The Frighteners

D: Peter Jackson; with Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs.
VHS Home Video

One of the most underrated films of the year, The Frighteners has zipped its way to home video in record time. Directed by New Zealander Peter Jackson, the man behind Bad Taste, Dead Alive, and 1994's masterpiece Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners was supposed to be Jackson's entrée into the U.S. mainstream. It didn't quite work out that way, as the plot -- regarding a scam artist/ghostbuster (Fox) who becomes the prime suspect in a rash of deaths in a quaint New England town -- proved a little too inapproachable for the Twister crowd. However, if you're a discriminating film fan, this is one of those gems that slips through the cracks now and again, and the picture really deserves a much larger audience than it received during its theatrical release. Of special note is the culmination of Jackson's experimentation with computer morphing effects, plus the true pleasure of show-stealer Trini Alvarado's performance as Fox's doe-eyed charge. A must-see for fans of Jackson.

-- Christopher Null

Lyrical Nitrate

D: Peter Delpeut.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

If your impression of silent film consists of images of Charlie Chaplin, or even Clara Bow, then this collection of clips produced between 1905 and 1915 will change that view forever. Printed on nitrate stock, which is fragile and highly flammable, the collection was found deteriorating in a closet in the Netherlands. Now restored and pieced together here, with an added soundtrack from turn-of-the-century recordings, the overall effect is mesmerizing and intense. Obviously, the filmmakers and audience for these works saw themselves as hyper-modern members of an already futuristic world. The exploration and mastery of color tinting, lighting, camera angles, slow motion and other technical aspects of film are fantastic, especially when the novelty of the medium at that time is taken into account. This all-too-brief stroll into human history will leave you wishing for the discovery of another forgotten closet of film treasure.

-- Kayte VanScoy

Final Doom

for Sony PlayStation
id software/Williams Entertainment Inc.

That Doom is one of the greatest phenomena ever to hit the electronic gaming industry is undeniable; that it's still alive and kicking (particularly in light of the fact that much better games such as Duke Nukem 3D and id's own Quake are now available, though not for the PlayStation), is nothing short of amazing. There are no new monsters or weapons to be found here, but there are plenty of new levels, and they're designed to be especially murderous. Gamers who live for the sound of a cocking shotgun probably won't be disappointed in Final Doom, but they won't be surprised, either. -- Bud Simons

The Canterville Ghost

D: Jules Dassin; with Charles Laughton, Robert Young, Margaret O'Brien, Peter Lawford, Una O'Connor, Mike Mazurki.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

Charles Laughton -- large, lovable, and, yes, invisible -- plays "the most fearsome of all English phantoms" in Jules Dassin's 1945 version of the Oscar Wilde short story. After being walled up in 1643 in an alcove of the Canterville family mansion upon the orders of his father for unutterable cowardice, Sir Simon Canterville (Laughton) is cursed to haunt the estate until a kinsman does a brave deed in his name. Fast-forward 300 years later to WWII, when an American platoon is stationed at the mansion and the lady of the house, enchanting six-year-old Jessica de Canterville, discovers that one of the randy Americans, Robert Young of Father Knows Best fame, bears the unmistakable Canterville birthmark. Is he also plagued with the indelible Canterville cowardice? Jessica and Sir Simon's quest for the answer makes for a hilarious comedy. -- Clay Smith

Tomb Raider

PC CD-ROM/Saturn/PlayStation
Eidos Interactive/Core Design

Lara Croft may do for action-adventure computer games what Sigourney Weaver did for sci-fi flicks. She's the lead in the latest game from Core Design and she kicks! When she's pumpin' lead from her pair o' pistols she's a woman no man dare scorn, but you'll need more than firepower to finish the game. The puzzles grow more complex and challenging as you play through each level, and the levels themselves also seem to become larger and more beautiful. The game looks great, but you'll need a powerful computer to fully appreciate the fantastically smooth animation of Lara and the beasts she encounters. The only other drawback to this game is that it doesn't feature a multiplayer mode. -- Kurt Dillard

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