A really scary sight

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 October, 1997, 12:00am

Although the actual programmes on ATV World tonight are rather dull, someone has to get credit for trying anyway, by coming up with the wheeze of having a Halloween special.

Those going out tonight to celebrate Halloween in Lan Kwai Fong will have the chance to contribute as brave Eve Lam and Andy Curtis will be out in the streets of Central with their camera crews.

They will be looking for the Funniest Face, Scariest Scream, Craziest Costume and Weirdest Wishes, and plan to broadcast the results back to everyone else during the ad breaks of Caught in the Act - The Backstreet Boys in Concert (World, 9.30pm).

It all sounds as jolly as a school fete fancy-dress competition, and I only hope the revellers will co-operate. Tonight of all nights, such courageous television could well be jinxed by powers beyond anyone's control, like a gang of soused suits stumbling in front of the camera at a key moment, or some shrieking girlies howling into the microphone.

I am almost tempted to watch the concert just to find out, but I can't quite face the boring old Backstreet Boys yet again, even to see that spectacle.

Instead I will be tuning in with much happiness to The Witches (Pearl 9.30pm). This hilarious adaptation of a Roald Dahl children's book gave Anjelica Huston her first chance to wear a long black slinky dress and ham it up as a witch who calls herself Miss Ernst. She quite visibly had the time of her life making this movie, so much so that the next year she paired up with Raul Julia to wear a similar outfit and star as Morticia in The Addams Family.

Morticia is a fond, if eccentric mother, loving if strange; Miss Ernst is quite horrible.

She begins the movie masquerading as a senior figure in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It soon becomes apparent to little orphaned Luke that she is in fact none other than the dreadful Grand High Witch his grandmother has already warned him about.

And she has a horrible scheme to turn all the children in England into mice by putting a magic potion in chocolate.

Such dastardly cunning! Luke doesn't quite work this out in time to save himself from being turned into a mouse, which is a cue from some marvellous special effects from Jim Henson Productions.

All Dahl stories, as every child will confirm, are wonderful because they are genuinely scary. Really horrible things happen to the child-heroes: most are orphaned, like Luke, or hungry, like Charlie, or both, like James. And there is always a very real threat that they will be killed by Vernicious Knids, sharks, or, in Luke's case, munched by a cat or trampled on.

Fear is what makes it fun, so it is rather a shame, really, that this movie is on too late for many small children who might be terrified, in the most exciting possible way, by it.

There was a time, not so long ago, when mid-evenings on a Friday offered a simple choice: unmissable American drama on the one side (NYPD Blue, Relativity ) and unmissable high-brow documentaries on the other (Panorama, American Visions ). And now what do we have? Russell Wong as new kind of action hero on one side, Vanishing Son (World 8.30pm) and Peta Wilson as a new kind of action hero on the other - La Femme Nikita, (Pearl 8.30pm).

Wilson plays Nikita, a girl forced unwillingly to serve in elite law-making outfit Section One. Initially I tended to dismiss this series as enjoyable but essentially insignificant.

Now it turns out that LFN, as it is known to a growing pack of devotees in the United States, has won lots of admiring reviews and made Wilson a star. Until winning this part, the Australian actress was an unknown working in theatre: now she has appeared on every chat show from The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to Rosie.