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H’w’d stalks crime scribe

Crime writer Patricia Highsmith, largely neglected by Hollywood until her death in 1995, has seized the imagination of a new generation of filmmakers.

In the wake of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and the forthcoming John Malkovich thriller, “Ripley’s Game,” Arnold Kopelson and his wife and Kopelson Entertainment partner Anne are producing a new adaptation of Highsmith’s first novel, “Strangers on a Train,” for Warner Bros.

David Seltzer (“Dragonfly”) has delivered a script.

Book’s first screen incarnation in 1951 was the landmark Alfred Hitchcock thriller with Farley Granger as Guy Haines, a tennis pro awaiting a divorce from his wife, and Robert Walker as Bruno Antony, a cultured eccentric who concocts a plan to trade murders with Guy. Bruno will kill Guy’s wife, provided Guy kills Bruno’s father.

Pic was remade in 1969 as “Once You Kiss a Stranger,” directed by Robert Sparr, and later served as inspiration for the Danny DeVito black comedy, “Throw Momma From the Train.”

But Kopelson, who’s been developing the project for seven years, says his version, tentatively called “Strangers,” is not a remake, per se, but a reconceptualization of the novel. “We’re very excited about working with David Seltzer,” Kopelson said. “He’s fashioned two spectacular characters. The Bruno character is far more evil than one would have thought, based on the original movie.”

Though Highsmith enjoyed widespread recognition in Europe, her novels remained intermittently out of print in the U.S. much of her lifetime.

But those qualities that once made them unfashionable — shapeshifting criminals of ambiguous sexual orientation who insert themselves into other people’s lives and kill without reason; the sharp critique of suburban America; and the blurring of boundaries between normal and abnormal psychology — now have a contemporary cachet.

At Warner Bros., the studio that produced Hitchcock’s version of the novel, senior veep of production Bob Brassel is overseeing the project.

Meanwhile Highsmith is enjoying a renaissance in print. The first three Ripley novels have been reissued in a hardcover set by Knopf. Norton has published a selection of her stories. And St. Martin’s Press has commissioned a biography of Highsmith by Joan Schenkar that’s scheduled to appear in three years.

SCOTT RUDIN WILL HELP STEER the Lemony Snicket books, “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” into production.

He’s come on board to produce the acclaimed kids series written by Daniel Handler. The project is in development as a Nickelodeon Movies production at Paramount.

The books, which revolve around the misadventures of the Baudelaire orphans and the evil Count Olaf, who has designs on their considerable inheritance, have become a huge kids publishing phenomenon, selling over 4 million books in the U.S. alone in less than three years.

But the surreal narrative, with its elements of Edward Gorey and Roald Dahl, may not be an obvious movie, and Rudin’s participation is likely to give it momentum. It’s the second time this year a studio has hired Rudin to help ferry a difficult literary project to the screen.

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is “a precious and important property for Nickelodeon,” said Nickelodeon Movies prexy Albie Hecht. “One of the things we sought is a great partner.”

Last month, New Line brought Rudin in to produce Dave Eggers’ bestselling memoir, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.”

The Lemony Snicket project is a co-production of Scott Rudin Prods. and Nickelodeon Movies.

EVER SINCE THE MAN OF STEEL defended Metropolis in the first “Superman” movie, comic books have engendered a steady stream of Hollywood franchises.

But as studios have picked over the brand name Marvel and D.C. characters, producers have turned to smaller comicbook publishers, hoping they’ll find the next “Men In Black” — a story that began life as a limited release, black-and-white comic — in the galaxy of new comics characters that haven’t yet hit the mainstream.

One such publisher is Chaos! Comics, which specializes in the supernatural, and via Innovative Artists, has recently begun setting up projects around town.

Valhalla Motion Pictures topper Gale Anne Hurd has optioned “Jade,” a Chaos! comic about a vampire who’s also a member of a Shanghai crime family.

The project, which development exec Tracy Mercer brought to Valhalla, will be overseen by the shingle’s prexy Barbara Boyle. Hurd plans to attach a screenwriter before submitting the project to a studio.

The comic that put Chaos! on the map is “Evil Ernie,” a book about a zombie teenager who controls the dead. Chaos! founder Brian Pulido, who created both “Jade” and “Evil Ernie” first conjured “Ernie” in a screenplay called “Psycho Night” that never went into production.

Pulido is now planning to direct his own $5 million live-action version of it.

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