The Frighteners is a Comedy/Horror film released in 1996 by Universal Pictures. Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson, who also directed and was one of the films three producers. Originally conceived as a low budget horror movie casting unknown actors, but luckily that changed when Micheal J. Fox was brought on as lead. Not to say I have anything against casting unknown actors, it’s a long standing horror film tradition with many actors getting their earliest roles in horror films. I just love Micheal J. Fox and as a child would go out of my way to see every movie he was in, this being the last major role for Fox as he left for the small screen to star in Spin City to allow him more time with his family.
The film opens with Patrica Ann Bradley (Dee Wallace-Stone) and her elderly mother being terrorized by a Grim Reaper like apparition. We then cut to the town and learn the town of Fairwater is suffering from a number of mysterious deaths. We then meet our lead Frank Bannister (Micheal J. Fox) as he “ambulance chases” at a funeral, handing out his card as a psychic investigator and is quickly chased off. While heading home, Frank looses control of his car wrecking it into the lawn of Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) and his wife Dr. Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado). After a short confrontation between Ray and Frank, we are introduced to Lucy as she makes a house call to the Bradley home and learn about the towns tragic history. Johnny Charles Bartlett and his 15 year old girlfriend Patrica killed 12 people in a local hospital, Bartlett died in the electric chair while Patricia got life in prison, but was released 5 years prior to house arrest as her involvement was never proven. Lucy and Ray then start to experience a haunting in which they call Frank for his help. Frank notices the number 37 appear on Rays forehead and leaves. When he arrives we learn that Frank has a number of ghosts that work in his employ as professional poltergeists that he pretends to exorcise from peoples homes. Ray dies of a heart attack shortly after and haunts Frank. Frank learns that the Grim Reaper is marking people with numbers on their foreheads that only Frank can see as he’s an actual psychic having gained his ability from a near death experience in which his wife died. She was marked with number on her forehead much like the current victims are. Because of this Frank falls under suspicion of murder and the police call in FBI agent Milton Dammers (Jeffery Combs), who believes that Frank is responsible for the murders using psychic powers. Lucy starts investigating the murders and becomes a target of the Grim Reaper. Frank and Lucy then must work together to work to uncover the true identity of the Grim Reaper, his connection to Frank, the city and how to stop him.
The music in The Frighteners is simply amazing, this can easily be attributed to Danny Elfman. Elfman was so impressed with Jacksons previous film heavenly creatures he asked to score one of his next movies. So when approached to do his work on this film he agreed without knowing what the film was about. He sets a wonderful tone shaping the comical and often scary tone the whole course of the film.
The acting is outstanding, as it should be as Micheal J. Fox is involved. He’s such a charismatic screen presence that all other actors play off beautifully. He’s able to switch from comedic to dramatic smoothly never making the film feel disjointed. Besides Fox, Alverado and Dobson do wonderful work. As do the films villains, selling the cold psychotic of their characters. Something I often see done poorly, so when I see it done so well it really stands out. My least favorite work comes from Combs. I don’t think that this is on Combs in particular, it’s me. As his portrayal of Combs is both creepy and unsettling. It’s that since a kid, I just felt that he’s a tacked on character that doesn’t really add much to the film.
The comedy here really sells, with most of the comical moments being silly gags that break from the films tension. So when the film breaks back the darker moments are just that much stronger. Many films try to blend comedy and horror, but don’t ever hit that proper blend. Jackson seems to be able hit this blend almost effortlessly, he did it with Dead Alive and he did it again here. So if you like Dead Alive and have yet to see The Frighteners do yourself a favor and do so.
So final thoughts? Like I said I really love this movie, so much so that after it was stolen a number of years ago I immediately went and purchased another copy. One of my favorite little aspects is the inclusion of R. Lee Ermey’s character from Full Metal Jacket as a spirit who polices the graveyard. Originally planned to be a spoof, but I can never shake the feeling that The Frighters is taking place in the same universe as Full Metal Jacket. Which is another film that I’m a fan of, especially the first half mostly due to R. Lee Ermey. So who would I suggest this film to? Well everybody. It has it’s fair share of scares and it’s humor never distracts too long from it. The effects are well done and still hold up today, so do yourself a favor and give it a watch, or a re watch as it’s a film more than worth multiple watchings. So I have to give The Frighteners a perfect score 10/10/