Dave and Rachel's movie reviews.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Frighteners

Year: 1996
Running time: 110 minutes
Certificate: 15
Language: English
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace, Jake Busey, Troy Evans, Julianna McCarthy, R. Lee Ermey, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Angela Bloomfield

Frank with his spectral business partners.
The Frighteners is an example of post-splatter but pre-Rings Peter Jackson, and is very much recognisable as his work. The manic energy and unusually imaginative camera angles are present and correct, and in addition there are a number of Jackson-esque gags and some surprisingly dark moments.

Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is a paranormal investigator, taking jobs getting rid of ghosts haunting the houses of punters. But he's a conman. A traumatic incident in his past has left him capable of seeing the dead. Rather than freak out in a Sixth Sense kind of way, Bannister senses a business opportunity and goes into business with three ghosts The Judge (John Astin), Cyrus (Chi McBride) and Stuart (Jim Fyfe). They agree to haunt the houses and point the marks in his direction (although I'm not entirely sure why they'd bother, being dead an' all).

Before long Frank starts to see another apparition, one that is killing the living. Before each victim is offed, a number appears burned into their head, visible only to Frank's second sight. Shaken from his stupor, Frank goes after the killer ghost before it kills anyone else. Watching this, as with watching Back to the Futurethere is a bittersweet feeling for the lost roles Michael J. Fox might have played, had it not been for his illness. He is a likeable leading man, and even though you know his Frank Bannister is dishonest at the start of the film, you still root for him - Fox has a gift for keeping the trauma of Bannister's past just below the surface.

The comedy dries up entirely as Frank and Lucy relive a grisly massacre.
While there is much comedy in The Frighteners, there are scenes that are genuinely disturbing as well, in particular a sequence in a hospital where Bannister and Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado), a widow for whom Frank had agreed to be a medium, talking to her recently deceased husband Ray (Peter Dobson), relive a gut-wrenching murder spree through visions.

Like Heavenly Creatures, this seemed like a testing ground before stepping up to bigger projects, and I would imagine that New Line found themselves with a fair bit of confidence in Jackson’s directing ability after seeing this.

Score: 7/10

It seems The Frighteners isn't everybody's cup of tea. Time Out thought it was alright. Ebert really didn't like it much though.