When you're a kid, the giddy joy of celebrating Halloween comes from knowing deep in your consciousness it's all really make-believe. But really good horror movies temporarily suspend that knowledge, making you believe what's happening on screen.
And that's the problem with "Nightmare on the 13th Floor," the USA Network's contribution to tonight's wide schedule of Halloween-oriented programs (at 9 on the basic service, with repeats Nov. 4 and 10). Not for one second do you believe in this original film's hackneyed premise.
The disbelief extends further. How could four respectable actors -- Michele ("L.A. Law") Greene, James Brolin, Louise Fletcher and John ("Cagney & Lacey") Karlen -- be involved in such a mess?
For the record, Greene plays a reporter who checks into an old Victorian hotel in Los Angeles to research a travel feature. During an elevator mishap, she thinks she sees a murder taking place in an eerie gas-lit hallway. But the hotel doctor (Brolin), head housekeeper (Fletcher) and a police detective (Karlen) all pooh-pooh the story.
Naturally, the reporter snoops around and discovers there once was a 13th floor in the building, long since sealed off after a series of ax murders in 1901. A satanic cult comes into play and . . . well, you finish. There's not much mystery, the special effects are not very special and the acting is little better than you'd find in your local haunted house.
For horror themes skillfully handled, check out Nick At Nite's clever "Alfred Hitchcock Presents Marathon," which continues running nightly all week on the cable channel (8 p.m. through 6 a.m.). Viewers are being asked to count the bodies to win a prize.
And for a tribute to the genre of spooky cinema, WNUV-Channel 54 is airing at 8 tonight "The Horror Hall of Fame," a historical documentary which will include the naming of the 1990 horror film of the year.
The host is actor Robert Englund, better known as the man most in need of a manicure: Freddy Krueger of the "A Nightmare on Elm Street" movie series. That puts him in competition with himself, for WBFF-Channel 45 is screening number three in that series, subtitled "Dream Warriors," at 8 tonight.
ELECTION RECOUNT -- A potential TV debate between Baltimore County executive Dennis Rasmussen and challenger Roger Hayden, noted by Media Monitor in most editions yesterday, and listed in TV Guide, will not be seen tonight.
"We wanted to televise the debate, and it looked very, very likely," says Channel 2 program manager Emily Barr. But it fell through. NBC's regular 8 p.m. series, "Unsolved Mysteries," will air in its usual slot on Channel 2.