Review by Gordon Justesen
Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone,
Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, Chi McBride
Director: Peter Jackson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: November 29, 2005
gotta have an out-of-body experience…and I gotta have it RIGHT NOW!”
When I first saw The
Frighteners nearly a decade ago, I found it to be a superbly made B movie;
kind of like Ghostbusters on acid. With repeated viewings, I’ve come to find it
a most remarkable piece of filmmaking. In addition, the movie is far more
original than you might expect.
Looking back, the
film serves as in important mark in director Peter Jackson’s career. Prior to
this movie, Jackson was an acclaimed filmmaker on the rise, having already
achieved success in his native New Zealand with the horror release Braindead
and the riveting thriller Heavenly
Creatures. The Frighteners was Jackson’s first big budget production, and the
first one to showcase his one of a kind use of computer effects. So it’s safe
to say that this movie very much paved the way for the astonishing visual
effects in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings
clear that moviegoers everywhere will remember Jackson for LOTR, The Frighteners is a
movie experience to never be forgotten. And the good news is that this already
entertaining film is even better in this new Director’s Cut. Jackson has added
14 minutes of footage that add an even stronger level of depth to the story.
The movie, as it
is, is a mind-blowing mix of horror, supernatural thriller, outlandish comedy
and amazing visual effects that are nothing short of awe-inspiring. The story
involves Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox, in one of his best performances), a
friendly paranormal investigator who operates in the quiet little town of
Fairweather, California. He runs his own business, and is called in by townsfolk
who are having unexpected encounters with all kinds of poltergeists.
Bannister’s real profession is that of a con artist. He carries the ability to
see ghosts, and with this gift he uses it to scam customers, with the help of
his dead partners Cyrus (Chi McBride), Stuart (Jim Fyfe) and Judge (John Astin).
He dispatches them to sneak into homes and terrorize people, leaving an open
door for him to display his phony ghost-busting.
Why is Bannister
scamming people? Why did he give up his previous job to do so? How is he able to
see spirits of the dead? Answers to those and other question are about to be
revealed as Bannister discovers a ghoulish force has arrived in town with
intentions of administering a lengthy killing spree. This evil spirit, known as
the Soul Catcher (donning a grim reaper-like cloak and armed with a life-size
scythe), can also wipe out the very innocent ghostly spirits that only Bannister
can see. It kills by literally ripping souls out of human bodies, making it look
as if they had a massive heart attack.
Bannister and his
dead sidekicks set out to stop the Soul Catcher’s massacre, but it won’t be
the easiest thing in the world to accomplish. For one thing, the killings seem
to point to him as a suspect, since most of Fairweather think Bannister is crazy
from claiming to see the dead. Another thwart is a phobic FBI agent named
Demmers (Jeffery Combs of Re-Animator,
hamming it up brilliantly), who’s so paranoid about the tiniest things that he
makes Monk seem normal by comparison.
What Jackson has
done here is constructed a movie that mixes the best of both worlds in cinema,
and it’s a talent he’s maintained to this day. He gives the movie a
remarkable energy, unleashing some truly astonishing effects, while allowing
time for the story to develop so that the viewer can become even more engaged in
the story. An example; after witnessing the Soul Catcher slay numerous victims,
we are given answers to those questions mentioned earlier concerning Bannister.
Is there a possible connection between him and the killings?
Although it seems
that in today’s movie market, special effects tend to big a bigger priority
than the handling of the screenplay, certain movies can be capable of making the
effects more special, which is something The Frighteners certainly does. To this day, I’m shocked that it
didn’t garner any nominations for sound or visual effects. There are so many
sequences here will marvel your senses (the look and movement of the Soul
Catcher is a pure feast for the eyes). And a later scene where someone makes a
temporary trip to the other side will simply knock your socks off.
This is quite
simply, in my opinion, a movie that never slows down and gets better and better
with every scene, even if it does require you to suspend a great deal of
disbelief (after all, this is a supernatural movie). If anything, it illustrated
Peter Jackson’s ability to craft a film driven by both amazing visuals and
engaging storytelling. Jackson, in the introduction to the movie, states that The
Frighteners is, to this day, a most important film in his career. I
couldn’t agree more, sir!
BONUS TRIVIA: Peter
Jackson can be spotted in a brief scene as the pierced/bearded bystander who
Bannister bumps into.
Universal’s reissue of this film is in true fantastic form. The look of a
movie is crucial when Peter Jackson is directing, and this is no exception.
There isn’t a single shot in the movie that isn’t without some level of
grand detail, or distinct amount of light and color. The presentation even holds
up during several darkly lit sequences, including the climax of the movie. The
picture also delivers the highest quality in terms of visual effects, which look
even more astonishing. In short, this is truly one reference quality disc.
Again, I ask, how
did the Academy let this go unnoticed in the Best Sound category? Believe me
when I tell you that this is one 5.1 mix that will make good use of your sound
system. From the opening scene all the way to the last shot, this sound
presentation will rock your senses to the point that you’ll think
something’s creeping to get you in your home. Every element from dialogue to
scare scenes to outlandish action to Danny Elfman’s lively score is in
top-notch effect. Hands down, one of the best sounding discs out there!
Though the disc is a flipper, Universal and Peter Jackson have done the DVD collector’s absolute justice by including special features that are very special indeed. Included on the disc is Special Intro to the film by Peter Jackson, Storyboarding of key scenes, with commentary by Peter Jackson, a feature length commentary by Jackson ( a great and informative one), a theatrical trailer, “The Making of The Frighteners”, a brilliantly in-depth documentary on the making of the film which features interviews as well as the following:
- Lost Footage Found: The Gatekeeper, The Judge and other deleted scenes - Ghost
Stories: Jackson and actor Jim Fyfe share their actual, personal encounters with
ghosts - Script Development: Jackson describes taking an idea from the treatment
stage to a full shooting script - Behind-the-scenes cast rehearsal - Extensive
exploration of the spectacular special effects, motion control and blue-screen
techniques - Introduction to Jackson's visual-effects facility, WETA- Close-up
look at the use of miniatures.