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Ghosts of Movies Past Appear on Video

July 22, 1999|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This isn't just the summer of "The Phantom Menace" and "Austin Powers." It is also the summer for movies about things that go bump in the night. Several ghost stories are hitting the big screen these hot holiday months, including the remake of the classic "The Haunting," which opens Friday, the current release "The Blair Witch Project" and the upcoming Bruce Willis chiller "The Sixth Sense."

If those films have put you in the mood, here are some popular ghost stories of times past that are available on video.

One of the scariest ghost stories of all time is the original 1963 version of "The Haunting" (MGM, $20). Though director Robert Wise is best known for his Oscar-winning musicals "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," he cut his directing teeth on such atmospheric Val Lewton-produced horror classics as "The Body Snatcher." So he's really in his element with this truly terrifying film, which seems even more effective in black and white.

Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblyn star in the tale about a doctor doing research into ghosts, a young skeptic, an insecure psychic and a clairvoyant who arrive at a 90-year-old New England mansion that has been the location of death and insanity. Be prepared to have nightmares.

Horror-meister William Castle directed the deliciously campy 1959 horror flick "House on Haunted Hill" (Warner, $15), which is chock-a-block with laughs and thrills. Vincent Price is at his creepiest as an eccentric millionaire who invites five people to a haunted house party. He and his wife offer each $10,000 if they can make it through the night in the strange house, which has a history of murder. Tons of fun.

Bob Hope gives one of his best comedic performances in 1940's horror comedy "The Ghost Breakers" (Universal, $15) as a hyper New York radio broadcaster named Larry Lawrence. Fleeing Cuba with his butler after he believes he has killed a mobster, Larry befriends a beautiful young woman (Paulette Goddard) who has inherited her family's supposedly haunted mansion. When the two enter the house, they face zombies, ghosts and murder. Anthony Quinn also stars. It was remade as the 1953 Jerry Lewis-Dean Martin comedy "Scared Stiff."

Keep the lights on for the nail-bitingly suspenseful 1945 British anthology horror film "Dead of Night" (Republic, $15). Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer and Charles Crichton directed this classic set at a country farmhouse where various guests trade ghost stories. Michael Redgrave (the stand-out), Mervyn Johns, Sally Ann Howes and Googie Withers are among the stars.

Charles Laughton, Margaret O'Brien and Robert Young are delightful in the charming 1944 fantasy "The Canterville Ghost" (MGM, $20). Laughton plays a cowardly British noble, circa the 1600s, who escapes a duel by hiding out in his family's castle. Ashamed of such behavior, his father seals up the room he is hiding in, dooming him to be a ghost until one of the family's ancestors commits an act of bravery.

Lionel Barrymore and a pre-"Frankenstein" Boris Karloff star in "The Bells" (Kino, $20), an effective 1926 ghost story. Barrymore plays an innkeeper with money difficulties who ends up murdering a rich man staying at his inn. Barrymore's conscience, though, ends up getting the better of him and he's driven insane by the dead man's spirit. Karloff plays a traveling mesmerist--straight out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari"--who knows Barrymore's tortured secret.

"The Time of Their Lives" (Universal, $15), from 1946, is one of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's best and most unusual vehicles, about two ghosts from the Revolutionary War who haunt a country estate. Marjorie Reynolds and Gale Sondergaard also star.

France's innovative and influential director Rene Clair helmed the warm 1936 British fantasy "The Ghost Goes West" (HBO, $15). Eugene Palette plays a loud, brash, rich American who buys a castle in Scotland and then has it transported, brick by brick, to America. Unbeknown to him, the castle's 200-year-old Scottish ghost (Robert Donat) also comes along for the trip, as does the spirit's ancestor (also Donat), who is the estate's caretaker. Jean Parker and Elsa Lanchester also star.

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