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Scary movies
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October 26, 2000
By Franklin Harris

If there aren't enough horror movies on television to get you into a Halloween mood -- see last week's column, and shame on you if you didn't save it -- never fear. There're are plenty of scares awaiting you at the video store.

Before you head to the theaters for the "Blair Witch Project" sequel, "Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2," you might want to have a look at the TV special that started it all: "Curse of the Blair Witch."

First aired in the Sci-Fi Channel, "Curse of the Blair Witch" was a promotional special for the first movie. Taking a documentary-style format and treating "The Blair Witch Project" as reality, not fiction, "Curse" updates the case of the movie's missing stars, Heather, Mike and Josh, and delves deep into the lore of the Blair Witch.

"Curse" is actually cleverer and more entertaining than the movie it means to advertise. It is a near flawless copy of TV shows about the paranormal, like "Sightings" and "Unsolved Mysteries."

It gives us commentary from "historians" about the "true" story of the witch, local TV news footage about the "disappearance" of the three college students and interviews with Heather's, Mike's and Josh's friends and family. It even features "archival footage" of a phony '70s TV show, clearly based on the real-life program "In Search Of," hosted by Leonard Nimoy.

But if you're in the mood for scares of an older vintage, you can't go wrong with "The Haunting."

Not director Jan "Twister" DeBont's loud, expensive and dreadful remake from last year, but the original, released in 1963, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn.

Widely and justly regarded as the best haunted-house movie ever made, Wise's adaptation of Shirley Jackson's novel "The Haunting of Hill House" holds up well against its modern, special-effects-laden counterparts. Wise uses sounds and shadows to suggest the horrors that lurk around the corner without actually showing them. And the result is a lot scarier than a bunch of computer-generated spooks.

If you can, catch the widescreen version Turner Classic Movies often shows. That's the only way to appreciate the gothic gloom of Hill House. But if TCM isn't accommodating, the pan-and-scan version available on home video will do in a pinch.

Of course, if you don't think "The Haunting" is frightening enough, you could always try Italian director Dario Argento's masterpiece, "Suspiria."

Jessica Harper stars as an American ballet student staying at a residential dance school in Europe. But even before gets settled in, things begin to go awry.

An unforgettably horrific double murder starts things off, and Harper's character soon finds that her school is secretly home to a coven of witches. And these witches would eat that wimpy Blair Witch's entrails for breakfast without a second thought.

All of Argento's films have a dreamlike quality to them, and "Suspiria" is no exception. The alternately sprightly and thundering score by the German industrial band Goblin only adds to the nightmarish quality of it all.

Another good bet from Europe is Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of "Nosferatu," starring Klaus Kinski as the spidery Court Dracula and Isabelle Adjani as the woman of his dreams.

Herzog's version is as languid and poetic as F.W. Murnau's silent original is stark. But that doesn't keep it from being creepy and disturbing in its own way, especially when you have Kinski -- who was scary enough in real life -- underneath the Count's repulsive makeup.

This Dracula is no suave gentleman. He is a creepy, undead corpse.

Lastly, MGM has finally re-released John Carpenter's out-of-print zombie flick, "The Fog" on home video.

Jamie Lee Curtis (who first worked with Carpenter in "Halloween") joins Adrienne Barbeau in helping a seaside village fend off menacing zombies from a sunken shipwreck. They're joined by the local priest, played by Hal Holbrook.

Although many regard "The Fog" as one of Carpenter's lesser films, it effectively draws upon the imagery of earlier zombie movies, in particular Amando de Ossorio's "Blind Dead" films, the first two of which, "Tombs of the Blind Dead" and "Return of the Blind Dead," are also available on home video.

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