By Rob Reuteman, special to CNBC
NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- Whether you took in a screening of "Scream 4" this year, visited a haunted house this month, or bought a zombie Halloween costume, you're a customer in the "business of fear." Yes, people continue to pay good money to get scared out of their wits. Broaden the customer base to include extreme sports enthusiasts. Mix in sedate readers of Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Charlaine Harris, and you're talking about tens of millions of Americans plunking down billions of dollars annually. "A lot of people like to be scared," says Paul Dergarabedian, a Hollywood.com box-office analyst. "It's one of the most basic emotions people have."
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Seven of 10 Americans -- 161 million people -- plan to celebrate Halloween this year, spending an average of $72.31 on decorations, costumes and candy, according to a National Retail Federation survey. Once you tally spending for parties, visits to a haunted house, pumpkin carving -- even pet costumes -- total Halloween spending is expected to reach $6.86 billion, tops for a non gift-giving holiday. Per-person spending on Halloween has increased every year but one since 2004, when the average was $41, said Kathy Grannis, NRF's director of media relations. "There's a large belief that it's become so popular because it's no longer seen as a children's holiday," says Grannis. "Fifteen years ago, the adult costume selection was very limited, often just a black plastic trash bag."