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'60s horror classics return
on video for Halloween


October 11, 2001
By Franklin Harris

There is a chill in the air. The leaves are falling from the trees. And ghosts and goblins are getting ready for their big night out.

That must mean it's time for my annual list of horror movie recommendations.

First, the Nicole Kidman sleeper hit "The Others" is still in theaters, so there is no excuse for not seeing it. It's a good, old-fashioned ghost story, perfect for putting you in a Halloween mood.

Also, opening on Oct. 19 is the latest Jack the Ripper movie, "From Hell," based loosely on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. The source material is excellent, and even if the movie fails to measure up, it should be worthwhile for Johnny Depp's starring performance alone.

Between "From Hell" and roles in "Sleepy Hollow" and "The Ninth Gate," Depp is becoming adept at sophisticated, gothic horror. He may well be his generation's Peter Cushing.

The graphic novel is available at comic book shops and from the publisher, Top Shelf Comics, www.topshelfcomix.com.

Now, on to the video shelf.

MGM has done horror aficionados a great service with its new Midnite Movies collection, which includes several classics restored to their original glory.

First up is "Planet of the Vampires," directed by Italian horror master Mario Bava and starring Barry Sullivan.

Bava filmed "Planet" in 1965, and the special effects are reminiscent of the original "Star Trek." Nevertheless, Bava, a respected cinematographer before he turned to directing, creates a chilling atmosphere. It's easy to see how "Planet of the Vampires" went on to inspire films like "Alien."

Sullivan commands a space ship answering a distress call from a rocky, hellish planet. His rescue team finds only a ship full of corpses, and soon his own crew begins disappearing one by one.

It's a familiar plot because Bava helped set the standard for subsequent filmmakers. But it is still worth a look, because Bava has rarely been surpassed.

Two other new MGM releases are perhaps more familiar.

In the '60s, two men were responsible for reviving gothic horror in America: Roger Corman and Vincent Price. Their series of films, based loosely on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, stand as masterpieces today.

Corman's first Poe film is "The Fall of the House of Usher," starring Price as the tormented Roderick Usher, the last male descendent of a family accursed for its evil deeds.

Roderick wants nothing more than for his family to die out, but a young man (Mark Damon) with intentions of marrying Roderick's sister (Myrna Fahey) complicates matters.

Then, in "The Pit and the Pendulum," Price, playing the son of a Spanish Inquisitor, is driven to madness by his unfaithful wife and her scheming lover.

"The Pit and the Pendulum" features a wonderful supporting performance by Barbara Steel, who became a horror icon in Bava's "Black Sunday."

As always, Price is a joy to watch. His performances manage the impossible, coming across as both subtle and hammy. And both films sport screenplays by Richard Matheson, writer of most of the best "Twilight Zone" episodes as well as the film "Somewhere In Time" and the post-apocalyptic vampire novel "I Am Legend."

Now if only MGM would get around to releasing the two best Poe films, "Masque of the Red Death" and "Tomb of Ligea."

Animation fans shouldn't feel left out. Urban Vision has re-released the Japanese horror classic, "Vampire Hunter D."

This futuristic spaghetti western with vampires follows a mysterious man known only as D as he tries to eradicate a clan of undead nobles.

Lastly, Anchor Bay Entertainment has released the campy horror spoof "Elvira: Mistress of the Dark," on VHS and DVD.

B-movie hostess with the mostess Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) inherits her great aunt's haunted house in New England and meets up with modern-day Puritans, who are eager for a good stake out, if you know what I mean.

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