don't use too tall a taper. You'll just roast the lid and you won't get full advantage of the light. Use one of those thick squatty votive candles instead. Or try a green or orange "chemical" lightstick for an eerie and windproof effect.

Speaking of squash, if you're guarding the Great Pumpkin itself, the Radisson Mark Plaza Hotel in Alexandria is hunting the hugest of the huge. The giant jack earns its bearer a weekend for two at the Radisson-Marco Island (Florida) resort. Entries must be hauled in to the hotel's Reform Club by 9 Friday; also prizes for the most original, scariest and sexiest costumes. HOW TO BAKE YOUR APPLES AND BREW 'EM, TOO

Most people think wassail is only for Christmas, but apples and spirits are, after all, two of the major Halloween traditions; and for a small but friendly crowd, this is a great toast test: Too many tipples, and you're bobbing into the wassail bowl.1 dozen apples 1 dozen eggs, separated 1 cup water 4 cups sugar 1 tablespoon grated nutmeg 2 teaspoons ground ginger 1/2 teaspoon mace 6 whole cloves 6 allspice berries 1 stick cinnamon 4 bottles Madeira or sherry 2 cups brandy

Bake the apples.

Boil the water, sugar and spices together for five minutes.

Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry, then beat the egg yolks until they're lemon-colored. Fold whites into yolks in a large bowl. Strain the spiced sugar syrup into the eggs, combining quickly.

Bring the wine and brandy to a boil in two pots. Stirring at first slowly and then more briskly, incorporate the hot wine into the egg-syrup mixture, and then add the brandy. The brew will foam up; add the baked apples, and drink wassail. THE SLAY'S THE THING

Sometimes the "lively arts" can be deadly. Murder parties are all the rage these days, ranging from boxed murder games to dunnit-yourself plays to full weekend productions and even train-teasers a la "Murder on the Orient Express."

You can also turn these into theme costume parties by suggesting guests come as either their favorite sleuth, or if famous enough to be recognized, their favorite murder victim. Make sure at least someone is dressed as the butler. Browse a special-interest bookstore for inspiration. (This is the perfect weekend to drop into the Haunted Bookstore in Annapolis, which is owned -- so he thinks, anyway -- by a sleekly satisfied black cat.)

The barebones way is to buy a murder game and rope your guests into a round. The updated "Clue!" can be had for about $15, and even if you consider yourself highly Yupward, Miss Scarlett is a great social leveler.

For a more intricate brainteaser, act it out yourself with one of a half-dozen trendy box games (one known as "Hu Killed Wu?") called "How to Host a Murder." Each includes a different slaying, with scenario, clues and personality sketches of the characters you then bring to life. The solution is sealed for security; they retail for about $25 in local stores.

Also available (though usually as bargain books or remainders -- could be a steal at a secondhand stall) is a series of book-games, including "Who Killed Robert Prentice?" and "Murder off Miami," published a couple of years ago by Rutledge Press. Dennis Wheatley, whose novels of Satanism and black magic in the '30s and '40s were inspired by the cults of Aleister Crowley, originally published these "crime dossiers" a half-century ago. The package includes a dramatic scenario, a packet of clues (photographs, crime blotter reports, "bloodstained" curtains, etc.), and a sealed solution.

You can host a "live" murder, strictly amateur of course, with videotaped instructions from Who Dunnit (294-4193) for $100; you keep the tape. For an additional fee, they'll supply a few warm bodies to help run the murder.

Or you can sign up for an old-fashioned house party weekend of the sort that made British murder mysteries famous. Mystery Menu Theatre of Georgetown is producing one this weekend -- "The Halloween's Day Massacre, 1920," St. Valentine's Day style -- at the Fenwick Inn in Ocean City. Including Saturday dinner, a slaying, and Sunday brunch with solution, it's $73 per person. 800/492-1873.

Murder Menu has also set up all-day on-board "murders" that take place on a private train car between Washington and New York (sightseeing in the middle, back by midnight). With open bar, continental breakfast and nibblies, it's about $195 a suspect. There's not one until November 21 (737-0818) but next year, you might consider climbing on.

If you really want to be extravagant, hire a firm to do the whole party with actors. Larry Redman, of Partners in Crime (347-8436), was hoping to cater a private party for Halloween, though no one scheduled it -- this year, anyway.

