The Frighteners (1996)

DVD Cover (Universal Director's Cut)
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Overall Rating 74%
Overall Rating
Ranked #1,474
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After a tragic car accident that kills his wife, a man discovers he can communicate with the dead to con people. However, when a demonic spirit appears, he may be the only one who can stop it from killing the living and the dead. --IMDb
Review by Chad
Added: May 07, 2006
Prior to his name being synonymous with "big production" thanks to his love for hobbits and monkeys, Peter Jackson had a nice run in the horror world and put out more than a couple of films which have since become cult classics. In tonight's highly underrated film, we find Jackson stepping away from the extremely gruesome carnage that painted the screen in Dead Alive and Bad Taste and going for a more mainstream-friendly horror film.

The story centers around Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), a man who has the ability to see and speak with the spirits of the deceased. Now, ol' Frank isn't content to merely proclaim to the world that he sees dead people and hide under blankets; no sir, our hero has made this into his business thanks to a couple of "hired" ghosts that he sends to various peoples houses to "haunt" them. The ghosts - Judge (John Astin), Cyrus (Chi McBride), and Stuart (Jim Fyfe) - jangle a few chains and slam a few doors, and when Frank shows up offering his services as a psychic investigator, he finds himself with new clients. The plan never fails, but the story gets interesting when he attempts this trick on Ray (Peter Dobson) and Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado); after "exorcising" the "demons" of the house, he notices a number etched into Ray's forehead that only he can see. Thinking that this was the work of his cohorts, he brushes it off, only to find out later than they had no part in that... and then, Ray drops dead the next day. The number-on-the-forehead deal keeps popping up around town, people keep dying, and it's up to both Frank and his newfound friend Lucy to put the pieces together and save the day. Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, and Dee Wallace-Stone also have pretty major parts in the film, but revealing their roles would sort of spoil things for the first-time viewer.

I'll be honest with you readers - the above synopsis is only a small part of the overall film. The movie has so many things going on and there are so many storylines weaving back and forth that explaining everything would spoil the movie to the point of there being no reason to watch it, so suffice it to say that this movie has a lot going on during the running-time. While some critics considered this a fatal flaw of the film, I found that it worked out beautifully in favor of keeping things interesting; the real "goal" of the movie, once revealed, could have made this your standard haunting / chase film, but Jackson threw in so many elements to spice it up that the finished product is far from ordinary.

We're coming up on the tenth anniversary of this film in a couple of months, and with a few exceptions, most movies from ten years ago are seriously lacking in the special effects department when compared to recent offerings. Therefore, I was pretty shocked to learn that this movie feature effects that, if released today, would still be considered mighty impressive. Granted, there are a few scenes here and there that could have been better, but ninety-five percent of the effects found here were downright beautiful. When you watch the ghosts manifest behind walls or under carpets and distort said objects with their presence, it looks extremely realistic and really doesn't come off looking like a mere special effect.

The performances turned in by the cast are solid all around, and there honestly wasn't a single bad performance to be found. Michael J. Fox shows us that he still had that star factor, even though he had had a few duds prior to this release, and Jeffrey Combs absolutely slays in his various scenes. Even though it's a fairly minor revelation, I won't reveal his role here; however, I will say that he is one of the best parts of the film acting-wise. Jake Busey turns in a truly ominous role, and again, I won't reveal it... but the man gets into his character, and truly leads the audience to believe that he is the character we're watching and not just an actor playing a part. R. Lee Ermey even has a pretty small part in the film, reprising his role as Sgt. Hartman from Full Metal Jacket. His performance as the foul-mouthed drill instructor was my favorite part of Jacket, and watching him take on that role once again brought a smile to my face.

Fans of films such as Dead Alive or Army Of Darkness should give this underrated gem a shot. It mixes the horror and comedy together much like those two films, and the end result is nearly two hours of pure mayhem... and I loved it. 9/10.
bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added 05/07/2006, 04:31 AM
This flick was just good old fashioned fun, with Michael J. Fox in top form. Peter Jackson, thank you. 9/10.
thrasher #2: thrasher - added 05/07/2006, 07:43 AM
One of the first horror films I saw (although it obviously isn't totally horror). I liked it myself- also, if I remember correctly, all the special effects were done on location in New Zealand where it was shot (apparently the best special effects ever done outside of a studio). Nonetheless, definitely a great film.
Cryptorchild #3: Cryptorchild - added 05/07/2006, 01:54 PM
One of my favorite movies, EVER. This movie has so much going for it. "Got me a score of 12, that's one more that Starkweather. Guess that makes me Public Enemy Number 1!" Awesome movie.
Tristan #4: Tristan - added 05/08/2006, 07:01 AM
The first time I ever watched this, I was a little kid, and at the time, I thought it was one of the smartest and scariest horror movie I'd seen. Watching it again now it's not as scary, but it's still a great movie.
Tristan #5: Tristan - added 05/11/2009, 12:47 AM
You know, I still think that if Jackson hadn't made this a horror comedy and stuck strictly to the horror, this could have been one hell of a scary movie.

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