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xx Wednesday, October 27, 1999

Halloween Movie Picks

A comprehensive look at supernatural thrillers that will scare you (or won't) come Halloween time

By JOHN POWELL -- Jam! Showbiz

Whether it's around a roaring campfire or in the comfort of their own homes with the lights dimmed, people still love a good ghost story.

The success of this year's sleeper hit The Sixth Sense proves that our fascination with life after death and the spirit world remains strong even in this progressive age of the cell phone, fax machine and the Internet.

If the Sixth Sense peaked your curiosity then we submit to you a list of the more common and popular spook-tacular flicks haunting the shelves of your local video store.


1. THE HAUNTING (1963)


Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn
Directed By: Robert Wise
Video Company: MGM / United Artists Home Video
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Review: Long regarded as the best supernatural thriller ever made. Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), a psychic ghostbuster, probes the strange goings-on at a mansion with a very sorted and savage past. Robert Wise's direction furnishes the film with an eerie chill that freezes the blood cold. Based on Shirley Jackson's unforgettable novel - The Haunting Of Hill House.


2. CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962)


Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison and Stan Levitt
Directed By: Herk Harvey
Video Company: Rhino Home Video
Running Time: 80 minutes
Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Review: The inspiration for Romero's Night Of The Living Dead, Carnival Of Souls is creepier than a spider crawling up your arm in the dead of night. Mary Henry (Candace Hilligoss) survives a horrifying car accident only to be tailed by a horrifying specter. As claustrophobic an experience as being gagged and buried alive. Wes Craven's 1998 remake sucked ectoplasm.


3. HOUSE (1986)


Starring: William Katt, George Wendt, Richard Moll, Kay Lenz and Mary Stavin
Directed By: Steve Miner
Video Company: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Review: The creative force behind Friday The 13th parts 2 and 3, team-up once again but this time out they have an actual screenplay to work with not just a list of deadhead victims to exterminate. The boyishly charming William Katt (from TV's short-lived Greatest American Hero series) is horror writer Roger Cobb, a Vietnam War veteran unable to come to terms with his past. Emotionally scarred by the mysterious disappearance of his young son and the suicide of his aunt, Cobb buys his aunt's home so he can pound out his war memoirs. The mansion's spectral inhabitants play Russian Roulette with our hero's already fractured mind. George Wendt (Norm on Cheers) and Richard Moll (Night Court's Bull) round out the cast of unemployed television stars looking for work. A clever mix of horror and dark comedy.


4. THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)


Starring: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace-Stone and Jake Busey
Directed By: Peter Jackson
Video Company: Universal Pictures Home Video
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review: Is it any wonder that New Zealand director Peter Jackson assembled some of the most off-beat and original horror films (Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, Braindead) in the last twenty years? His birthday falls on Halloween. Nuff said. Going Hollywood, Jackson paired up with producer - director Robert Zemeckis to create this gory and unusual shocker. Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), a con man - ghost hunter with three phantoms in his employ, confronts the real scythe-wielding Grim Reaper who's slicing into more fresh meat than Julia Child ever has. Ghostbusters meets The Evil Dead.


5. THE FOG (1980)


Starring: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Houseman and Tom Atkins
Directed By: John Carpenter
Video Company: Paramount Home Video
Running Time: 91 minutes
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review: John Carpenter's atmospheric showpiece set in the seaside town of Antonio Bay. A peculiar fog rolls into town bringing with it furious apparitions pitching a fit over a past wrong. Needless to say, they take their pound of flesh in more ways than one. Then Scream Queen - Jamie Lee Curtis and her mom - Janet Leigh - star. Batten down the hatches.


6. THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1958)


Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Alan Marshal, Carolyn Craig and Elisha Cook Jr
Directed By: William Castle
Video Company: Warner Brothers Home Video
Running Time: 75 minutes
Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review: Campy fright fest starring the incomparable Vincent Price as a rich snot hosting a diabolical contest. Price offers his hand-picked guests $10,000 if they can survive the night in his haunted house. William Castle, the P.T. Barnum of filmmaking in his day, rigged special props (skeletons and ghosts on cables) in theatres to scare the bejesus out of the audience when the film had its theatrical release. Talk about your 3-D film experience! More fun than rolling youngsters for their candy on Halloween night.


