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This Time, He's the Victim of the Horror

'40s 'Inner Sanctum' series casts Lon Chaney Jr. as a regular guy in scary circumstances.

August 21, 1997|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Psychological horror, classic Japanese fare, an influential film noir and sparkling romantic comedies starring one of the world's most beloved stars are among the latest oldies but definitely goodies available on video.

Universal has just released six nifty horror flicks from the "Inner Sanctum" film series of the 1940s ($15 each). Each film stars Lon Chaney Jr., who was best known for playing the Wolf Man, as well as such ghoulish fiends as Frankenstein's monster, Dracula and the Mummy.

But these low-budget programmers, based on the popular radio show, gave Chaney the chance to play a relatively normal person who is thrust into unusual, often horrible situations.

Each tape features two "Inner Sanctum" films:

In 1943's "Calling Dr. Death," Chaney plays a neurologist with an unfaithful wife who suffers a blackout. When he comes to, he learns his wife has been murdered and he's the prime suspect.

In 1944's "Strange Confession," Chaney plays a brilliant research scientist who exacts a fitting revenge on his evil boss who was responsible for the death of Chaney's young son.

"Dead Man's Eyes," from 1944, finds Chaney as a painter who is accidentally blinded when his beautiful but jealous model misplaces acid on the shelf and he uses it as eyewash.

Chaney is an attorney trapped in a bad marriage who is in love with his secretary in 1945's "Pillow of Death." Standing in the way of their happiness is the fact that Chaney has this habit of smothering people--including his wife and his girlfriend's family--with a pillow.

In 1944's "Weird Woman," Chaney is cast as a college professor who is considered such a catch on campus, that when he returns married from a South Seas trip, his former girlfriend tries to destroy him and his new wife.

"Frozen Ghost," from 1945, finds Chaney as hypnotist whose career is ruined when a volunteer dies on stage. His agent suggests he relax at his friend's place. The agent's friend, though, happens to operate a gruesome wax museum.

The latest from Anchor Bay are four vintage British-made Hammer horror films from 1966 that are being offered in the letterbox format ($15 each): "Rasputin: The Mad Monk," with Christopher Lee; "Dracula--Prince of Darkness," also with Lee; "Plague of the Zombies"; and the best of the lot, "The Reptile."

New from MGM is Robert Aldrich's powerful, influential 1955 film noir "Kiss Me Deadly" ($20), starring the underrated Ralph Meeker as Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled private eye, Mike Hammer. The crucial 82-second original ending has been restored to the film and totally alters the outcome and interpretation. The truncated finale is also included.

Home Vision is offering two films ($30 each) by the great Japanese filmmaker Kenji Mizoguchi: "Sisters of the Gion" and "The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum."

Considered Mizoguchi's finest pre-World War II film, 'Sisters of the Gion," from 1936, is beautifully filmed, exquisitely realized drama about two Geisha sisters--one traditional and one modern--who both end up being hurt by men.

Also from Home Vision is Kaneto Shindo's "Onibaba," an offbeat 1964 film about two women who kill wandering samurai, put their bodies down a hole in the ground and sell their armor and other valuables.

MVP Home Entertainment has just released three titles from the popular "Zatoichi" samurai series in the letterbox format ($20 each): "The Blind Swordsman's Vengeance," "Masseur Ichi and a Chest of Gold" and "Fight Zatoichi Fight." The late Shintaro Katsu plays the blind swordsman.

For the non-discerning Western fans, there are three new titles from Columbia TriStar ($15): "Hangman's Knot," with Randolph Scott; "Blazing Across the Pecos," with Charles Starrett as the Durango Kid; and "Bonanza Town," with Starrett.

Columbia TriStar also has remastered the disappointing, lifeless 1982 musical "Annie" ($20). John Huston seemed out of his element directing this sunny kids' flick based on the hit Broadway play and the famed comic strip. Albert Finney, Carol Burnett and Aileen Quinn, as the plucky orphan, star.

If you love Cary Grant--and who doesn't?--there's Republic's "Cary Grant Collection" ($20 each), which features remastered versions of six of his most popular films: 1962's "That Touch of Mink"; 1964's "Father Goose"; 1959's "Operation Petticoat"; 1958's "Indiscreet"; 1941's "Penny Serenade" and 1960's "The Grass Is Greener." Purists can buy "Mink," "Grass," "Father Goose" and "Indiscreet" in the letterbox format.

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