FRIGHTENERS, TheUniversal Pictures
1996
R

“When a man’s jawbone drops off, it’s time to reassess the situation.”

Blending humor and horror, director Peter Jackson’s outlandish tale centers on shady psychic detective Frank Bannister, who uses his ability to communicate with the dead to boost his business.  But when a sinister spirit is unleashed and members of the community are mysteriously killed, the P. I. – with the help of a comely widow – must use his powers to get to the bottom of the supernatural slayings.

Nowadays, most people know Peter Jackson as the man who brought the Lord Of The Rings books to life.  And also remade King Kong.  As such, the majority of movie watchers hadn’t heard of him before then, which is understandable really.  Within the horror community, though, he’s the wacky New Zelander who brought us movies like Bad Taste, Meet The Feebles, Dead Alive, and this little horror comedy we’re tackling right now, The Frighteners.

When The Frighteners was released back in 1996, I was still in the middle of my “too self-righteous to watch horror movies” era, so I missed out initially.  Even when I started getting back into horror in 1999, I didn’t think to rent the movie, for some stupid reason.  Well, finally, with the magic that is Net Flix streaming, I got around to watching The Frighteners.  Believe me, if there was a way for me to travel back to 1996 and kick myself for not having watched this when I had the chance, I would have done so.  Several times, I would think.

The story centers on Frank Bannister, a kind of psychic con man who can not only see the spirits, but interacts with them continually, using them to help bilk unsuspecting non-dead types out of their money in exchange for cleansing their “hauntings”.  Only, when the spirit of a long-dead executed mass murderer decides to pick up where he left off, he’s suddenly caught in the middle and forced to face certain specters of his own past.

The Frighteners was, to say the very least, a very entertaining little horror comedy, much in the vein of the original Ghostbusters.  The story itself is highly entertaining, the plot not taking the usual route and the characters having more depth than one as jaded as myself would expect.  Michael J. Fox’s portrayal as Frank Bannister – a slimy individual at first, but revealing slowly to be a very sympathetic character – was done well, though one could argue that it’s rather hard not to like Michael J. Fox in everything he does.  Of course, with this movie as is with other movies Peter Jackson has made, it’s the side characters that really round things out: Jake Busey in all his toothy-grin glory as the psycho killer; Dee Wallace Stone as his mentally ill girlfriend; Jeffrey Combs as a super-neurotic FBI agent that was easily my favorite side character; Chi McBride , Jim Fyfe and the late, great John Astin as the three ghosts in Frank’s employ…and R. Lee Ermey as the ghost who protects the graveyard he’s “assigned” to.  R. Lee-freakin’ Ermey.

Okay, I’ll admit that the special effects used haven’t exactly aged well.  Okay, that’s being rather nice about things.  The CG is rather laughable, being maybe a step or so above video game quality.  But, if you look at it as adding to the camp fun contained within, it could be a…okay, who am I kidding?  The CGI effects were badly rendered, but it was 1996, so I’m giving it a pass.  Overall, though, The Frighteners was a great movie, and something I’m going to be looking into owning for myself in the very near future.  If you dig on movies like Ghostbusters, Gremlins, or just a Peter Jackson fan in general, and haven’t seen The Frighteners yet, don’t be as stupid as I was and wait for so long to watch this.

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