I used to love The Frighteners and I was one of the few people who actually saw it in cinemas back in the day. Peter Jackson used to be so full of imagination and potential. He started off doing raw, gory horror films (actually broad comedies) like Bad Taste, Braindead, and Meet the Feebles. The Frighteners was his first Hollywood film, and for better or worse, the first film in which his love affair with CGI seized control of his vision.
Michael J. Fox (in his last live-action lead role) is Frank Bannister a psychic investigator/con man with a tragic past who uses his ghost pals to scare people and run a fake ghostbusting racket. His hometown of Clearwater is in the midst of an epidemic in which seemingly healthy people are dying of heart attacks but Frank soon discovers that there is a much more sinister reason behind it and tackles the dark forces before they claim the life of his new love interest.
The mystery and plot twists in The Frighteners are all well-written and keep it alive (pun intended) for the entire running time without the slightest lull. I honestly do mean it when I say that this will probably remain the best film in Jackson's career. Yes, even better than those tedious, overdone LOTR movies, better than King Kong, better than...etc.
So why the 6/10 review? Believe me, back when I was a teenager I would have given this 8/10 without hesitation, but I just cannot stand Jackson as a filmmaker anymore. For a director who began making gritty, in-your-face horror with practical make-up and special effects he come along way/fallen far from his roots. Nothing this guy does these days is 'real'. Nothing is genuinely there, tangible, in front of the camera. It's all a CGI and fake, and The Frighteners was the tipping point for that particular trajectory. Even the Lovely Bones, terrible as it was, had CGI enhancements all over, even outside of the 'Heaven' scenes. Nothing is REAL with this guy, not anymore! He needs to go back to making movies with a camera, some 16mm film, and a boom mike if he wants to get any respect from me or scrape back any shred of credibility. The generic Danny Elfman score, which sounds like absolutely everything else he's ever done, didn't help either.
Universal took a gamble with releasing The Frighteners in the summer season of 1996 (it didn't reach the UK until February 1997, and even then only for about a week) and it was a gamble that they would come to regret. Summer 1996 was an effects filled season with movies like Independence Day, Twister, and Eraser doing huge business. The Frighteners (much more suited to a Halloween release) had a truly terrible trailer, to the tune of Alan Silvestri's annoying Death Becomes Her score, that made it look like a light-hearted comedy. The R-rating was also joke, and a stupid decision. Jackson cut 14 minutes from the movie to lessen the tone but the MPAA still slapped the movie with an R despite the fact that there really, really isn't anything, even in the 124-minute director's cut that warrants such a rating. Plus, the fact that Jackson shot this in rainy New Zealand (doubling as the Pacific Northwest, I assume) meant that a dreary, drizzly, depressing-looking movie fought for box office takings against happy, upbeat, sunny summer movies, and in a year when America was hosting the Olympics too.
Bad move, Universal, very, very bad move.
65 out of 118 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.