There's good news for Beta customers, for a change. While other studios are taking their first steps toward phasing out the format, Paramount has bucked the trend by announcing a new pricing policy that should encourage video stores to maintain an interest in Beta. Beginning in December, all new Paramount releases will be priced at $29.95 or less in the Beta format, including recent movies that will still cost $89.95 in the VHS format. The studio recognizes that the proliferation of VHS-only stores has "made it difficult for Beta customers to remain active as either sales or rental customers," says Paramount Home Video General Manager Tim Clott. "We're offering this pricing ceiling as an incentive to video retailers to carry broader selections of Beta programming."

Local video retailers welcomed the surprise announcement, although its initial impact may be minimal. Erol's Video Club has no plans either to adjust its VHS-only policy for new stores or to put Beta tapes into stores that currently offer only VHS cassettes. And the Video Place, which carries both formats in all 11 locations, will probably buy the same ratio of VHS to Beta tapes for rental (about 3 to 1), although it will have a greater number of Paramount Beta tapes on hand for customers who want to purchase them, according to President Frank Barnako. "I'm real pleased that one of the major video suppliers is trying to find a solution to the frustration of Beta owners," says Barnako, who adds that he is frustrated "after eight years of telling customers that we don't have what they want."

Paramount alone can't save the format, and it's too early to tell whether other studios will follow suit. But Paramount is known as a trend setter in the video business -- it was the first studio to cut the price on movies that had already made the rental circuit, the first to price a new movie below $30 for its initial video release and the first to price a film not in public domain below $20. Says Barnako, "If other studios notice what Paramount is doing, it could be a real benefit to the consumer."

Barker's Horrors

Clive Barker, the British horror writer, has turned heads and stomachs with his short story collections, the six-volume "Books of Blood" series and the current movie "Hellraiser," which marks his directorial debut. He has also adapted two of his "Blood" stories for film, and both movies, which were not released theatrically in the United States, are coming out on video from Vestron. Barker gets sole screenwriting credit for "Raw Head Rex," due later this month, and served as co-screenwriter on "Underworld," scheduled for release early next year. The latter film stars Denholm Elliott, who can be seen serving up a subtler brand of horror in the new Merchant/Ivory film of E.M. Forster's "Maurice."

Misha and Twyla

Kultur, the fine arts video house, will soon release what it claims is the dance program most frequently requested by customers, "Baryshnikov by Tharp." The tape features Mikhail Baryshnikov and American Ballet Theatre in three popular Twyla Tharp ballets: "Push Comes to Shove," "The Little Ballet" and "Sinatra Suite," which he dances with Elaine Kudo. The $39.95 video, which was codirected by the choreographer, will be available later this month.

Rita Redux

Cashing in on the fascination with femmes fatales, Fox Hills Video has resurrected "Zombie Island Massacre," the 1984 film that launched Rita Jenrette's movie career, for a video debut later this month. Jenrette, cast as a Caribbean vacationer caught in a web of voodoo violence, displays an uninhibited physical presence; her love scenes, along with a decapitation, a skull bashing and the ritual sacrifice of a baby goat, give the film a well-deserved R rating. "Massacre" comes from Troma Inc., which has since moved on to bigger and better things, including "The Toxic Avenger," "Class of Nuke 'Em High," and "Surf Nazis Must Die." Jenrette is reportedly still looking for the right role to advance her career.

Why Wait?

Come November, Madonna's "Who's That Girl" should appear in video stores almost as quickly as it vanished from theaters. Warner Home Video hopes to get it out before she disappears from radio, too ... The British spy thriller "The Whistle Blower," still in its initial run in some theaters, will also be out on video next month. Michael Caine heads an impressive British cast that includes James Fox, Nigel Havers and Sir John Gielgud.