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First tastes of Halloween, reheated

In David Cronenberg's magnificently icky The Fly (just issued as a 2-disc Collector's Edition by 20th Century Fox), a scientist invents a transporting machine intended to zap a person in one location and replicate him in another. When he tests the device, of course, the teleported version of himself is altered horrifically. The film, which both reimagined a 1958 film and inspired a sequel of its own (1989's The Fly II, also fresh out on disc), is an example of what can go right when a horror classic is reinterpreted for a new era.

The new-release list is full of such Halloween-geared ventures this month, ranging from remakes that are only tenuously related to their inspirations - 1962's The Cabinet of Caligari (Fox), in which the German expressionist classic is retooled as a more conventional "car breaks down outside town, girl seeks shelter in spooky house" thriller - to a meta-to-the-Nth title such as Scary Movie 3.5 (Dimension), which (try to follow me here) is a DVD reworking of a sequel (SM3) to a sequel (SM2) to a spoof (Scary Movie) of a genre spawned by a satire (Scream) of '80s horror movies, which were themselves spawned by ... wait. I think we've given Scary Movie 3.5 more than its scholarly due.

More interesting to many contemporary cinephiles is the appropriation of the Asian horror-film phenomenon by mainstream Hollywood. Dreamworks is letting consumers judge one against the other, timing the release of the Unrated The Ring Two with their Ringu Anthology of Terror. That may sound like a short-lived TV show, but it's actually a four-film collection of the Japanese films that inspired the Naomi Watts remakes. Drawn from novels by Koji Suzuki, the series (with the exception of Ringu 0, a 30-years-ago prequel) follows actress Miki Nakatani through her adventures with the home-video experience from hell.

In an uncommon move for Hollywood, Ringu director Hideo Nakata was allowed to direct the second installment of the American franchise. Cult hero Sam Raimi got to remake his own work as well, back when he shot Evil Dead 2, a comic version of his original Evil Dead. Anchor Bay set a new high mark for creative disc packaging with their 2002 edition of the first film, and they've one-upped themselves for the sequel, with Book of the Dead 2. ED2 is housed here not only in a gruesome, 3-D latex sculpture of the film's spell-casting tome; this time around, the package lets out a blood-curdling scream when you poke its eye. Yeah, yeah, there's also a commentary track and documentaries on the DVD - but let's not pretend they're the main attraction here. Cult followers of Dead's Bruce Campbell (and they are legion) can also pick up the new Man With the Screaming Brain (Anchor Bay), which not only stars but was written and directed by the king of B-horror cinema.

Heading the other direction in remake-land, moviegoers excited by the new version of The Fog may want to check out MGM's release of John Carpenter's original, which stars '80s scream queens Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau alongside Psycho star (and Curtis mom) Janet Leigh.

Literal remakes aside, there are certain Halloween icons who just refuse to die, no matter how you dissect the official versions of their stories. Witness the 2004 version of Frankenstein (Lions Gate), directed by the guy who remade Texas Chainsaw Massacre and starring indie stalwarts Parker Posey and Adam Goldberg. Here, the Creature is not sewn together from ancient corpses but engineered through genetic manipulation. (I'm still trying to figure out just what Martin Scorsese did to be credited "executive producer.") Or Dracula A.D. 1972 (Warner Bros.), where the always-entertaining Christopher Lee takes his blood-sucking schtick to psychedelic London while erstwhile Peter Cushing, as Van Helsing, chases him with wooden stakes and holy water.

The latter title is one of the myriad low-budget horror flicks by the much-beloved studio Hammer Films. Universal has a stupendous treat for Hammer fans this month, with the Hammer Horror Series - which crams a whopping eight titles onto two double-sided discs, for a list price under $30. You don't get bonus features for that kind of money, but you do get Oliver Reed as a werewolf, Inspector Clouseau's arch-nemesis Herbert Lom as the Phantom of the Opera, and (not surprisingly) no fewer than three titles starring Peter Cushing.

And don't worry, horror fans: If you'd like to see some stories you don't already know by heart, we've got some of those for you too - the Thursday before Halloween, we'll return with Australian zombies, post-apocalyptic fun, and two scary men with sissified names, Bela and Val.

By John DeFore


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