Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Frighteners

Year: 1996
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Stars: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace-Stone, Jake Busey and Chi McBride
Running Time 110 minutes, and a 122 minute director's cut.
Genre: Horror, comedy, thriller, supernatural

Summary: 1995 in the small town of Fairwater, USA. Once successful architect Frank Bannister (Fox) is now an alcoholic, selfish con-man who operates a scam as a psychic, although he can actually see ghosts following the death of his wife (Angela Bloomfield) in a car accident five years previously. Frank gets his three ghostly friends, Cyrus (McBride) a 1970s era black gangster, Stuart (Jim Fyfe) a 1960s era nerd and The Judge (Astin) an Old West gunslinger, to haunt people's houses forcing the occupants to call Frank who will then "remove" the ghosts for a fee. However Frank becomes aware of a supernatural force that is randomly killing innocent people in the town, also he can see which people are destined to be killed by the force. With the help of a sympathetic doctor (Alvarado) Frank attempts to stop the killings, while also being hunted by a dangerously paranoid FBI agent (Combs) who is convinced that Frank is behind the deaths.

Opinions: This film was originally conceived as a feature film spin-off of the television series Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996) however the film's executive producer Robert Zemeckis, who also produced Tales from the Crypt, was so impressed by the script that he thought it would work better as a stand-alone film. Despite being set in the US, the film was shot entirely in Jackson's native New Zealand with the plentiful special effects being supplied by Jackson's Weta Digital special effects company. The movie mixes multiple references to horror movies old and new with Jackson's distinctive fast-moving style. It also has an impressively quirky cast including such cult actors as John Astin (star of the TV series The Addams Family (1964-1966)), Jeffrey Combs (star of Re-Animator (1985)) and Dee Wallace-Stone (who appeared in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), the original The Hills Have Eyes (1977) and The Howling (1981)) and features a hilarious cameo from R. Lee Ermey as a ghostly version of his demented drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket (1987). The movie is a good one with plenty of imagination and a real verve to it all. At times it veers too wildly between horror and comedy, but mostly it achieves the difficult balance pretty well. The special-effects were really spectacular for their time and are still impressive today, even if the computer generated effects are looking dated now (in movies nothing ages as badly as special effects).
By the way cameo fans, Peter Jackson appears as the bearded rocker who accosts Frank when he comes out of the newspaper offices.

Stuart (Jim Fyfe), Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) and Cyrus (Chi McBride) have a haunting experience in The Frighteners

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