Well, cheer up! Take a tip from that new Sandra Bullock/Nicole Kidman movie, and admit that you need a little magic in your life! Not hanky-panky, but hocus-pocus. That's right: Witchery!
Not the real thing, of course, but 20th century electronic magic: a film featuring your favorite enchantress, inserted into your VCR. A number of enchanting classics of the silver screen are available on video for your Halloween viewing pleasure.
Sorceresses will go to great lengths to amuse you. They know that your burning desire for happiness is at stake. But if a dose of this potion won't cure your ills, you may have to consult a higher--or lower--authority, the witch's master: the Devil himself, captured on cassette.
Call him Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub or Old Nick Scratch, the first fallen angel has appeared under many names in many films. No surprise here -- Hollywood agents will make a deal with anybody famous and powerful. The Prince of Darkness has the power to light up your TV screen with performances in several "sin"ematic classics available on tape and perfect for Halloween viewing.
All 13 of these tapes are recommended and most are readily available for rent, so you won't have to sell your soul to possess them. But rent them a day or two early to avoid the infernal lines on October 31.
And when the witching hour arrives, sit back with a cauldron (or a cup) of brew, light up a Salem philter and conjure up some of these bewitching, bedeviling videos:
BEWITCHING BEAUTIESI Married A Witch (1942; 72 mins. Lightning Video; unrated.) Veronica Lake stars as a sexy spirit who returns to earth with her sorcerer father to marry a modern politician (Fredric March). But this gubernatorial candidate just happens to be a direct descendent of the Puritan who had her burned at the stake in Salem -- which leads to comic complications. Rene Clair directed this clever romantic fantasy full of "Bewitched"-style sitcom comedy; it's still spellbinding and a pleasure to view.
Bell Book and Candle (1958; 103 mins. RCA/Columbia; unrated.) A seductive young witch (Kim Novak) vows to give up her "weird sister" ways, but lapses when she falls for a publisher (James Stewart) and casts a sweetheart spell on him. The fun comes not only in watching it slowly dawn on Stewart that his woman's a witch -- literally -- but also in watching the antics of his strange friends and her even stranger family, including Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, Ernie Kovacs and Hermione Gingold. A bewitching bit of whimsy.
KIDWITCHESThe Wizard of Oz (1939; 101 mins. MGM/UA; unrated.) This timeless fable features the Wicked Witch of the West--the green crone in the cone hat, cloaked totally in black -- who we have come to accept as the Quintessential Witch. With her pickle-like nose and nails-on-chalkboard voice, Margaret Hamilton created a cackling character that has become a cinematic classic. Lest she prove too terrifying for the toddlers, remind them that the beautiful Glinda the Good was a witch, too -- and it's easy to tell which witch is which. An enchanting family fantasy film.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971; 112 mins. Disney; G.) Angela Lansbury, a correspondence course witch, is assisted by three Cockney orphans and an eccentric Brit (David Tomlinson) in repelling a Nazi invasion of England during World War II. Although a pale shadow of Disney's winning Mary Poppins formula, this high-spirited, good-natured bit of kidvid does have a few fun sequences, songs and special effects. The kids will enjoy it; with a little patience, even parents will find it charming.
Sleeping Beauty (1958; 75 mins. Disney; G.) This recently re-released animated fairy tale from Uncle Walt's vault (now available in its original widescreen splendor) co-stars the evil witch-queen Malificent, a sort of Wicked Witch of the West sans a sense of humor. But, man, can she cast a spell! From covering a castle with a thicket of thorns to transmogrifying herself into a green-flame spouting dragon, Malificent deserves respect as an adversary worthy of Prince Charming. Fascinating family fare.
THE DEVIL MADE THEM DO ITRosemary's Baby (1968; 137 mins. Paramount; R.) An ambitious actor (John Cassavetes) accidentally falls in with a group of Satanists and takes advantage of his position to offer his innocent wife (Mia Farrow) as a "bride of the devil" in exchange for success. She didn't want to sleep with Satan, but the Devil made her do it. A modern Gothic shocker which still casts a mesmerizing spell.
