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October 26, 1999
HOW TO OUTSMART HALLOWEEN CROWDS AT THE VIDEO STORE
By ROGER ANDERSON Scripps Howard News Service
Here it is, Halloween night. Since you're a little too old to go out trick-or-treating, what's on the agenda? A movie, of course. So you pop down to the video store to pick up a copy of "Psycho," or maybe the 1931 "Dracula,” or the original "Frankenstein." Or, hey, maybe "Interview with the Vampire" ...
Excuse us while we laugh ourselves silly.
What? You think you can waltz into a video store on the evening of Oct. 31 and pick up one of those scary-movie classics? Keep dreaming - all copies have been gone for hours and won't be back in stock till tomorrow at the very earliest.
Here you are, wandering disconsolately among the racks. "Exorcist,' nope. 'Exorcist II," nope. "Exorcist III," not even. "The Omen" is gone, “Carrie” has vanished, “The Shining" has winked out, "Bram Stroker's Dracula” sleeps with the fishes.
So here's what you do. Never mind scary, depressing movies of the sort that everyone wants to rent for Halloween night. Instead, go rent a scary, depressing movie that outwardly has nothing whatsoever to do with Halloween. Here are a few suggestions.
- SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943): This is Alfred Hitchcock at his peak, a good decade and a half before the more obvious and bloody "Psycho" (1960) - and it's Hitch at his hairiest. Joseph Cotton is a beloved uncle who returns to the town of Santa Rosa, Calif., to the great delight of his darling niece, who gradually comes to the rather distressing realization that Uncle Charlie is in fact a serial killer. David Lynch could (and probably did) take a lesson from this one about the creepiness that underlies idyllic, small-town America.
- THE STEPFATHER (1986): Like "Shadow of a Doubt," this movie brings home a rather provocative truth - namely, that the most frightening thing of all is YOUR FAMILY. Here, a crazed serial killer who seems perfectly ordinary wins the confidence of a single mom and marries her, only to await the moment when he'll slaughter everyone in the house, just as he's done before. The film's great innovation is the employment of blunt-force trauma as a dramatic device - there's no end of people getting offed by blows from two-by-fours and telephone receivers, with an appalling "TRUNK" on the soundtrack. A word of advice, however: If you have kids, and if you just married a man they don't know very well, rent something else.
- THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955): Not only is it as scary as the night is long, with Robert Mitchum as a preacher who goes around killing people, but it's widely recognized by cineastes as a great film - the only one written by ace movie critic James Agee and directed by ace overweight actor Charles Laughton. No less a founding personality of cinema than Lillian Gish co-stars. The camerawork and the atmosphere are out of this world.
- RETURN TO OZ (1985): Dorothy busts out of the mental asylum her aunt and uncle committed her to after her previous psychotic episode and goes back to Oz to challenge the gnome king on his own turf. Roundly trashed as way too grim when it was first released, the film has gained a following among those who recognize that L. Frank Baum's creation does leave some room for fright. (People made out of rags, clockwork and tin? AAGGGHHHH!)
- THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957): Ingmar Bergman movies are, in a sense, tailor-made for Halloween, being filled to overflowing with doom and dread. This one not only has lots of doom and a busload of dread, it's set in medieval Europe and is rife with crusaders, flagellants, people getting burned at the stake and a disillusioned knight (Max von Sydow) who spends a lot of his time playing chess with Death. Be the first on your block to watch a black-and-white Swedish movie, with English subtitles, for Halloween!
- DARK CITY (1999): We're cheating here a bit, because this movie just might be deemed perfectly appropriate for Halloween. But we can't resist, in part because it's a recent movie that never got its due, and because it's absolutely irresistible. As the title implies, it's nothing but wall-to-wall atmosphere - shadowy cabarets, sleepy automats, dim-lit, resonant police stations, etc. The story? It's exactly the same as "The Matrix" and "The 13th Floor" - hero grapples with virtual world where anything goes - but it's the best of the lot. And it's scary.
- THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984): Again, we cheat - but this forgotten first film by Neil Jordan ("Mona Lisa," "Interview with the Vampire”) is a Freudian, surrealistic take on the Little Red Riding Hood story that's almost too rich and provocative to be true. With Angela Landsbury as the granny. Audioanimatronic wolves a bonus.
- A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1952): Hey, it's a ghost story, remember? From beginning to end, you've got ghosts dragging chains, visions of death, yawning cemeteries and general terror. Here's what you do: Rent this tonight, and get “Eraserhead" for Christmas Eve.
Roger Anderson is arts and entertainment editor at Scripps Howard News
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