"We've always wanted to do a murder weekend where halfway through the murder, they discover it's a vampire," Redman chortles. "They think they've got to do Miss Marple, and suddenly it's Bram Stoker. Not ratiocination at all, but horror." Keep it in mind.PREYING IN PUBLIC

If you really believe bigger is better, head for

GEORGETOWN , where the annual danse macabre last year drew about 100,000. Come as you dare, come as you are, but don't come in your car. There's virtually no legal parking, and the neighborhood-wide traffic is a Nightmare on M Street. Besides, you miss part of the passing show: I was proposed to by a Pierrot as I idled in a convertible on Wisconsin Avenue several years ago, and I couldn't even take advantage of the offer.

The Georgetown blowout is probably the closest thing to the original bacchanalia, but it has its own rather specific social requirements: creativity, plenty of cash (this is not the kind of crowd to lose your credit cards in) and even more stamina. In recent years, it has gone beyond unruly and trembled on the brink of riotous, so be warned. This is a voluntary commitment to a temporary insane asylum, but as behavior modification for the upwardly mobile, it's hard to beat. It generally begins about cocktail hour or dusk, whichever comes first; and almost certainly there will be some advance prancing Friday night.

(Incidentally, amidst the M Street maelstrom, enthusiastic partiers can check their progress at the Georgetown

MARBURY HOUSE HOTEL

at 30th and M. A voluntary breathalizer test will be offered free from 10 to 3 Saturday; and the hotel is offering a special $59 room rate and continental breakfast to anyone who may feel he has over-imbibed.)

If you'd rather dance indoors than in the street, head downtown for the

BLACK MAGIC BALL

Friday at the Old Post Office Pavillion. Organizer Brian Tate is promoting it as "an alternative to the Georgetown chaos. It'll be festive but more controlled -- our own brand of chaos."

The Black Magic Ball is billed as a costume extravaganza saluting super-illusionist and spiritualist Harry Houdini, who died on Halloween 1926 in excruciating pain from a ruptured appendix after finishing an otherwise perfect show. The ball's theme is "On the night Houdini said he would rise from the dead . . .," and there is a mysterious midnight something-or-other promised. The entertainment includes Living Colour with guitarist Vernon Reid, recently featured on Mick Jagger's album. Partytime is 9:30, admission $8.

The most outre' and elaborate outfits will probably congregate at the sixth annual

ARTISTS' AND DANCERS' (AND FRIENDS') NIGHT TO HOWL Halloween party, 9 to 3 Saturday at the Dance Place, 3224 8th St. NE. Sleazy, slimy, dreamy, grimy, plastic and fantastic . . . it's to die for. Admission is $4, the costume judging's at midnight; and since the hosts are suggesting guests transport by Metro to the Brookland/CUA stop two blocks away, this party alone could provide people watchers with a free creature feature: Fright Night on the Red Line.

Those who prefer their art to the point, or on it, should drop in on the

BALLET CENTER'S

first-ever Halloween fundraiser Saturday at 9 at the studio, 2801 Connecticut Ave. NW. A $10 donation is requested; call 745-3533 or 797-7027 for reservations.

The

WASHINGTON STAGE GUILD

raises the curtain on its fundraising season with a Masquerade Ball, 9 on Saturday, at its Edwardian home in Carroll Hall at 924 G St. NW (that's Metro Center, creature peepers). Between dances you can tour the "Tunnel of Horror," a rogue's gallery of "frighteningly bad reviews" unearthed from previous productions. Raffle prizes include a Grand Hyatt weekend, the party-ing at the Red Sea, etc. Tickets $15 or $25 a couple, raffle included. 529-2084.

Who says the era of elegance is past? The Art Deco ballroom at the

KENNEDY-WARREN

apartments on Connecticut Avenue is the perfect vintage venue for a Gala Masquerade. Deco-rate yourself and twirl to the music of Doc Scantlin and his Imperial Palms Orchestra, Friday 9 to 1. Admission $6.50. 483-2058.

For the charity-minded masquerader, the

EASTER SEAL SOCIETY benefits from an annual black-tie/costume ball Saturday at the Departmental Auditorium on Constitution Avenue. The fee is stiff (tickets are $65 in advance, $75 at the door) but the Motown Revue entertainment, featuring Sam and Dave and Ben E. King, should be loose as a goose. 429-6678.

