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Get into the 'spirit' of Halloween with these flick picks Phillip Brents | Tue, Oct 30 2012 02:38 PM

When I was in grade school (I attended Las Palmas Elementary School in National City), I looked forward to Halloween as my favorite time of the year. I came to love making cutouts of witches and pumpkins from orange and black construction paper.

My favorite Halloween characters were vampires, of course.  I tried to emulate Count Dracula — or was it Barnabas Collins from TV’s “Dark Shadows” — when trick-or-treating.

I’m still enthralled by the “children of the night,” even though I stopped trick-or-treating at 16.

I still love Halloween and all the things that go bump in the night. It’s become fashionable nowadays for adult costume parties and block parties celebrating the event.

But I’m content to pop in a DVD and be entertained in the dark. You can’t have Halloween without the proper atmosphere.

For me, Halloween starts two weeks before the actual Oct. 31 date. Perhaps it’s because there’s usually a sudden chill in the air at night fall to finally denote a change in the seasons.

Are foggy, chilly nights the best to conjure up ghosts and goblins — or do we need a full moon to get the wolves howling?

I picked three films recently from my library to watch to get myself in the mood for autumn proper. I hadn’t watched them in a while, maybe a couple or three Halloweens ago, so I was able to enjoy them that much better because I couldn’t quite recall the specifics all of the storylines.

The first was Tim Burton’s “Sleepy Hollow.” Based on the classic short story by Washington Irving (first published in 1820), the 1999 film has classic Burton touches.

Irving’s story is set in 1790 around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town in New York. The area, known as Sleepy Hollow, is renowned for its ghosts and haunting atmosphere. Most notable among its ethereal denizens is the Headless Horseman, a Hessian soldier who had his head shot away by a cannon ball during a nameless battle in the American Revolutionary War.

The Hessian is still looking for it.

Ichabod Crane, in Irving’s telling, is a superstitious school teacher from Connecticut who mysteriously disappears one night after encountering something eerie near an old bridge and graveyard.

Burton’s film incorporates much of the original story but takes liberties with it in a delightfully ghoulish vein, putting a darker spin on the legend. There’s no doubt the Headless Horseman is real in Burton’s film, whereas in the story, the ghost appears “manufactured” by Crane’s main antagonist, Brom Van Brunt.

The film is perfectly cast under Burton’s atmospheric direction. Johnny Depp is Crane on celluloid, a police constable sent from New York City to investigate a series of grisly murders (decapitations) going on upstate along the Hudson River Valley. The year is 1799.

Depp’s character has odd puncture marks on his hands and it’s not long before visions of witchcraft take Irving’s original piece in a different — yet wholly satisfying — direction.

Also featured in the cast are Christopher Walken (Headless Horseman), Christina Ricci (Katrina), Casper Van Dien (Brom), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel/Crone sister), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Ian McDiarmid (Doctor Lancaster) and Michael Gough (Notary Hardenbrook). Perhaps fittingly, Christopher Lee makes a brief appearance at the start of the film.

“Sleepy Hollow” is genuinely creepy, especially with its monochromatic feel. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and set decorator Peter Young won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The music is by Danny Elfman.

Yes, heads do roll.

The second film was “Resident Evil: Extinction.” This is the third film (released in 2007) in the highly popular zombie series and continues the saga of Alice, a mutant superwoman, and a group of survivors from Raccoon City.

If you like zombie films, this one is for you. Even if you don’t particularly like flesh-eating pseudo-humans, give it a try.

In this installment, the Umbrella Corporation has attempted to quarantine and sanitize Raccoon City, but the T-virus has managed to spread around the world.

The capture of Alice (Mila Jovovich), whose blood has the ability to bond with the virus, is deemed a top priority by Umbrella in an effort to control and/or eradicate the “bio-hazard.”

Zombies are everywhere.

This is kick-ass. Alice and the small group of survivors wage all-out war on the roaming zombies, killing (no, buthering them) them in just about every conceivable fashion. There is blood, gore and body parts. It’s messy.

I guess Halloween would not be complete without a visit from Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling’s universe lends itself so well to this time of the year. The finale, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” is arguably the best in the eight-film series. The 2011 release is by far the darkest and most visually satisfying of all the Potter films.

The action is fast-paced and non-stop from the moment Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) retrieves the Elder Wand from the tomb of former Hogwarts headmaster Prof. Albus Dumbledore (Gambon, see “Sleepy Hollow”). All the clues dropped along the way are finally pieced together as Rowling’s fantasy wizarding world faces its own Armageddon.

Given their advance in years over the 10-year duration of the film series, the acting by Potter regulars Daniel Radcliffe (Potter), Rupert Grint (Ron) and Emma Watson (Hermione) is top-notch.

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