With Halloween just over two weeks down the road, it's not surprising six of the eight productions opening this week are geared to thrills and chills.

"The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940," "Something's Afoot," "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," and a ghostly evening of old-fashioned storytelling ("Scary Stories and Entertainment" at Magna), all promise suspense and excitement.There are also two murder-mystery dinner events, "The Hunter So Reapeth" and "Heir of Mystery" (see separate story below).

The two non-ghoulish plays are "A Woman of Independent Means" and "Battery."

- THE MUSICAL COMEDY MURDERS OF 1940 is a sort of "Noises Off Meets Agatha Christie" - a zany, fast-paced, thriller-comedy. The title, however, is not entirely correct. It has comedy. It has murders. And it takes place in 1940. But it is NOT a musical.

The setting is a mansion in Chappaqua, N.Y., on a midnight in December, when a small troupe of musical-comedy actors, producers, directors and writers gather to find a backer for their new show.

Director Neal Barth's 10-member cast includes Rocky Revels, Holly Healy, Debe Pitts, Spence Ashby, Rodney Johnston, Sue Jarrard, Michael Leeth, Candy Revels, Shawn Lynn and Teresa Johnston.

The production comes complete with secret passageways, sliding bookcases, hidden compartments, comics, murderers - and some very funny dialogue.

It opens Friday, Oct. 18, in the Grand Theatre of Salt Lake Community College's South City Campus (former South High School auditorium), at 1575 S. State St. It will continue on Mondays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Nov. 2, with a matinee performance on the final Saturday at 2 p.m.

Admission ranges from $4 to $8 and all seats are reserved. For tickets or group discounts call 468-4222, 468-4227 or 461-3263.

- BATTERY, playwright Daniel Therriault's comedy-drama about the struggle between two men and one woman, opens a seven-performance run at The Art Barn, 54 Finch Lane, under the auspices of Dance Theatre Coalition.

Toni Lynn Byrd is directing the play. Her cast consists of Douglas J. Caputo as Stan, Holly Claspill as Brandy and Richard Scott as Rip.

The play's title is derived not only from the physical "assault and battery" sense of the term, but could also also refer to the electrical positive/negative in relation to a balance between the brain and the heart.

Rip is the owner of an appliance repair business, and he thinks that broken emotions can be fixed just like gadgets. Brandy, his girlfriend, allows herself to be victimized, and Stan, who is Rip's apprentice, seems to be the most balanced of the three as he copes with a journey that is imposed on him.

Written in 1981 by Therriault, a former Sundance Playwrights Lab participant (1988), "Battery" has also been produced at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, as well as in Germany and in Los Angeles.

Assisting are Catherine Owens, lighting; Cory Dangerfield, scenery, and Amy Roberts, costumes.

Following the opening on Friday, "Battery" will continue on Wednesdays through Saturdays through Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. For reservations, call 328-0818.

Byrd said "Battery" contains very strong, adult language.

- IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT is an old-fashioned thriller by Tim Kelley.

The Pages Lane Theatre in Centerville will present it as a middle-of-the-week production from Oct. 15 through Nov. 21. Performances are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8 p.m. (with two shows, at 8 and 10 p.m., on Halloween night, Oct. 31).

Director Mark Silvester's cast includes Tami Silvester, Pam Stott, Susan Jenkins, Kevin Wallin, Elaine Devilla, Star Edgington, Lori Kerr, Suzanne Webb, Ray Hoffman, Alan Neilson, Mindy Saleh, Kera Hill, Mike McCallister and Sam Shanks.

First performed at the historic Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater, Mich., the play was the recipient of the Robert J. Pickering Award for Playwriting Excellence for 1988. The setting is Ye Olde Wayside Inn, an isolated Revolutionary War-era house located along the North Shore of Massachusetts. The author describes it as "a shameless spoof on those stage and film comedies of . . . the 1920s and '30s.

Admission is $6 for adults and $5 for children. For reservations, call 298-1302.

