on TV and video
October 15, 1998
By Franklin Harris
So, do you like scary movies?
Halloween is just a few weeks away, and Halloween wouldn't be Halloween without scary movies.
As usual, several cable TV channels are filling their October schedules with horror films, classic and modern. The American Movie Classics star of the month is Bela Lugosi. Meanwhile, AMC's rival, Turner Classic Movies, is screening Universal Studios' horror films every weekend. TCM's featured films include Lugosi's "Dracula" (1931), "The Wolf Man" (1941), "Frankenstein" (1931) and "The Bride of Frankenstein" (1935).
TCM's line-up also features a 1998 documentary on Universal's monster movies.
The Sci-Fi Channel's horror-related theme weeks this month include Mummy Week and Dracula Week.
In addition to the Lugosi version, Dracula Week features the overlooked 1979 "Dracula" starring Frank Langella and three of Britain's Hammer Films efforts: "Dracula has Risen from the Grave," "Taste the Blood of Dracula" and "Brides of Dracula."
Dracula Week begins Oct. 26.
Of the Hammer films, "Brides" (1960) is the best. Ironically, it is also the only one not to star Christopher Lee as Dracula. In fact, despite the title, Dracula isn't in the movie at all. Instead, David Peel makes the vampiric turn as the villainous Baron Meinster.
The main attraction of "Brides" is Peter Cushing, a Hammer Films regular whose best-known (if not best) role was Grand Moff Tarkin in "Star Wars."
Cushing's relentless Van Helsing is the cinema's greatest vampire slayer -- even if he isn't as cute as Buffy.
Horror also is resurgent on video.
Anchor Bay has been releasing the classic Hammer horror films in pristine, widescreen, digitally mastered versions for over a year.
The best of the Anchor Bay releases is 1965's "Dracula: Prince of Darkness," starring Lee and the classiest of Hammer's cleavage-bearing screamers, Barbara Shelley.
Funny story about "Dracula: Prince of Darkness": After reading the script for the film, Lee deemed Dracula's lines to be beneath the character's dignity. So, he agreed to do the movie only on the condition that Dracula remain mute throughout.
The result is so surprisingly effective that you can watch the film and come away not having realized that Dracula never speaks. Lee's performance is dynamic and powerful. His sheer presence carries the film.
The movie's only fault is Cushing's absence. In his stead is an amiable, vampire-hunting priest played with gusto by Andrew Kier.
Kier and Shelley team up again for a very different Hammer entry, also available from Anchor Bay.
"Quatermass and the Pit" (1967) is an odd, stylish, brilliant film. Imagine the spawn of a torrid affair between "Doctor Who" and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and you'll have some idea what "Quatermass and the Pit" is like. Like "Alien" and "Event Horizon," it's horror with a sci-fi spin.
Professor Bernard Quatermass stumbles upon the corpses of giant, insectoid extraterrestrials buried within the London Underground. When the mystery of the corpses is solved, the real horror ensues.
You will, however, have to excuse some rather lame special effects. The flashback scenes of the live aliens are only one step above the sort of man-in-a-rubber-suit effects "Doctor Who" viewers know and love.
The British seem to have a problem with convincing effects -- even when stingy BBC controllers aren't holding the purse strings.
The newest Hammer re-releases include "Frankenstein Created Woman" starring Cushing and "Plague of the Zombies."
Anchor Bay -- and, no, I'm not on their payroll; I simply appreciate a company that goes to great lengths to release quality, widescreen editions of genre films -- has also released quite a few noteworthy, non-Hammer horror movies.
Sam Rami's low-budget gorefest, "The Evil Dead," is finally available again. Although its sequels, "Evil Dead 2" and "Army of Darkness," leaven the shock with humor, the original is just plain scary.
Also new is a 20th anniversary edition of John Carpenter's "Halloween." The two-tape set includes behind-the-scenes footage.
So, if you like scary movies, you're in luck.
Just don't watch them alone.