Film review: The Frighteners (1996), directed by Peter Jackson
tl;dr: More amusing than scary horror comedy.
Since the tragic death of his darling wife, architect Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) has been working as a ghostbuster. Everything about him screams “FRAUD!!” – especially how he tends to show up with business cards at funerals – but the ghosts are real … and his accomplices. What else is there to do in a small, miserable town when you’re dead?
One of the cases takes Bannister and friends (Chi McBride, John Astin, Jim Fyfe) to the Lynskeys (Trini Alvarado and Peter Dobson), but it soon turns out that there’s more to this little town and its hauntings than the one staged to give Bannister an income. Something far more sinister is on the prowl, and it doesn’t just move objects … it kills people.
Can Bannister figure out what the glowing numbers on people’s foreheads mean? Can he catch the wraith before over-zealous Agent Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) decides to lock him away for good?
Also starring Dee Wallace-Stone as Patricia Ann Bradley, Jake Busey as Johnny Bartlett, Julianna McCarthy as Old Lady Bradley, and R Lee Ermey as Sergeant Hiles.
What do you get when you set Peter Jackson free with Michael J Fox and CGI-ghostified actors? You get a horror comedy that’s both interesting and amusing … if perhaps not terribly scary. It’s easy to connect the dots too, but what does it matter?
Sinister old ladies, shouty drill sergeants (yeah, it’s the bloke from Full Metal Jacket alright, not like he’s typecast much), rotting old cowboys and even a cameo by Peter Jackson himself. It’s quite, quite delightful, on the whole. It’s fun and quirky but with an undertone of seriousness – after all, it’s about a spirit on a killing spree!
If Jake Busey reminds anyone of Gary Busey, it’s because Jake is Gary’s son. Thought he looked familiar, and the name sure is a big clue!
One of the best parts is probably when Bannister acts as a medium to a woman who has just lost her husband. Bit of an interesting, err, date/séance. Three’s definitely a crowd. The funniest character, however, has got to be the over-the-top federal agent, who has infiltrated one secret organisation too many.
I enjoyed the story, the acting and pretty much everything about this film. There’s no two ways about it. It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly good enough.
4 out of 5 urns.