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Classic frights and fights

Times Staff Writer

The American Cinematheque kicks off its annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction tonight at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica with the granddaddy of classic martial arts flicks, 1973's "Enter the Dragon," which features Bruce Lee at the peak of his kung fu powers.

John Saxon and Jim Kelly also star in the film, which premiered just three weeks after Lee's untimely death at 33.

Saxon, who is scheduled to appear at the Aero, also stars in the second bill, Wes Craven's "Nightmare on Elm Street." The seminal 1984 horror film introduced the metal-fingered, wisecracking demon Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) and spawned numerous sequels and a short-lived TV series. It also stars Heather Langenkamp and a mullet-haired Johnny Depp.

Screening Sunday is the delectable 1953 version of "The War of the Worlds," produced by George Pal and featuring then cutting-edge special effects, which won an Oscar for Gordon Jennings. Gene Barry and Ann Robinson star in this taut adaptation of H.G. Wells' tale of a Martian invasion of Earth. The best moment is when the Martians destroy Los Angeles City Hall.

Robinson, who had a cameo in Steven Spielberg's 2005 remake, is scheduled to appear at the screening with other guests.

Ghost stories don't get much more terrifying than 1961's "The Innocents," which screens Wednesday. Based on Henry James' "Turn of the Screw," the story revolves around a repressed, middle-aged governess (a masterful Deborah Kerr) sent to a desolate country mansion to take care of the two young wards (Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin) of a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave). Kerr soon believes she is seeing the spirits of the former governess and the woman's lover and fears these two malevolent apparitions are after the souls of her charges. Featuring the evocative black-and-white cinematography of Freddie Francis, "The Innocents" was skillfully directed by Jack Clayton. Truman Capote co-wrote the literate script.

Following "The Innocents" is the 1957 chiller "Curse of the Demon." Dana Andrews and Peg-gy Cummings headline this shocker about a series of deaths caused by a magician (Niall MacGinnis).

Honoring directors

The Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre is offering memorable tributes to two directors who died recently: Hubert Cornfield and Vincent Sherman.

Screening Saturday is Cornfield's most successful endeavor, 1962's "Pressure Point," starring Bobby Darin in a vivid performance as an incarcerated Nazi sympathizer sent to see a prison psychiatrist (Sidney Poitier). Peter Falk also appears in this Stanley Kramer production.

Sherman, who died shortly before his 100th birthday, was one of the top contract directors at Warner Bros. in the late 1930s and '40s, helming such films as "Old Acquaintance," "The Damned Don't Cry" and "Adventures of Don Juan." One of his favorites, 1943's "The Hard Way," screens Tuesday. Ida Lupino plays the ambitious older sister who'll do anything to make her sibling performer (Joan Leslie) a star.

Almost the big one

The consummate horror film, 1973's "The Exorcist," is scheduled to screen Monday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater as part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' "Great to Be Nominated" series that features the movie from each academy year that received the most nominations without winning best picture. The head-spinningly scary "Exorcist" lost the top Oscar to the lighthearted caper film "The Sting."

Based on the novel by William Peter Blatty — he received an Oscar for his adaptation — "The Exorcist" centers on the demon possession of the young daughter (Linda Blair) of an actress (Ellen Burstyn). Nominated for 10 Oscars, including director (William Friedkin), actress, supporting actress, supporting actor (Jason Miller) and cinematography (Owen Roizman), the film picked up an Academy Award for its brilliant sound design.

Blair, Roizman and editor Bud Smith are among those scheduled to participate in a panel discussion.

Note: Drive-in movie theaters are practically dinosaurs. But a new screening series, Cinema al Fresco, presented by the San Gennaro Foundation, lets audiences sit outside with real dinosaurs at the La Brea Tar Pits each Friday in August.

The weekly series featuring classic Italian movies commences Friday at sundown with Giuseppe Tornatore's "Cinema Paradiso." The valentine to the movies received the 1989 best foreign film Oscar. Adam Carolla, Joe Mantegna and Jo Champa will host. Info: (818) 508-0082.


Fantasy, Horror & Science Fiction

"Enter the Dragon" and "Nightmare on Elm Street": 7:30 tonight

"War of the Worlds": 7:30 p.m. Sunday

"The Innocents" and "Curse of the Demon": 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica

Info: (323) 466-3456

Cinematheque tributes

"Pressure Point": 2 p.m. Saturday

"The Hard Way": 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

Info: (323) 466-3456

"Great to Be Nominated"

"The Exorcist": 7:30 p.m. Monday

Where: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

Info: (310) 247-3600

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