The Frighteners


Between Peter Jackson’s origins with his homegrown, DIY, gore comedies and his cinema conquering days thanks to the herculean task of realising The Lord Of The Rings for the big screen lies The Frighteners, a truly bananas horror/comedy that finally allowed the New Zealand auteur play with some juicy Hollywood money.
After mamy awesome years of pot bellied aliens, sexually active puppets, son obsessed zombies and more gore than you can shake a severed spleen at, true life crime biopic Heavenly Creatures finally had people taking Jackson seriously and after being tasked by Robert Zemeckis to come out with the next Tales From The Crypt Presents: movie, The Frighteners’ script was deemed promising enough to be able to stand on it’s own.
Sadly, the box office didn’t agree, but the years have revealed that Jackson’s warped tale of cartoony spirits and deranged serial killers is simply too crazy to be completely put to rest.


Frank Bannister is something of a hot mess as he trawls the town of Fairwater, plying his trade as a sleezy psychic investigator – but the twist is, while Bannister is obviously a con man, it’s not quite in the way you’d think. You see, there are ghosts and Frank can see them, but he’s entered into a partnership with afro wearing Cyrus, 50’s nerd Stuart and the gun-toting Judge, a crumbling, skeletal, cowboy to haunt houses which Bannister then comes and “exorcises” for an exorbitant fee.
However, Bannister’s dishonest lifestyle is born from the trauma of his wife’s untimely demise years earlier, but when his latest job, the faux cleansing of the house of unhappily married Dr. Lucy Lynskey, it puts him into the middle of the bizarre rash of heart attacks that’s been blighting the town for years.
Thanks to Frank’s “gift”, he witnesses that the deaths are actually being caused by a predatory grim reaper figure that’s been reaching into the chests of its victims and literally crushing the life out of them. That’s the good news unfortunately, as Frank presence on the scene implicates him in the crimes and puts him on the radar of the stratospherically weird Special Agent Milton Dammers of the FBI who specialises in supernatural cases. While Frank and his ghostly buddies try to stay ahead of the cops while trying to figuring out what the hell this “soul collector” is up to, Dr. Lynskey finds herself drawn to the tragic case of Patricia Ann Bradley, a reclusive middle-aged woman living with her dominating mother who found herself dating Johnny Bartlet, a mass-murdering hospital orderly, back in 1964.
As dots are joined and links made, all the players (both living and dead) are about to see themselves hurled into a supernatural free for all that involves car chases, ghostly monsters and a throwaway joke about piles.


I fucking adore The Frighteners, but if I’m being brutally honest, one of the reasons I love it so much is because it’s quite possibly one of the most coolest, impressive messes I’ve ever had the pleasure to sit through. It is genuinely all over the place and more better for it, but I can truly understand why audiences at the time were dumbfounded at a movie loaded with fantastic concepts, funky effects and a legitimate mean streak that betrays it’s (failed) intention to be a PG-13 spookshow. Jackson and Fran Walsh’s script contains enough ideas for at least two different movies and its relentless energy means that the finished film is almost pathologically uneven, veering from the twin poles of comedy and horror as wildly as Bannister’s questionable driving skills (why is he such a dangerous driver?). One minute the movie is dealing in a haunting, Natural Born Killers style subplot and then it bounces into some slapstick Ghostbusters territory before rounding the bases with some blockbuster set pieces involving a hulking CGI grim reaper – but not before flinging out the odd Jackson-esque joke about a ghostly cowboy screwing an Egyptian mummy (Necrophila in a “family” movie? You didn’t get this shit in Casper!).
Virtually ever idea the movie has is a good one, but there’s so many the story simply refuses to sit still and it passes though multiple genres and tones (often in the same scene) with all the reckless abandon of a spirit who’s gotten off its ghostly tits after passing through a crawl space packed with Molly.


I honestly see why people were turned off because how on earth are you supposed to pitch what is essentially Ghostbusters meets Silence Of The Lambs successfully to middle America (hint: you can’t), but I have to admit; that weirdness makes me love it all the more.
While the real stars here are Jackson’s boundless imagination and Weta Digital’s break into the big leagues with outlandish images that sees ghost having their faces blown out by fly spray or getting sucked into a car engine and getting shat out the exhaust pipe; but despite standing next to such funky imagery the cast do exceedingly well. Former Marty McFly, Michael J. Fox, brings a legitimate edge to Bannister who makes what could have been an unlikeable scumbag into a vunerable, broken hero with some impressive depth, while Trini Alvarado is legitimately sweet as the open minded Lynskey. On the flip side, Dee Wallace puts all memories of being the mom from ET behind her by going full nuts during the climax (Cujo wouldn’t have fucked with her back in the 80’s if she’d pulled this shit) and Jake Busey shows that he’s a chip off the old block when portraying toothy lunatics as Johnny Bartlet. And then there’s Jeffery Combs… Possibly most famous for his role in Lovecraftian gore classic Re-Animator, Combs grabs the pathetically villainous role of Agent Damners in two gloves fists and wrings every bit of scenery chewing lunacy out of it that he can, taking the hand wringing twitchiness to Jim Carrey levels of feral overacting.
It’s a mess, but by fuck is it a glorious one and it insists on giving you more and more and more until the movie ends on (what else) a cover of “Don’t Fear The Reaper”.


It’s a movie I honestly cherish, probably because of its flaws, as it’s obvious that the dense nature of the spills and thrills only comes from the director’s frenzied desire to entertain. It’s also acts as an incredible metaphor for Jackson’s career trajectory as after we get a joke about the Judge fretting about having the ghost version of erectile dysfunction (“Mah ectoplasm’s all dryed up!”) we then get the agonisingly cool Reaper monster that looks more than a little like the Ringwraiths that gallop across the Shire in Fellowship Of The Ring.
Sure the ghost’s abilities are a little inconsistent (sometimes that pass through things, sometimes they don’t) and maybe I’ll concede that the rabid genre hopping may be a little exhausting, but for sheer innovation and restless enthusiasm, The Frighteners is scarily fucking good.
And if you disagree? Well, boo on you.


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