The

HALLOWEEN BALL AT MAZZA GALLERIE

on Wisconsin Avenue, Saturday 9 to 1, is sponsored by the Downtown Jaycees and benefits the Special Olympics, the Handicapped Children's Field Day and Dollars for Needy Children. Black tie or costume, the ball features entertainment by the Grandeurs; tickets $35 ($400 for a "corporate table" for 10). This is not only upwardly, but outwardly mobile: first prize for best costume is a week's Cunard Line cruise for two. 293-0484.

Alexandria's nonprofit Commission on Disabled Persons is hosting its fifth annual

PHANTOM BALLROOM

costume dance Saturday, 8 to 1, with the Uptown Rhythm Kings and celebrity costume judges. Cash bar, but admission is only $10, and goes to the ACDP's scholarship programs. Call 838-0711 or 836-5617 (evenings) for information.

The Baltimore Museum of Art is also hosting an annual fundraiser, a traditional

BEAUX ARTS BALL , with live entertainment by Positive Effect. The ball benefits the Joshua Johnson Council, which sponsors exhibits of special interest to the black community. Tickets are $25; call 301/396-7101 for more information.

There's probably not a club over crypt level that isn't throwing some form of celebration, but some are more abandoned than others. The high (or low) point is apt to be the

ROXY'S

Saturday night Halloween costume party, starring the ever-perverse Root Boy Slim and his latest gang of gore, the Homewreckers. "It won't be traditional in any way," say club promoters. Wear your garlic.

The

9:30 "YOUR UGLY"

costume contest is tied into the debut of Double O and Velour's video of the same name; first prize is serious, though, a CD player. Live entertainment courtesy Trouble Funk.

J.W. GAITHER'S

in Gaithersburg started its three-night spooktacular Thursday, but you can still get in on the costume fun. Grand prize Saturday is a ski weekend; call 948-7747. At

HERB'S

on Scott Circle, they know the way to their patrons' hearts; best costume earns $100 cash. Call 333-HERB for reservations.

There are other timely bookings -- Vamps at the Rabbit's Foot in Frederick, 13th Floor at The Last Chance in Columbia's Oakland Mills Village Center. And d.c. space is throwing a "cosmic blowout:" Tune in, turn on and blob out. TOURS, DRAMATIC RECITATIONS AND OTHER THEATRICAL DELIGHTS

You can get into the spirits in a 3-D way in the area's theaters and museums, beginning with an dramatic conjuring of "Dracula" in the most appropriate of venues --

SANCTUARY THEATER , 1459 Columbia Rd. NW. Showtime 10:30 Friday and Saturday, and admission is $2, although patrons of the regular performance of "Chekhov and Gorky" are invited to stay on the for the fright. Call 745-3666.

Friday night, actor Scott Keely puts on a one-man Victorian thriller called

"TALES FOR A DARK NIGHT,"

featuring exerpts from "Dracula" and "Frankenstein." Showtime is 7:30 at the Baird Auditorium in the Natural History Museum. Members $10, nonmembers $15.

VOICES IN THE GLEN , a group of Washington storytellers, offers two different slates of scare stories, including one for adults only. Friday's "Ghostly Tales for Grownups" (no one under 10 admitted) starts at 8 at the Ethical Society, 16th Street and Kalmia Road NW. Admission $5, reservations 627-3023 or 588-5516. Saturday's "Frightening and Funny Stories for Families," aimed at those over five, starts at 7:30 at the Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo. Adults $4, kids $3; reservations 362-7881.

At the

EDGAR ALLAN POE HOUSE

in Baltimore, actor Tony Tsendias replays two of the master's classics, "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Black Cat." Showtimes are 12:15, 1:30, 2:45 and 4 Saturday and Sunday; the Poe House is at 203 N. Amity St.

An even more lively show is set for Poe's gravesite with a trio of living historical figures as guest lecturers. Poe's fey child bride Virginia, Civil War hero Gen. John Stricker and Frank the Bodysnatcher (the ubiquitous Tsendias) will gather at the grave in

WESTMINSTER CEMETERY , at Fayette and Green streets, Saturday between 6 and 9. The performance includes a tour of the catacombs.

Long before Michael Jackson, musicians were writing thrillers. The

PRINCE GEORGE'S PHILHARMONIC

has a special slate of classical chillers on tap for Saturday, including segments from "Pictures at an Exhibition," "Night on Bald Mountain," "Hansel and Gretel" and "Mephisto Waltz." Curtain at 8 at the Prince George's Community College. 699-2540.