In conjunction with "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night," there will be Halloween costume parties from 10 p.m. until midnight on Saturday, Oct. 26, and Wednesday, Oct. 30, for all persons 14 years of age and up. Admission to these activities will be $10 each or $18 per couple, for both the dance and the play. The theater will also have a spook alley.

Pages Lane Theatre is located at 292 E. Pages Lane, adjacent to Dick's Market in the Pagestone Shopping Plaza.

- THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Desert Star Playhouse, 4861 S. State St., Murray, is doing overwhelming business - prompting the theater to schedule four additional performances. These will be at 9:30 p.m. on two Fridays (Oct. 18 and 25) and two Saturdays (Nov. 2 and 9), following the regular 7 p.m. performances.

For reservations, call 266-7600.

- A WOMAN OF INDEPENDENT MEANS, Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey's one-woman play about her grandmother, will open the 1991-92 Utah State Theatre season with five performances featuring TV pioneer and USU alumna Josey Barnes Wayman.

It'll be presented Tuesday through Saturday, Oct. 15-19, at 8 p.m., in the Morgan Theatre of USU's Chase Fine Arts Center.

Playwright Hailey based the work on a collection of personal letters, journal entries and correspondence spanning her grandmother's lifetime.

According to Wayman, the main character Bess is a fascinating woman whose indomitable spirit overcomes loss, trauma and the deaths of loved ones and continues to experience life's joys.

"I think everyone who sees this play will see a little of themselves in Bess - the ways our attitudes of youth change with life's hard knocks," said Wayman. "She is a woman who plans as carefully for death as for any other stage in life."

Director Sid Perkes notes that "through Bess' eyes we see the other characters of the play, who never appear on stage, but who become as real as Bess herself.

"The imagination of the audience plays a unique role in this play," Perkes said. "The text, like that of a good book, magically brings to life in our minds' eye characters we never actually meet."

"Josey found this play and brought it to my attention," the director said. "I contacted Hailey who was agreeable and gave us permission to go ahead. This is only the second production of the play - the first being Barbara Rush's in L.A. The play is in the process of being published," Perkes added.

"I read it and loved it immediately," Wayman said. "It's so well-crafted and well-written. What I enjoy most about the play is that it still makes me laugh and smile. It's funny, amusing and entertaining," Wayman concluded.

Adult admission is $6.50, senior citizen/USU faculty-staff $5.50 and USU students (and their dependents 18 and younger) with current I.D. $3.25. Credit card reservations may be made by calling 750-1657. A Season Sampler of eight discount ticket coupons good for any performance of any season production is also available.

Tickets are available at the Smith Spectrum Ticket Office and at the door.

- SOMETHING'S AFOOT is a stylish spoof on British mysteries - not as fast-paced as "The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940," but more like a 1950s style black-and-white British film.

It's being presented by the Heritage Theatre, 2505 S. Highway 89, Perry (just south of Brigham City). The plot involves 10 people being stranded in an isolated country house during a raging thunderstorm. One by one, they're picked off by a variety of increasingly fiendish devices. As the bodies pile up in the library, the shrinking ranks of survivors race to determine the identity and motivation of the culprit.

Richard Dabel is directing.

Performances are Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. from Oct. 18 through Nov. 9, with a Saturday matinee on Oct. 26 at 2 p.m. For reservations, call 723-8392.

- SCARY STORIES AND ENTERTAINMENT is the theme for Magna Community Arts Council's two nights of ghostly storytelling.

Adult storytellers from the community will entertain families on the next two Friday evenings - Oct. 18 and 25 - with spine-tingling tales.

The site is an open field at 3407 S. Centennial Road near the Lakeridge Elementary School. Judy Peterson of the arts council said the area is privately owned, but permission has been granted to erect a stage. Seating is outdoors on the lawn. Bring blankets and jackets.

Admission: $2 for adults, $1 for children or $6 per immediate family (excluding dead ancestors).

The Magna Community Arts Council sees this as an alternative to the dozens of haunted houses in the area - an evening of old-fashioned ghost stories, the kind you tell at night around the campfire.