The Frighteners (1996)

No Rest for the Wicked.

Once an architect, Frank Bannister now passes himself off as an exorcist of evil spirits. To bolster his facade, he claims his "special" gift is the result of a car accident that killed his wife. But what he does not count on is more people dying in the small town where he lives. As he tries to piece together the supernatural mystery of these killings, he falls in love with the wife of one of the victims and deals with a crazy FBI agent.

When a man's jawbone drops off it's time to reassess the situation.
Peter Jackson's The Frighteners is an odd blend of outright comedy and supernatural thriller, if able to get onside with that then there's a whole lot to enjoy. Plot essential has Michael J. Fox as a psychic who really can see dead people, so much so in fact that he has befriended three ghosts and makes a living out of setting up hauntings and charging people to exorcise the spirits. However, things turn decidedly deadly when he encounters a grim reaper like spirit that is killing people and putting a number on their foreheads. It seems there is a serial killing spirit on the loose.
Frank Bannister (Fox) is grieving from the death of his wife and he has become a conman, this is an interesting characterisation for Fox to play and he does so with relish. Initially the pic is all about the comedy, with Bannister's interactions with the three ghosts devilishly funny. Ok, the effects work now look a bit crude, but there's a vibrancy on offer both visually and orally.
Come the second third the pic shifts into a serial killer investigation and the narrative gets dark. Oh there's still fun in the mix, but Jackson and his team are toying with the very real facet of a celebrity serial killer (ebulliently played by Jake Busey). Trini Alvarado (what happened to her?) is playing what ends up as Bannister's side-kick and love interest and the pair of them are thrust into a frantic final third of a life and death battle with Busey's psychotic spirit Johnny Bartlett. Bartlett in turn is aided by mentally ill Patricia Bradley (horror icon Dee Wallace Stone), while an outrageously over the top Jeffrey Combs is in the mix as a damaged FBI agent intent on destroying bannister and all he stands for.
When you strip it down it's a live action horror comedy cartoon, which when you look in context to Jackson's early work is not surprising. It's also not surprising that The Frighteners has become a cult movie of some standing. The bonkers plot, the close to the knuckle humour and choice narrative threads make it a fascinating viewing experience. 7.5/10

WingNut Films, Universal Pictures by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh.
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin.

Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Keywords: mother sheriff judge small town fbi architect con man poltergeist funeral widow black humor lovers ghost world daughter supernatural hell murder serial killer grim reaper scam reporter doctor car accident investigator widower cult film threat psychotic recluse ghost graveyard multiple murder army sergeant spooky haunted

07/19/1996

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