Movie of the Day – The Frighteners
September 22, 2011 4 Comments
A forgotten gem, which happens to be one of my favorite Michael J. Fox movies (next to Back to the Future series, obviously) is the horror, comedy movie The Frighteners. Along with Michael J. Fox, this was also Peter Jackson’s fifth movie before going off to make the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Sadly, this movie ended up being bittersweet as it was Michael J. Fox’s last leading role in a live action movie. The Frighteners is one of those movies that almost just flat out didn’t get made. The production of the movie was marred with time constraints and up until that time, it required a large amount of effects shots done for the movie. The distributors wanted the movie out early, but a series of fortunate events ended up helping out the movie and giving us what we see today.
Charlatan Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) has genuine psychic powers, but he doesn’t use them to help people. Rather, he generates cases for his supernatural private-eye firm by harassing a group of hapless ghosts (including a dearly departed Wild West outlaw and an undead judge played by John Astin) into staging hauntings and poltergeists in the homes of likely marks. Bannister’s world turns on its head when he starts noticing real hauntings around town — ghostly assassinations that seem to be tied to the execution 20 years earlier of a brutal serial killer. Lucy Lunskey (Trini Alvarado), the wife of one unlucky victim, teams up with Bannister to get to the bottom of the killings and find out what shut-in Patricia Bradley (Dee Wallace Stone) and her witchy mother (Julia McCarthy) have to do with the sinister spree. ~ Brian J. Dillard, Rovi
This was kind of interesting role for Fox to play. He plays a devious trickster using the his psychic powers to swindle people to rid them of ghosts. The movie strikes a fairly comedic cord, with the ghosts adding comedy relief and Fox have some interesting banter with them. But the comedic tone only occupy the first half of the movie and turns fairly dark, very quickly. The light hearted comedy and colorful scenes start to fade out as if someone is taking all the joy out of life as the movie shifts to the horror element. While not terrifying, the movie definitely shifts gears towards the sinister side with the murders and ghostly apparitions starting to dominate the screen. The effective use of the color palette indicates the change of tone and feeling, placing the audience into this bleak and soulless violence that happens.
The Frighteners is really a unique movie that sadly didn’t do well at the box office. It was more so destined to become a cult classic, given the nature of the movie and the fact that Peter Jackson was well established with the cult film aficionados. Dead Alive, Meet the Feebles, and Bad Taste really kind of gives you a solid feel for his directing capabilities. These are not bad movies by any stretch, as Jackson had to make due with a small budget and practical effects. The Frighteners is basically a big budget version of all his previous movies. While it didn’t get the fame it deserved and had a lot of issues with getting it completed, its an unforgettable movie for those who have seen it.
The movie does have some genuine scares littered amongst some (for the time) glorious digital effect shots. Fox gives a great performance and while it wasn’t his most memorable role, I felt it was the funnest one he played in a long time. I love this movie in terms of the mixing of Jackson’s dark humor with some frightening visuals. It transitioned nicely between lively comedy to the dark, sterile horror environment. It doesn’t take you out of the movie when you are watching it, but I will say that there are some extreme touches to the film that Jackson has done in his past movies. It doesn’t hurt it, but there is some overkill with the characterizations and effects. Giving him a big budget and creative control means you give up the director more power to over reach his bounds. Still a fantastic movie none the less.