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Knight at the Movies: Halloween at the movies
by Richard Knight, Jr., for Windy City Times

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Halloween at the movies

It's a well-known fact that Halloween is the second most popular holiday, with retail revenues in the $2.5-billion range—a figure that doesn't include the plethora of choices for moviegoers. For fans of the horror genre, there's no dearth of options this witching season, whether it be at home or at the local Cineplex. An overview of haunted movie happenings this season:

In theaters

The "found footage" craze—which The Blair Witch Project popularized a decade ago and other films like Cloverfield capitalized on—is part of the schtick in Sinister, which finds Ethan Hawke back in horror territory after his hit 2010 vampire flick Daybreakers. In true Amityville Horror fashion, Hawke plays a true crime writer who moves his family into a home of a recently murdered family. In the attic, he finds a box of old Super 8 films that, when viewed, kick the psychic happenings into hyperdrive.

Paranormal Activity 4 derives from another "found footage" megahit with this third sequel finding the series' original star, Kate Featherston, once again headlining. It opens this Friday. Silent Hill: Revelation 3D is another sequel—of sorts—to the 2006 original, both derived from a video-game series (with many more incarnations) that is set in the fictional title town—a place that acts as a cover for lots of evil happenings thanks to a doorway to another dimension. The 2006 film was confusing as hell but its nightmarish visuals were just as striking, sparking my curiosity about this new movie that is being released Oct. 28.

There are two area one-night-only cinematic scarefests worth noting. The first is the return of horror entrepreneur Rusty Nails' The Massacre: 24 Hours of Horror Movie Madness, which commences Saturday, Oct. 20, at noon at the Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave. The line-up includes 16 features, an assortment of trailers and short films, along with vendor tables, a zombie make-up table and special guests (Linnea Quigley, star of 1985's Return of the Living Dead and Spider Baby director Jack Hill).

The films include everything from silent fare to movies such as the Karloff-Lugosi S&M/homoerotic 1931 curio The Black Cat (which includes gay actor David Manners as its young heartthrob lead), Curse of the Werewolf (a Hammer horror classic), The Witchfinder General (with Vincent Price) and the 2009 Norwegian Nazi zombie black-comedy gorefest Dead Snow. There are also several interesting sequels: Phantasm II, Halloween II, Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and one of my personal favorites, John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Vital Bridges. Complete line-up and advance tickets available at

The second one-night-only special event is NCM Fathom Events, TCM and Universal's Wed., Oct. 24, double-feature screening of queer director James Whales's 1931 monster classic Frankenstein and its superior 1935 sequel Bride of Frankenstein, both to celebrate the release of the films on Blu-ray as part of Universal's classic monster movie box set. The screening will begin at 7 p.m. with a filmed interview segment that TCM host Robert Osborne will conduct with Boris Karloff's daughter, Sarah; Bela Lugosi, Jr.; and special effects makeup wizard Rick Baker.

Home video

Bare bones to lavish, feature-stuffed editions of Tim Burton's campy reimagining of the 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows are now available. Although the film wasn't exactly his best collaboration with Johnny Depp—who takes on the role of the forlorn vampire Barnabas Collins from the original's Jonathan Frid (who made a cameo in the film just months before his death)—Burton's stylish, dark visual palette is tremendous (as usual), and that's reason enough to see the film.

Even though the up-and-down tone of Seth Grahame-Smith's script veers between a traditional frightmare and low-grade comedy (based on the 1972 time period), the film never congeals and finally bogs down with too many plot strands tossed in for good measure. Michelle Pfeiffer, among others, is also sorely underused. Frid and other original members of the TV show shot a condensed film version of the soap titled House of Dark Shadows in 1970 during their summer break. The movie was a big enough hit for MGM to order 1971's Night of Dark Shadows, which utilized cast members and characters from the series but focused on spirit possession (thanks to nasty witch Angelique) rather than rogue vampires—but wasn't nearly as successful. Both are coming to Blu-ray/DVD for the first time Tuesday, Oct. 30.

That same day the Criterion Collection releases its spectacular new version of Roman Polanski's 1968 movie Rosemary's Baby (which the director approved). Mia Farrow stars as the hapless Manhattan housewife who slowly realizes that her unborn child is in danger from a coven of witches living in the apartment next door. The release boasts a host of newly created special features, including new interviews with both Polanski and Farrow as well as a full-length vintage documentary on the film's score composer, Krzysztof Komeda, who tragically died within a few years of the making of the movie.

Other recent releases worth noting include Cabin in the Woods, the loving and very clever tribute to the black-comedy gorefests of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series; the visually gorgeous Prometheus, Ridley Scott's prequel to his sci-fi horror classic Alien; John Cusack as Edgar Allan Poe, mystery writer-turned-serial-killer pursuer (with gay actor Luke Evans as his sidekick) in The Raven; the silly guilty pleasure Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter; and collector's editions of the 1980 slasher picture Terror Train and Tobe Hooper's 1981 oddity The Funhouse.

Of particular interest is 2011's Munger Road, a production with Chicago-area actors that was shot and produced locally; it is the first-time feature from Columbia College graduate Nick Smith. An urban legend involving a set of train tracks and a dark country road is the jumping-off point for a well-crafted horror thriller (starring veteran character actor Bruce Davison) that relies on atmosphere over gore. Smith throws in elements of a lot of other movies; while not all of them ultimately fit together, this is an admirable first effort worth checking out.

Still want more? In addition to a plethora of cable stations running a bevy of scary movies (with more available for a price OnDemand), the return of two horror-based TV shows on the horizon are worth enthusing over: the second season of Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story (titled American Horror Story: Asylum), which kicks off tonight, while season three of the hit "zombie apocalypse" series The Walking Dead returned Oct. 14.

Of related interest: British director Julian Jarrold's The Girl, which debuts Oct. 20 on HBO, details the Svengali relationship suspense director Alfred Hitchcock (Toby Jones) had with discovery Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller), whom he handpicked to star in The Birds and, later, Marnie. Imelda Staunton plays Hitchcock's wife and creative consultant, Alma, while Downton Abbey's Penelope Wilton plays the master of suspense's secretary.

The movie's rather dry tone, considering the juicy material at hand—which focuses on Hitch's sexual and otherwise rather strange harassment of Hedren—is a bit of a letdown, as is the miscasting of Miller, who never captures Hedren's innate graciousness or sweetness. But for the uninitiated, the movie will be an eye-opener and provide insight into Hitchcock's rather odd proclivities—and whet the appetite for the forthcoming Blu-ray boxed set from Universal that features his movies.

Check out my archived reviews at or . Readers can leave feedback at the latter website.

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