Halloween haunts Oh, which to choose? Dr. Darke asks, "What's more frightening than reality?" but no, he's not going to make you balance your checkbook. Phobia -- the Darke Institute (2720 Southwest Freeway, 526-DEAD, $7-$10) instead preys on your fears and fascinations with things hairy, slimy and odd, and techno-phobes get a bonus trick, as all this frightening fun comes courtesy of high-tech wizardry and laser effects. Located in the heart of the Richmond Strip, Terror on Richmond '96 (6366 Richmond, 326-3067, $8$15) feeds not on your fear of being a loser magnet, but instead on those true dates from hell: Dracula, Freddy, Jason and the like. In yet a third option, you may wish you'd tipped better for your room service if you check into the Haunted Hotel I and II (2803 and 2813 Fannin, 759-9866, $8$10). Take your pick; all open just after dark.
Willie Nelson Still high on the success of his recent Farm Aid bash in South Carolina, Nelson comes to Houston to perform tunes from his new CD, Spirit. Sweaty hunk and local favorite Jesse Dayton opens. 9 p.m. Wild West, 10086 Long Point, 465-7121. $20.
Transylvania Plaza Though adults often lament that children can really no longer go trick-or-treating the old-fashioned way, many are just as sad that they can't dress all funny, bang on their neighbors' doors and get free stuff. The clubs of Shepherd Plaza are uniting to right that injustice. After sundown tonight, revelers can hop from club to club collecting goodies as part of a scavenger hunt, with an even bigger chance later in the night to win cash and prizes. Shepherd Plaza, Shepherd at Richmond. A nominal fee for trick-or-treat bags benefits the Houston Area Women's Center.
Rocky Horror Picture Show Any night you see this movie, it's like you're celebrating Halloween, so what's the big deal about tonight? Well, Rocky's turning 21, which makes Susan Sarandon .... Anyway, this is a special screening to note the season and Rocky's coming of age. 12:30 a.m. Landmark's River Oaks 3 Theatre, 524-2175. $6.75.
Trick-or-Treat Dress your young'uns up (we recommend Tick costumes all around) and haul them down to your local community center for a neighborhood party -- the new, safe tradition for Halloween trick-or-treating. Free goodies for kids 12 and under. Call the Parks and Recreation Department, 522-9286, for the location nearest you.
Dia de los Muertos Lawndale is hosting three exhibitions featuring more than 200 artists and their works interpreting a Day of the Dead theme. In addition to viewing Robert Ziebell's installation inspired by the final meals of death-row inmates and the opportunity to bid on various retablos, gallery-goers are encouraged to bring mementos of their dearly departed to contribute to a community altar. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Lawndale Art and Performance Center, 4912 Main Street, 528-5858, lawndale
Overeaters Anonymous Convention OA holds 70 meetings weekly in and around Houston, but this weekend offers OA members a chance to exchange support and inspiration on a grander scale. "Remarkable Things Happen" is the theme, and information will be available on all kinds of eating disorders. The 20th annual convention kicks off at 4 p.m. today and continues through noon Sunday. Holiday Inn, 7611 Katy Freeway (at Silber), 688-2221. For more information, call 973-6633. $10, Friday or Sunday; $20, Saturday only; $30, all weekend.
Kenny Rogers He's calling his Houston gig here with the Houston Symphony his "Coming Home" concert, but Kenny Rogers has come a long way since he and his seven siblings were growing up in a Houston public housing project. Perhaps he should be calling it "Coming Home in Style." The Grammy Award-winning Rogers will perform "Lucille," "Lady," "The Gambler" and new stuff, too. Before he performs, Stephen Stein will lead the orchestra in a selection of light classics.8 p.m. tonight and Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $21-$71.
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension Peter Weller stars as the titular figure, and in this flick, he'll make you forget he ever went on to play that awful Robocop. Banzai is a master at all he endeavors (sort of a forerunner to all those overachieving sitcom characters like the doctor on Dream On) -- though he's not so good with names. Watch as he takes on Dr. Emilio Lizardo (John Lithgow) and a host of Johns on a 35mm print. 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Rice Media Center (entrance no. 8 of University Boulevard), 527-4853. $4.50.
DiverseNet Visual artist Victoria Vesna will do her part to unclog traffic on the Information Superhighway and point you to a few good detours as part of "DiverseNet: Building a Scenic Route on the Information Superhighway." Vesna, associate professor of electronic intermedia at the University of California-San Diego, will discuss the nature of on-line collaboration, artist-audience interaction, community building and the future of public art. (See Thrills, Art, Opening for more "DiverseNet" projects). 7:30 p.m. DiverseWorks, 1117 East Freeway, 228-0914. $7; $5, students and seniors.
Third Coast Movie/Multimedia Collector's Showcase Movie and TV goodies are the bread and butter of this event, but because of the post-Halloween timing, ghoulish stuff should be especially plentiful. In collaboration with the collectors' showcase, Tinseltown Theater is screening Texas Chainsaw Massacre as a midnight movie Friday and tonight, and cast members (three of them!) are expected to make appearances from 78 p.m. Friday. Showcase open Saturday evening and all day Sunday. Tinseltown Theater, 1400 Lake Robbins Drive, The Woodlands, 364-0600. For info, call 447-3701. Showcase, free; $4.25, movie.
Pocahontas The Houston Symphony presents songs from the Disney classic. Kids, who've undoubtedly watched the movie over and over and know every line of every song, will likely want to stand up, throw up their hands in the air and sing along. Music from the ballet Petrouchka, HSPVA actors and Houston Ballet Academy dancers are also on the bill. 10:30 a.m. Jones Hall, 615 Louisiana, 227-ARTS. $5$10, adults; $3-$7, children.
