Horror Comedy
The Frighteners
Dir: Peter Jackson
Star: Michael J. Fox, Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, Trini Alvarado
Cert / Year: 15 - R / 1996
Format: DVD R2

After a tragic car accident which took the life of his wife, architect Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) acquires the ability to see dead people. (NO, not like The Sixth Sense!) Giving up architecture Bannister assumes a new profession, that of a "psychic detective". Bannister however has the cards stacked a little in his favour as he "employs" a small team of ghosts to haunt people's homes to put the "frighteners" on them so they will call Frank to come and get rid of the spirits...for a fee of course. This unethical business strategy works for a while and with the money Frank hopes to finish his dream home which he was building for his wife but now shares with his "partners" The Judge (John Astin) (yes, the original Gomez Addams) Cyrus (Chi McBride) a happening ghost from the 70's with a bad dress sense and Stuart (Jim Fyfe) a former teacher.

After a small motoring accident in which he demolishes a white picket fence, ruins a lawn and runs over a gnome or two, Bannister sends his associates to the house of Ray Lynsky (Peter Dobson) so he can get rid of the spirits for free and not have to pay for any damage to Lynsky's garden. As Lynsky's doctor wife Lucy (Trini Alvarado) is levitated on her bed and things start to fly around the bedroom, Ray swallows his pride and calls Bannister to sort the problem. Just as Frank is finishing the scam routine he notices that Ray has a number glowing on his forehead, when he asks about it he is ejected from the house by Ray who thinks it is another scam. Later that night Ray has a heart attack and dies, but Ray is another victim of the sudden trend in unexpected and unexplained heart attacks which have been sweeping the small town of Fairwater. At a loss and without a clue to explain the deaths Local Sheriff Walt Perry (Troy Evans) he calls in the FBI in the creepy form of Special Agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs).

As Dammers appears in Fairwater, Frank and his friends witness another heart attack victim, and it is evident that these unnatural deaths are according to the Judge the work of the "Soul Collector". Dammers convinced that Frank is behind the murders races to arrest him but Frank has to stop this "soul collector" or will Dammers believe him, unlikely seeing as in Dammers mind there is only one person in the middle of these events and that is Frank.

What a surprisingly good film, superb special effects which are exceptionally well used to good effect. Good script written by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh and some amusing and excellent performances by the ensemble cast.

(Michael J. Fox) is brilliant as Frank Bannister and shows a more versatile side to his talents and is a satisfying watch in this role, although it is difficult not to see Marty McFly in any role he plays. Great performance by (Trini Alvarado) as Dr. Lucy Lynsky who brings a love interest to the story. Jeffrey Combs adds his unique acting talents to the film as Special Agent Milton Dammers, and manages to be even creepier than his normal self. Although hardly a prolific actor Combs has managed to stamp his abilitites on just about the full spectrum of cult movies from Re-Animator to The House on Haunted Hill and brings a psychological and physical intensity whilst carrying a comedic role with ease. The ghosts in the forms of the outstanding John Astin , Chi McBride and Jim Fyfe hold a lot of the ectoplasmic comedy together and their untimely passing is somewhat of a flaw in the story. For anyone that remembers Full Metal Jacket there is a brief but excellent cameo by R. Lee Emery basically reprising his role as surprisingly enough the ghost of an army drill instructor.

Jake Busey is unhingedly chilling as psychopath Johnny Bartlett and gives a superb performance. In addition to looking like his father Gary Busey, their acting styles are quite similar and junior has as much on-screen intensity as his father. Bartletts former love interest Patricia Ann Bradley is well portrayed by Dee Wallace Stone as she is forced to endure the constant and violent haunting of her former lover. (some of you might recognise her as Elliotts mother in E.T)

The story is good and the film is paced well and features some strong direction by Peter Jackson but the main problem really is that what starts off as a quite amusing horror comedy almost inexplicably gets a bit serious. The jokes stop and most of the last part of the film is almost devoid of humour which is a shame because up until that point the film is excellent. I feel that the film was unduly underrated because of this but it does contain some excellent CGI which is well used for a change, good direction and some fine acting performances. The humour is quite dark as you would expect from Peter Jackson the man who gave us Bad Taste and Brain Dead but nonetheless funny. Some of the charm of this film may be attributable to the presence and guidance of Robert Zemeckis as Executive Producer.

If you liked Ghostbusters then you will like this.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Picture 2.35:1 A crisp and grain free picture
Audio 5.1 Dolby Digital Very cool soundtrack
Features Theatrical Trailer
Production Notes
Cast biographies
Verdict A good presentation of an underrated cult film but the static menu's and general lack of extras is a little disappointing

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home