Saturday, January 26, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Frighteners

The Frighteners
directed by Peter Jackson
This 1996 movie was rated R although today it's hard to see this as anything other than PG-13 fare at worst. There are a few chills and a couple of disturbing violent scenes but overall this film leans more towards the comedy spectrum of the horror-comedy mix. IIRC there is no nudity or even cleavage.  The bad guys are not celebrated. 

The camera rarely lingers lovingly on destroyed human bodies. This film shares some DNA with earlier Jackson works such as Dead Alive and even his later work in The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Director tics that were a bit annoying later on were in this movie muted or even cute. YMMV on the comedy. This clearly could have been a much more serious and perhaps scarier film but that wasn't what Jackson decided to do. Some of the writing fell flat. Sometimes it looks as if Jackson told Chi McBride to "Be funny! You're a big black guy. That's funny right??!

This movie was Michael J Fox's last lead role before withdrawing from Hollywood because of the onset/impact of Parkinson's disease. This movie posits that the human soul is immortal and survives the death of the body. For whatever reason, good or bad, a small minority of human souls don't go on to heaven or hell after they die. Perhaps they need to prove their goodness or evil; perhaps they have unfinished business on this plane of existence, perhaps they are scared of what lies beyond and just want to hang out here for a few centuries. 

These people are what everyone knows as ghosts. They usually can't be seen by most people. And new ghosts can't interact much with this world, though more powerful or angrier ghosts certainly can.

A former architect, Frank Bannister (Fox) is a man who has been able to see ghosts ever since his wife's fatal car accident. Frank was driving at the time and still has feelings of guilt and loss.

No longer interested in architecture Frank decides to use his new found ability to see ghosts to make money as a low rent exorcist. Frank gets his new ghost friends,  Cyrus (Chi McBride), The Judge (John Astin) and Stuart (Jim Fyfe) to haunt houses and leave his business cards around. Frank then shows up and "exorcises" the ghosts for a fee. All is going well until during one of his scams Frank watches a number appear on the forehead of a skeptical homeowner, Ray (Peter Dobson). Frank once saw a similar (lower) number appear on his wife's head. The homeowner's cute wife, Lucy (Trini Alvarado) actually believes in what Frank is doing.

The local newspaper editor, Magda Rees-Jones (Elizabeth Hawthorne) doesn't believe in what Frank is doing. She is doing her best to get Frank arrested or run out of town. When Ray becomes the latest in a long unexplained line of heart attacks, people start to wonder about Frank. But when Magda dies soon after, the local sheriff and an eccentric FBI Agent (Jeffrey Combs in all his weird glory) are certain that Frank has something to do with all of this. But the truth is more complex. Jake Busey shows up in a role he was borne to play. Dee Wallace Stone is an older woman with a past. R. Lee Ermey is a ghost who is upset that Frank can see ghosts. 

Again some people will be made a little queasy by the comedic-horror mix. Jackson was clearly having fun here. I thought it was just bad taste to have Frank and Lucy flirting with each other almost immediately after Ray's funeral.  The film too often gets in its own way by trying to wring humor out of situations that aren't really supposed to be funny. Nevertheless there are worse ways to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.
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