There's plenty of "legitimate" theater thrills for Halloweeners. For a medieval miasma, complete with 17th-century superstition and black devil dogs, consider

"THE WITCH OF EDMONTON"

at the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger Library. Seats $15 to 32; curtain 8 on Friday, 2 and 8 Saturday and 2 and 7:30 Sunday. 546-4000.

In a lighter but no less murderous vein, there's

"SHEAR MADNESS"

a sort of living "Clue!" game that changes a little every night. "Shear Madness" (razor wit?) is long-running at the Kennedy Center's Theater Lab Cabaret, but if you haven't made an appointment yet, this could be the time. Shows are Friday at 8, Saturday 6 and 9, Sunday 3:30 and 7. Tickets $19 and $23; phone 457-8345. Or if a steak goes to your heart, try the dinner/theatre combo.

Alexandria's West End Dinner Theatre is reviving

"CAMELOT,"

with a tip of the pointy hats to Merlin, Vivien and Morgan le Fey. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, dinner at 6, show at 8; also a Sunday nooner with show at 2. Tickets $24.25 to $30.25. 370-2500.

Part of the fun of Halloween can be revelation, but another side is deception.

"LA CAGE AUX FOLLES,"

in its final week at the Warner Theatre, celebrates one of the oldest and trickiest costume conventions in the world -- drag. If you can keep up with the cast, you're doing well. Tickets are $13.50-$32.50; call 626-1050 for more information.

For frumpier false-frockers, check out

"CHARLEY'S AUNT"

at Catholic University's Hartke Theatre. 529-3333.

Children's theaters have the chills, too; and if you're embarassed to go along, arrange for an underage escort. Start with Washington Irving's

"THE GHOSTLY BRIDEGROOM"

at Adams-Morgan Children's Theater. Showtimes 1:30 and 3:30 Saturday and Sunday, reservations 232-7685; tickets $3 for children, $5, $15 for a family up to five. (Irving, incidentally, is responsible for one of our favorite Halloween characters, the Headless Horseman. Although disembodied horsemen were widely known in Europe, especially the British Isles, the addition of a jack-o-lantern visage is pure Americana.)

Glen Echo's Adventure Theatre offers

"PEGORA THE WITCH"

Saturday and Sunday, 1:30 and 3:30. Tickets $4, reservations 320-5331 between 10 and 2.

It's not really cruise season, but murder is always in fashion. Check out the Falls Church Playhouse production of

"MURDER ON THE NILE," Friday and Saturday at 8 at George Mason High; admission $4, call 534-7716.

"LADIES IN RETIREMENT,"

from the Port City Playhouse, is billed as a "psychological murder mystery." Showtime is 8 on Friday and Saturday at the Minnie Howard Auditorium at 3801 West Braddock Rd., Alexandria, with a special come-in-costume audience on Halloween. Call 838-9303.

Halloween on the hoof? Saturday and Sunday, Smithsonian guides will lead tours through

ROCK CREEK CEMETERY , stopping at such mood-setters as the hooded, brooding Saint-Gaudens memorial to Clover Adams. Tours start at 11 and 2 on Saturday, 2 on Sunday.

The Smithsonian's "Haunted Maryland Tour," a all-day busman's horror-day to the haunted Civil War prison at

POINT LOOKOUT STATE PARK and other private haunts in St. Mary's County, is unfortunately sold out. However, the park will offer its own tours of the prison, where 3,000 Confederate soldiers died of illness and ill treatment, and a little storytelling, Friday and Saturday. Tours begin at the beach/picnic area at 8, 9 and 10 both nights; admission is $3 per vehicle. SEE HER SHAKE IT ON THE MOVIE SCREAM, ETC.

If you're in the mood for mass mayhem, put on your fright wig and go to the movies. The most appropriate hall is the Cerberus, named for the three-headed guard dog of Hell, where you can experience the group-gross of

"THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW"

Friday at midnight. (Actually, the Druid theatre in Damascus would be the perfect venue, but they're showing "Stakeout," which despite its promising title has nothing to do with Dracula.)

