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Sounding Out a Few Vintage Horror Classics

Silent thrillers--one starring Houdini as an agile sleuth--and modern cult favorites come to video.


Silents are golden this Halloween with the video debuts of two silent serials perfect for a scary night's viewing.

Available for the first time on video in the U.S. is Louis Feuillade's complete 10-part, seven-hour 1915 horror masterpiece, "Les Vampires" (Water Bearer Films, $100).

Two-time Emmy winner David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates, who has restored "The Art of Buster Keaton" and the recent eight-volume "Slapstick Encyclopedia" for Kino on Video, did the beautiful restoration job on the thriller.

Shepard has reintroduced elements unavailable since the film's initial release, including full-color re-tinting. Each episode includes the originally intended tinting--night exteriors are in blue; night interiors in amber; and day exteriors are in green. All the title cards are in correct period idiomatic English and have been re-created with fonts used by the original French production company.

Each episode has been digitally re-speeded for visual correction, meaning that the installments have been returned to their original running time. The episodes also feature authentic, full-orchestral scoring featuring selected vintage music compiled and directed by Robert Israel.

"Les Vampires" is a delicious tongue-in-cheek thriller about a vicious criminal gang of brilliant and bloodthirsty thieves. The thieves are led by the electrifying Irma Vep (played by the terrific Musidora). Her name, of course, is an anagram for "vampire."

Though usually doing her dirty deeds wearing a black silk bodysuit and hood, Irma Vep also happens to be the master of disguise--appearing as a boy, a maid, a stenographer and a spinster. Like a real vampire, Irma is feared and desired by her victims, compadres and stalkers.

Out to stop the vampires are crusading journalist Phillipe Guerande and his comic sidekick, Mazamette.

Feuillade shot each episode on the fly in the streets and the back alleys of Paris. The scripts were also improvised. Though it was an enormous commercial success, Paris' chief of police temporarily banned it because he felt it glamorized the criminal world.

To order, call (800) 551-8304.

Everyone has heard of a "whodunit." But the 1918 serial "The Master Mystery" is quite literally a "Houdini." Legendary escape artist and master magician Harry Houdini stars in this entertaining thriller penned by Arthur B. Reeve and Charles L. Logue and directed by Burton King.

Edited from the original 15-chapter serial, this three-hour special edition features a full musical score and editorial notes about the production.

"Master Mystery" is splendid fun, and Houdini acquits himself quite nicely as a Justice Department agent named Quentin Locke, who finds himself in danger when he investigates a powerful cartel protected by a large tin robot called an Automaton and a gas weapon labeled the Madagascar Madness, which turns its victims into laughing fools.

Each episode, naturally, ends with a cliffhanger in which Houdini must extricate himself from chains, boxes, straitjackets and even an electric chair.

For more information or to order, call (310) 275-3194.

For those who like their Halloween flicks gory and with sound, Anchor Bay has just released three special video editions of John Carpenter's 1978 horror classic "Halloween." The first edition ($25) includes the film and a commemorative T-shirt. The snow globe edition ($30) includes a snow globe in which fake blood rains down instead of snow. And a numbered limited edition ($30) includes interviews and a 16-page booklet of production stills and other photos.

And if "Halloween" isn't gory enough for you, Anchor Bay also has a restored special edition of Sam Raimi's truly gross 1983 cult fave, "The Evil Dead" ($15). Bruce Campbell stars. Not for the faint of heart or stomach.

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