7. TURN THE SCREW (1992)


Starring: Patsy Kensit, Stephane Audran, Julian Sands and Marianne Faithfull
Directed By: Rusty Lemorande
Video Company: Live Home Video
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review: In a therapy session, Marianne Faithful relates the story of a naive nanny (Patsy Kensit) babysitting two orphan children on a sprawling estate. Neither are Rosemary's Baby yet the little tykes are acting mighty weird. Maybe it's an evil phantasm controlling their actions or it could be that the kids are watching way too much Xena, Warrior Princess. Potent and stylish update of the Henry James novella.


8. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)


Starring: Peter Bowles, Roland Culver, Pamela Franklin, Michael Gough, Gayle Hunnicutt and Roddy McDowall
Directed By: John Hough
Video Company: CBS - Fox Home Video
Running Time: 95 minutes
Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review: You'd think with a name like Hell House people would stay the heck out of there. You'd think that since whatever is in the house killed eight investigators people would leave well enough alone. No way, Jose. Humans never learn. Paid to find evidence of an unearthly phenomenon, a new team of supernatural experts pokes around and suffers the consequences. Richard Matheson adapted his own chilling novel (simply titled Hell House) for the screen.


9. GHOSTBUSTERS (1984)


Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Annie Potts
Directed By: Ivan Reitman
Video Company: Columbia Tristar Home Video
Running Time: 107 minutes
Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review: Bloated eighties blockbuster that incites more giggles than scares. Aykroyd, Murray and Ramis are high-tech spook stalkers defending Manhattan against a sudden paranormal invasion. Vibrant eye candy without any bite as the comedy subdues the horror. Ray Parker Jr.'s maddening theme song has been known to drive even the most placid personalities into fits of uncontrollable rage.


10. POLTERGEIST (1982)


Starring: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins and Heather O'Rourke
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Video Company: MGM - United Artists Home Video
Running Time: 114 minutes
Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review: Poltergeist might've raised some goosebumps if it weren't for the irritating kids, the usual sickeningly cute Spielberg elements (he wrote the screenplay), special effects that wouldn't scare your grandma (except for a gory self-mutilation scene) and a plot as thin as Ally McBeal's Calista Flockhart. The man with one facial expression - Craig T. Nelson (TV's Coach) - builds a pool for his annoying family and in the process disturbs the resting place of some malicious spirits. Ghosts travel through the family's television set? A killer oak tree attacks? Toys assault the children? Why do I feel like shouting "Scooby Doo, where are you?" at the top of my lungs. Tobe Hooper should've stuck with Chainsaw Massacres.


11. THE SHINING (1980)


Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Video Company: Warner Brothers Home Video
Running Time: 146 minutes
Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Review: Stanley Kubrick butchers a perfectly good story by Stephen King. What was supposed to be the twisted tale of a haunted hotel slowly driving a level-headed man to turn on his family becomes another slasher film in the hands of Kubrick. Kubrick misses the whole point of the book, miscasts the two principle characters (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as Jack and Wendy Torrance) tacks on a preposterous ending and has child actor Danny Lloyd absurdly talking to his index finger to symbolize an imaginary friend. You're better off getting your hands on a copy of the television mini-series which a disgruntled King produced or read the book instead. Kubrick and Duvall won well-deserved Razzie Awards for this mess in 1981.


12. THE CHANGELING (1980)


Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas, Jean Marsh , John Colicos and Barry Morse
Directed By: Peter Medak
Video Company: HBO Home Video
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Review: Blubberguts George C. Scott plays a composer whose wife and daughter are ground into roadkill during a tragic car accident. Depressed, Scott rents an old house so he can create his music in peace. No such luck. Rubber balls bounce down the stairs on their own. A rocking chair weeble- wobbles in the still of the night. Wooo! Scary! Only by investigating the history of the house does Scott reveal its sinister secret. Canadian flick produced by disgraced theatre magnate, Garth Drabinsky. Director Peter Medak went on to lens such respectable projects as Let Him Have It (1991) and The Krays (1990). Scott did crabby better than anyone in film today