Angel on My Shoulder (1946; 101 mins. Kartes; unrated.) A murdered convict is promised a break by Satan if he'll return to earth in the body of a judge on a crusade against evil -- and stop him. Although predictable in its "beat the devil" plot, the players save the film, including Paul Muni as the born-again judge and Claude Rains as a sophisticated Satan.
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941; 109 mins. Embassy Home Entertainment; unrated.) A guileless young farmer sells his soul to the Devil in this stylish and subtle adaptation of Stephen Vincent Benet's classic short story. When the eloquent Mr. Webster (Edward Arnold) nobly offers to defend the farmer before a jury literally from hell -- comprised of history's worst, most universally condemned murderers, misanthropes and degenerates -- Satan places both their lives at stake. The best scenes in the film feature Walter Huston as the seductively sinister Satan, "Mr. Scratch." A supernaturally good fable.
Angel Heart (1987; 13 mins. Vestron; available in R and unrated, uncensored versions.) Robert De Niro steals the show as a dapper devil, "Louis Cyphre," in this atmospheric chiller. He sets a shabby private eye (Mickey Rourke) on the trail of a missing singer in New York and New Orleans of the 1950s, but that's not what he really wants ... When all the witnesses (including Charlotte Rampling) end up dead by voodoo violence, the private eye stumbles into some horrible revelations. Lisa Bonet co-stars in this intelligent mystery and hypnotizing mystical thriller ... which is not recommended for the squeamish.
THE DEVIL, YOU SAYTime Bandits (1981; 110 mins. Paramount; PG.) When half a dozen dwarves (including Kenny Baker, R2-D2's "inside man") "borrow" a map of time holes from God, they're chased by both God (Ralph Richardson) and the Devil (David Warner). During their flight, they pick up a bored British youngster who joins the merry and scary chase through these flaws in the fabric of time, where they meet a number of famous figures who aren't quite like what the history books would have us believe. Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam directed John Cleese, Sean Connery, Shelley Duvall, Katherine Helmond and Michael Palin in this off-beat adventure. Supernatural cinema at its silliest.
Damn Yankees (1958; 110 mins. Warner; unrated.) The Devil (Ray Walston) and a leggy vamp (Gwen Verdon) grant a middle-aged fan's wish to be a superstar for the Yankees, all the while plotting to plant him on the team and then strip him of his powers -- and his soul. This Broadway musical came to the silver screen complete with choreography by Bob Fosse. Walston is an irascible rascal as the Devil in this comedy with soul.
The Witches of Eastwick (1987; 121 mins. Warner; R.) When three beautiful but bored and lonely women (Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer) in a sleepy New England town put their heads together and wish for the perfect man, it "spells" trouble for everyone involved. They accidentally conjure up Jack Nicholson -- "just your average horny little devil" -- who excites their lives and incites the townsfolk. Not just a damnably funny black comedy, but an adult parable of the age-old War Between Men and Women. Nicholson, with his devilish smiles and wicked wiles, was born to play this role -- and probably would have sold his soul to secure it.
Bedazzled (1968; 107 mins. CBS/Fox; unrated.) Penniless and on the brink of suicide, fry cook Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) is visited by "Mr. Spiggott" (Peter Cook), and offered seven wishes in exchange for his soul. Each wish has a loophole, of course, and Spiggott is compelled to hang Moon with them. Humor runs the gamut from Cook's wry subtlety to Moore's silly slapstick, with plenty of fun, puns, outrageous situations and good-natured cruelty along the way-as well as the most sympathetic (and human) portrait of the Devil to date. As an added temptation, Raquel Welch has a small, early-career role as "Lillian Lust," one of Spiggott's seven deadly sin minions. All in all, one hell of a film.
D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose (CA) Mercury News, and is author of the video guide Killer B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.
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September 15, 1998