Review: The Frighteners (1996)


Michael J. Fox and ghosts, can it get any better?

Written By: Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh
Directed By: Peter Jackson

Some movies build upon mystery and suspense, other movies know exactly what type of movie they are and play with that fact. The Frighteners knows exactly what type of movie it is and when it plays around within that black comedy/horror type it is quite the cool trip. However, Peter Jackson felt the need to include a more conventional story into The Frighteners, and when focusing on convention The Frighteners loses much of its charm.

Gadgets like a holy water gun and ghosts bickering with each other and the one human who can see them are funny, very much so in fact. The humor in The Frighteners works because it knows what genre it is and how it can have fun with that genre. Working within the framework of the loathsome psychic investigator and the more modern idea of the insane FBI agent who devotes his life to the occult is pure genius as far as story ideas go. As I said earlier, when The Frighteners stays within the mold of a funny movie that knows its genre and wants you to have fun with that genre it is a great movie. Scenes such as Ray getting Michael J. Fox to have dinner with his still living wife for him are comic gold simply based on the premise alone. But Jackson and company carry it out beyond the premise, presenting a world that intrigues and looks good.

In the age of CGI overload, I don’t know if Peter Jackson and his CGI studio get enough credit when it comes to mixing CGI effects with practical effects. At some point I will get to The Lord Of The Rings franchise and that is when I may go deeper into this topic. But, The Frighteners is a good starting point for Jackson’s ability to grasp CGI better than almost any other director out there. Yes, The Frighteners is loaded with CGI, but the CGI is also mixed with practical effects and it’s hard to distinguish between the two.

For as much as I did like The Frighteners, it does go off the rails at times. As I mentioned previously, for some reason Jackson felt the need to inject a movie that lived on its surreal nature with moments that are out of a more conventional movie. The love story between Michael J. Fox and Trini Alvarado never seems to matter, because it isn’t a story for this movie, it is for another, more conventional movie. The same holds true for when they feel the need to make sure Fox has a back story and is connected to everything. The story doesn’t bother me that much, but it’s presentation doesn’t fit, it’s too normal in a movie that is striving to be anything but normal.

Over the years The Frighteners has developed a bit of a cult following, and I can see why. When it plays with the horror genre it is a smart and witty film that is all kinds of fun. As usual the style of The Frighteners didn’t appeal to anyone but horror fans, but the lack of understanding non-horror fans have for the genre is a topic for another time. The Frighteners is a fun movie, and honestly if you are a horror fan and you have yet to see it you have no excuse. The only thing that could make me steer you away from The Frighteners is the god awful cover of Don’t Fear The Reaper playing over the end credits, what were you thinking Peter Jackson?




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