It's double trouble all weekend at the

AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE THEATER

during the last days of the "Touch of Evil" Festival. Friday at 8, it's "Eyes Without a Face" and "Onibaba"; Saturday at 2:30 the original "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" and "Village of the Damned"; Saturday at 8, "Psycho" and, in a daring dispensation of taste, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Make your reservation at the Bates Motel.

John Carpenter always makes a chilling in the movie market; consider "The Fog" and "The Thing" and "Halloween" itself. Even "Escape From New York" has a Dante-ing atmosphere: Manhattan as Hell. Carpenter's latest delving into cinema demonique turns him onto the Main Man himself, the long-imprisoned

"PRINCE OF DARKNESS"

who is poised for a deadly cosmic convergence that will return him to his earthly domain.

"THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK"

is blatant wild's play, of course, but the elegant and affectionate feminism of Updike's original, in which the three women have quite significant powers of their own, has been replaced by a leering machismo in which the magic apparently arises from Jack Nicholson's paunch. Still, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer are anything but withered, so . . .

In the splatter class, there's the liltingly lurid

"PROM NIGHT II: HELLO, MARY LOU,"

or the Billy Bob butcher's boy of

"SLAUGHTERHOUSE." These are at area theaters, but look them up yourself; I refuse.

Television traditionally celebrates Halloween with a vengeance, and the weekend's movies are filled with murder, monsters and mayhem; but a few classics and creakers are worth special note.

Among the betters are the romantic Langella

"DRACULA"

Saturday night at 2:30 a.m. on 13;

"NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD,"

which spawns a whole genre, same night at 1 a.m. on 50; and the Leonard Whiting-Michael Sarazan

"FRANKENSTEIN"

at 1:30 on 5 (which features a young Jane Seymour as the female Frankenstein's monster who loses her head at her first big party).

Of the splatter spectaculars, consider

"FRIDAY THE 13TH, PART 3," Friday at 8 on 45 (and twice more on Saturday);

"HALLOWEEN III: THE SEASON OF THE WITCH,"

Friday at 8 on 5;

"TERROR TRAIN"

Saturday at 11 on 50; and

"TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE,"

Saturday at midnight on 54.

Even public television gets into the act. Channel 26, as part of the "Touch of Evil" festival, is showing

"BLACK SUNDAY"

Friday at midnight (not the Super Bowl shoot'em-up but the chiller about a witch who returns to wreak vengence on the humans who burned her).

Saturday at midnight, 26 airs all three parts of a PBS "Great Performances" starring Louis Jourdan as

"COUNT DRACULA"

and fusty Frank Findlay as Van Helsing. "Ah yes," Jourdan says patiently when Findlay starts incanting. "It all sounds so much more impressive in Latin."

Actually, WHMM-32 is dabbling in murder, too, with a Lord Peter Wimsey installment of

"MYSTERY!"

at 9, but that's almost too civilized for the occasion. Still, if you're in the black tie-and-bubbly mode, it'll do. (One of Wimsey's middle names, charmingly, is Death.)

There'll be a little fright radio in the air; count on Weasel and the divinely dubbed Damien to mix some mayhem on WHFS-FM (99.1). W-Lite's "Lite Lunch" Friday (noon at 94.7 FM) will feature Halloween music, and WGAY's Sunday matinee has "Brigadoon" for the softer-hearted believers (1 on 99.5).

The best shot is on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" Friday evening, which includes a mini-shock story by "Far Side" cartoonist Gary Larsen. Entitled

"DOOR-TO-DOOR DEATH,"

the five-minute segment will air between 6 and 7 on WAMU-88.5 and features "spine-chilling special effects" and a stuffed armadillo. Would we make this up? ANTI-ENCHANTMENTS AND HUMBUGS

All right, all right, we know; not everyone wants to howl, and there are a few "straight" places to go Saturday night. If you'd rather funk than fright, boogie down to Constitution Hall Saturday to hear

LISA LISA AND CULT JAM

wham-bam.

The Caps host the

MINNESOTA NORTH STARS

at Cap Centre, which isn't as far a cry from "Halloween" as you'd think when you remember the unstoppable Jason in his goalie's mask. Don't sit with your back to the door.

Come in from the cool at the

COMEDY CAFE

with single-schmoe Bruce Smirnoff, one joke over the line, Friday and Saturday, 8 and 10:30. And if you can make it through the Georgetown mob to

BLUES ALLEY , Jean Carne and crew do that voodoo that they do so well.