The Frighteners

“When a man’s jawbone drops off it’s time to reassess the situation.”

The Scoop: 1996 R, directed by Peter Jackson and starring Michael J. Fox, Jeffrey Combs, Chi McBride, John Astin, Jim Fyfe, and Trini Alvarado.

Tagline: Dead yet?

Summary Capsule: A psychic investigator who can see and communicate with the dead attempts to cheat Death and the FBI when a serial killer re-emerges.

Justin’s Rating: Sunny days, pickin’ up… CLOUDY ways! (Justin needs his music)

Justin’s Review: This underrated tale is brought to you by director Peter Jackson, who also directed the gore-fest Dead Alive. It contains much of the same horror/comedy elements, with the gore turned down and the special effects turned up.

Frank Bannister (an oft-wooden Michael J. Fox) can see and communicate with the dead in a little seaside community. Instead of joining the now-defunct Psychic Friends Network, Bannister uses three ghost friends to haunt local residents in order to scare up cash (ack, bad pun, kill me now). However, a serial killer is on the loose, and only Bannister can see the culprit and identify the victims before their demise. He teams up with love interest Lucy (who is loyally in love with Bannister, despite having lost a husband and only gone out on one date with our hero) to stop the killer and outwit other various human elements that conspire to stop them.

I personally love this movie, and am very baffled why it was given shoddy treatment in the box office back in 1996. The special effects (lots of CGI for the ghosts and their doings) are cut-rate, even by today’s standards. It’s a dark comedy, balancing lighter moments with some pretty gruesome scenes. While Fox is not the most present character in this movie, his supporting cast more than makes up for it.

His three ghost friends are all unique: you have Judge (John Astin) who is falling apart from the 1800s, Stuart (the fifties geek), and Cyrus (the afro-70s black brother). Unfortunately, they do not get large amounts of screen time. FBI Special Agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) steals the show as an extremely paranoid and quirky G-man. His irises are black, his facial expressions reminiscent of Bruce Campbell, and he gets the best lines in the films. Think Mulder from X-Files meets Ash from Army of Darkness.

The entire setting for the film gives great atmosphere, from the rainy cemetery to an abandoned hospital. The climax comes about an hour into the movie and tries to sustain itself while the heroes attempt to defeat the serial killer (splendidly played by Jake Busey). I’d say they were rather successful: I enjoyed every minute as if I was on a haunted house tour.

While there aren’t as many comedic scenes as I’d like, the ones they do have are precious (and startling as they shift instantly into action and horror). Bannister’s communication with the dead spirits are often abrasive and amusing, but he seems to take it all in stride.

And of course you gotta love the fact that everybody’s favorite sheriff, Troy Evans, is smack in the middle of another movie. Poor guy, never saw the typecasting shark that bit his butt. He’s played a cop in about every other movie he’s done, from The Stand to Demolition Man to The Lawnmower Man.

So, on the next dark and stormy night, why not pick up this unique movie and write it up as your contribution for the “Big Budget–Box Office Flops” charity.

Afterlife Child Care.


  • One of the best tongue-in-cheek cameos The Frighteners presents is R. Lee Ermey playing the ghost of his Marine sergant character from Full Metal Jacket.

Groovy Quotes:

Cyrus: There’s nothing worse than a bunch of pissed-off black brothers who are already dead!

Ray: [as a statue of Elvis floats across the room] He’s alive!

Judge: When a man’s jawbone drops off it’s time to reassess the situation.

Dammers: My body is a roadmap of pain.

Bannister: You are SUCH an asshole.
Dammers: I’m an asshole… with an Uzi!

Dammers: Sheriff! You are violating my territorial bubble.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Flatliners « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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