Bellaire Fall Fever 5K Run/Walk The course is described as fast and scenic, and those who sign up for this inaugural fun run will not only get an eyeful of lovely Bellaire but will also help to raise money for scholarships for students at Bellaire High School. Participants get a long-sleeved T-shirt and a water bottle. 8 a.m. start at Laurel and South Rice (Bellaire City Hall). For information, call 563-8247. $25.
Parking lot sale Here's your chance to get some really cool old stuff cheap and to help raise money so that underprivileged children can get some new school clothes. The Assistance League of Houston Thrift Shop's second annual Fall Parking Lot Sale is today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; go on down and get yourself some of those comfy, broken-in flannel shirts. 1902 Commonwealth at Welch, 526-5425.
281 is here It's been looming, however vaguely, for a while, and now it's upon us. Today, dialing up a Southwestern Bell customer living outside Beltway 8, roughly speaking, will mean punching in the new 281 area code before the usual seven-digit phone number. Actually, this is the start of a six-month transition period -- the new area code will become mandatory May 3, 1997 -- but why wait any longer? The phone company says we really should just dive right in. 281 calls are still local.
The Territory: Digital Animation Four Texas artists -- Jayne Loader, John Davis, Kevin McIntyre and Sam Hurt -- are featured in this installment of The Territory. Along with samplings from these artists, the program will feature a discussion on the development of computer animation over the past decade, its varied directions and its accessibility in the marketplace. 10:30 p.m. KUHT/Channel 8.
Men Who Cook Ralph "Coop" Cooper, one man who's not afraid to tell it like it is, will be the master of ceremonies for this sixth annual scholarship fundraiser hosted by the Houston Citizens Chamber of Commerce. Houston's best male chefs are featured, so don't even think this man-centric event will involve frozen pizzas, a jar of peanut butter with a spoon stuck in it or even a bag of Cheetos. Tonight, along with fine cuisine, the entertainment draw includes Mikki Bleu, comedian Rodney Bigham and the Family Affair Steel Band, along with Dr. Lee P. Brown, honorary chairman. 69 p.m. Hyatt Regency Downtown, 1200 Louisiana, 522-9746. $25.
24th Annual Jewish Book Fair Tonight and for the next two weeks, the Jewish Community Center is playing host to some of the finer authors of the day -- Neil Simon (November 10) among them. The 15,000 volume bookstore opens at 1 p.m.; other opening day highlights include a reading by children's storyteller Peninnah Schram at 3 p.m. ($7); a free teachers workshop at 6 p.m.; and a presentation by Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill and author of Holocaust, at 8 p.m. ($6). This cultural happening is open to the entire community. Jewish Community Center, 5601 South Braeswood, 729-3200, extension 3231.
1996: The Election Dr. Daron Shaw of the UH political science department will look in-depth at the issues driving voters' choices for Tuesday's election. Too, he'll examine the current status of voter disaffection (apathy?) and discuss whether either party can wrangle complete control in Washington. (The series concludes next week with Dr. Richard Murray discussing the election results.) Noon1:30 p.m. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross. For info, call the Houston Seminar, 668-7121. $15.
Circus Electorus Perhaps you'd like to do a little last-minute cramming for tomorrow's election, but that Daron Shaw thing sounds a little too in-depth. Perhaps Ron Crick, Mike Vance and their old Comedy Workshop cohorts can shed a little cynical light on the political choices being posed to voters. Perhaps not. Either way, they'll make you giggle as they mock the McLaughlin Report, journalists and politicos on both sides of the fence. Andy Huggins, Roger Gray and the PC Cowboys are involved, too. The Laff Stop, 1952 West Gray, 524-2333. $7.
Diamonds to ogle Usually when the average person thinks about wearable diamonds, they're thinking Tiffany settings or stud earrings. The 1996 Diamonds-International Awards Collection is making its one and only appearance in the Southwest this week to show what top designers mean by "wearable." This $6 million exhibit features 30 designs, and they're not nearly as gaudy as one might imagine. 10 a.m.6 p.m. today through Wednesday. I.W. Marks Jewelers, 3814 Bellaire, 668-5000. Ogling free.
Election Day You have no other priority today, and boy howdy, there's just bound to be something in this one to stir your interest. For starters, there's the referendum on the downtown baseball stadium (and though it's technically nonbinding, you can be sure they'll listen to what you say at the polls). Then you have your presidential race, and all those judgeships and county positions and more. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Visit http://www.harris.tx.us/cclerk for polling info. Metro is offering free midday rides to the polls (9 a.m.3 p.m.) for those who show a voter registration card to the bus driver.
Cowboy Mouth The Shirk Workers Union's second production ever is Sam Shepard's Cowboy Mouth. This play is said to be Shepard's most autobiographical, but since it was written in 1971, there's a lot that's left untold about the life of this man we love. Vicki Weathersby stars in and directs this story about Slim, a man tempted to become a rock star, and about individual desire for elevated existence. 9 p.m. Continues Wednesdays through November. Last Concert Cafe, 1403 Nance, 226-8563. $5.99.
Titanica Africa: The Serengeti has left to make room for this IMAX feature on the "unsinkable ship" that became the world's greatest maritime disaster. The camera takes viewers two and a half miles down to the watery graveyard that is now home to the Titanic; the remains of the 1,502 passengers have long since become one with the sea, but they left behind ample evidence of the terror and confusion that marked their final moments. Showtimes at 10 a.m., noon and 2, 4, 6, 7 and 8 p.m. today (for additional showtimes, see Thrills, Film and Video). $5.50; $3.50, children three11 and seniors.