This review is at the special request of my good friend Juan, so if you have some special requests for movie/game/tech reviews, you let us know!
I didn’t get to see The Frighteners growing up. I was twelve when it released and it was an R-rated film, so that was an automatic ‘no way’ from the ‘rents. That’s all beside the point though, I didn’t even know the film existed until a few years later. As a result, I had absolutely no squishy, nostalgic feelings for it when I saw it for the first time just recently. The Frighteners is sorta like that intersecting section of a Venn diagram: it came at the end of our fascination with ghosts-and-haunted-houses (from Ghostbusters to Casper the year before) and was one of Peter Jackson’s early films, long before he was famous for The Lord of The Rings. The problem with this film is simple: I hate ghost-and-haunted-house films.
But Nick, you liked The X-Files, for at least a few seasons, right? Yeah, but that mixed up the theme from week to week, it’d be a haunted house one week, then a military exercise the next, then pure science fiction after that. But Nick, you loved Ghostbusters! Yes, but that had two things going on that The Frighteners doesn’t: Interesting characters and comedy. This film had a snicker here and there, but there was no crafty camaraderie between its cast, it’s a pretty dark and dour film. Michael J. Fox, in one of his last roles before the ravages of his Parkinson’s took effect, plays
a cardboard slat a paranormal investigator who can see the dead after a car accident. He enlists a trio of these ghosts to scare a house (his calling card left conveniently) before he swoops in to exorcise the place for a nominal fee. When a particularly nasty spirit arrives and starts murdering the living, he finds himself short of answers.
The film spends little time building any of its characters before they’re murdered. I don’t need Casper-style wacky ghosts, but would it have hurt to put a little bit of flavor into his ghostly associates? Or screen time at all? Fox sleepwalks through the film in a performance that makes you wonder if Marty McFly was on fire throughout the Back to the Future films. As it progresses, the script just keeps adding slat after slat in excessive plot points that just bog the whole thing down. People get offed and we shrug because we couldn’t care less. The special effects might’ve been okay in 1996, but they just aren’t as frisky today (this was one of Weta Digital’s first films). Despite some interesting ideas, The Frighteners is simply a lifeless slog (ha!), and while it thankfully didn’t end Peter Jackson’s career, his only three great films afterwards seem to indicate he needs to massage more of guts into his work (ha?).