Michael J. Fox
Horror Action Comedy
Trivia Peter Jackson is the bearded and pierced man who Frank bumps into a minute before the ghost of Ray knocks him down.
The day that Peter Jackson's cameo was shot, Jackson had to wear the heavy metal outfit (leather jacket, make up and a vast amount of piercings) the entire day. This happened to be the same day that the studio had invited the media to the set for publicity.
Was originally planned as a 'Tales from the Crypt' (1989) feature, but producer Robert Zemeckis liked the script so much, he decided it should stand on its own and not be part of a series.
A figurine depicting Elvis Presley is visible in Ray (Peter Dobson) and Lucy's bedroom. Dobson played Presley in Forrest Gump (1994).
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The Frighteners (1996)
11th Dec 05
Michael J. Fox plays a paranormal private detective who becomes involved in a mystery as members of the town community begin dying mysteriously.
Back in 1995, Peter Jackson embarked on his most ambitious project to date. Despite being a Hollywood production with a Hollywood star and a Hollywood budget, Jackson filmed the project in his native New Zealand and used his own company WETA to compose all of the numerous special effects shots for the film, something he was quite nervous about at the time. He soon got into it though and, quickly getting to grips with the art of blue screening, it became apparent that WETA was going to have to expand to fulfill his vision. Throughout post-production the number of super computers owned by the company soared from one to a staggering thirty-five, begging the question what were they going to do with all those machines when the project was over? As fate would have it, someone suggested they do a fantasy title, and then someone else enquired about the state of the Lord of the Rings project. The rest as they say is history.
The Frighteners stars Michael J. Fox as Frank Bannister, a psychic investigator with a big trick up his sleeve. You see, Frank can actually see and talk to ghosts, and he's used this skill to set up a modern day ghost busting business using a few ghosts that live with him (a geeky ghost with glasses, an aging frontier cowboy who's so rotted his jaw keeps falling off, and black ghost who's pissed off he died in the 70s because that means he's been wearing the same pair of flares for over 20 years). The scam works like this: Frank gets his business card into the target's hands (preferably someone with a recently dear departed) and then sends his ghosts around to make like poltergeists. They cause havoc, Frank gets the call, he comes around with his ghost catching contraption (it's a toaster), gives them a bit of a routine, catches the so-called ghosts and the poor sap he's conning gets a bill for several hundred dollars plus tax. Simple yet brilliant.
But more is afoot in the sleepy town of Fairwater. There’s been a bit of a bizarre death epidemic recently where a couple of dozen completely healthy people have dropped dead for no apparent reason, with the latest including Ray the asshole heath fanatic that Frank just conned. But Ray’s having a hard time accepting he’s a ghost and turns to Frank, the psychic guy, to talk to his widow Lucy from beyond the grave. Unfortunately, Frank has taken quite a shine to Lucy, so the situation gets a little awkward. But why did Ray see the vision of a number carved on to Ray’s forehead before he died? And why did that guy in the restaurant have a number on his head too? What’s the connection between that and the famous Bartlett hospital massacre in the town back in the 50s? And could there possibly be a connection between that and the accidental death of Frank’s wife a few years ago?
Needless to say, all becomes clear. Jackson is now at the height of his game obviously, but a decade ago the self-assured handling is already apparent. He seems to have managed to combine comic book storyboarding with sweeping establishing shots and MTV editing to keep the camera moving and the pace up, but all the time his real point of reference is the actors. As said before, there’s an awful lot of special effects shots in the movie, and you’d expect a director going in to such an undertaking to either overdue them or misfire them. But that doesn’t happen, the focus is always on the story and the characters and effects are added to enhance the story, not tell it like in some recent blockbusters I could mention.
And what great characters they are. The ensemble cast for The Frighteners is top draw (that sergeant from Full Metal Jacket is great as graveyard general, as is the seen-him-in-loads town sheriff) but special praise has to be lauded on a few performances. Michael J. Fox romps through the whole movie like a darker Marty McFly with issues, and we feel for him. Jake Busey is positively devilish as John Bartlett, as is Dee Wallace Stone playing well against type as his semi-nuts girlfriend (I took me a while to click it was her), but the real crowd pleaser is Jeff Comb’s cult expert FBI man, Milton Damers. He’s hilarious, having issues with women who shout, serious hernia problems that means he prefers to stand, and a wild eyed maniacal dedication to proving that there is no such thing as ghosts and that it’s all in our fragile minds. Trini Alvarado’s Lucy, on the other hand, has the job of stumbling through the movie with the innocent eyes that someone not familiar with the worlds of ghosts and spirits would and she does a good job, providing someone for Frank to explain the plot too. Isn’t it nice when film makers provide characters like that?
So pretty much everything about The Frighteners is good; the cast do well, the direction is assured, the special effects are fantastic when you consider this is a decade ago and the storyline is quite original and involving, with a nice blend of horror, action and comedy that should please everyone. And naturally Danny Elfman’s suitably mischievous score also deserves a mention, but then again that nearly always goes without saying. Great Stuff.
Versions The new R1 version is the way to go. It is 14 mins longer than the previous edit, plus has all these wonderul special features.
Audio commentary with director Peter Jackson.
Introduction by Peter Jackson
The Making Of 'The Frighteners' - documentary (An amazing 223 minutes long!)
A similar release is coming out for the UK around Xmas.
There are also 3-disc continental releases available with both versions on, but they have varying extras and sound quality.