The Frighteners 1996 movie

The Frighteners – The top ghosts from the 1990s?

Ironically, ghosts are not only die-hard in the fantasy stories they so often star in but also in the cinematic genre that we can see in great splendor with this 1996 movie, The Frighteners.

An exaggerated merry-go-round of thrills between fantasy and comedy under the confident leadership of Peter Jackson, before he made his grand entrance into international cinemas with the unforgettable saga of The Lord of the Rings.

In this case, we have instead a story of much smaller proportions centered entirely on the young medium Frank Bannister, who is capable of seeing and speaking with the spirits of the dead.

Frank uses this gift very selfishly to compel people to pay him to exorcise their homes, which were previously and purposely occupied by the intrusive trio of his best friends: the jolly ghosts Cyrus, Stuart, and the very old “Judge.”

But a far more dangerous specter lurks in town, in the guise of the hooded icon of death with a scythe, who seems to be playing an upward game trying to reap more and more victims.

While the local police take these deaths as simple and common heart attacks, Frank plans to protect young Dr. Lucy Lynskey, whose fiancé Ray is the latest victim of this murderous spirit.

Lucy and Frank thus begin to investigate together who this deadly, unstoppable machine of death might be, uncovering a series of clues that all seem to lead to the deceased serial killer Johnny Bartlett, guilty of a hospital massacre many years earlier.

At the same time, the bizarre FBI agent Milton Dammers arrives in town, who instead believes that the same Frank is responsible and, unintentionally or not, would use his psychic powers to stop the hearts of all these victims.

The long road to Mount Doom

Unfortunately, The Frighteners was a movie that could have done better at the box office in 1996, barely raking in the $30 million it cost to produce.

Yet even after the beautiful (as well as disturbing) Heavenly Creatures, as you all know, it was Peter Jackson‘s final leap into the high-budget film industry.

But don’t think that, all things considered, even the budget for The Lord of the Rings was who knows how stratospheric since we are, in fact, talking about $100 million to produce each chapter of the trilogy.

That figure is obviously a lot of money for ordinary working citizens like us, but compared to major blockbuster flicks, they sometimes spend even more just on marketing.

What makes the difference, as in this movie, is Jackson‘s great skill in staging and the great care taken with the excellent special effects that look more expensive than they actually were.

Moreover, with the interest of Robert Zemeckis as executive producer, we have the evergreen Michael J. Fox, already famous for starring in the unforgettable Back to the Future saga, as the protagonist.

Jackson‘s excellent direction primarily takes its cues from the wry, fast-paced, over-the-top style of Sam Raimi‘s celebrated Evil Dead, mixing death and laughter just as effectively along with a perfectly blended mood of grim setting and ubiquitous irony.

After all the money Hollywood has been spending in recent years trying to bring back (ironically) the ghost of the 1980s Ghostbusters, without ever really succeeding, they should take as an example this little gem from the 1990s, which, much more humbly, succeeds in its purpose of perfectly blending comedy and fantasy.

Is it possible that these geniuses of producers never seriously thought of Peter Jackson for these remakes?

A lovely cast of humans and ghosts

The absolute star of this 1996 movie is Michael J Fox, whose brilliant stage presence alone is already worth the price of a ticket to The Frighteners.

The actor is always moved by his frenetic body mimicry, which is perfect for the irony of this character: a “loser” exorcist with an old trauma in the past, after which he precisely gained media power.

For the first part of the story, moreover, accompanying good old Michael is the hilarious trio of ghosts composed of Chi McBride, a 70s black big guy always dressed as if to go clubbing, along with the more awkward but equally funny Jim Fyfe and finally the skeleton-human John Astin, a West-era Judge who literally loses his pieces scene after scene.

Equally compelling is the married couple, Peter Dobson and Trini Alvarado, with the husband as stupid as he is overbearing and dying almost immediately to leave the sweet wife to help/flirt with the protagonist.

After that, Alvarado and Michael J. Fox are together for almost the entire movie, often under the helpless eyes of the husband, who, as a ghost, must watch his beauty fall in love with another.

As always, equally important is the team of bad guys, and here again, we have plenty of talent with the superb Dee Wallace in the deceptive role of the seemingly harmless Patricia, actually a vicious killer in love with the fantastic smiling grin of Jake Busey, who here plays the role of a lifetime as serial killer Johnny Bartlett.

Last but not least, there is the fantastic Jeffrey Combs, who plays the creepy FBI agent Milton Dammers: a man utterly insane after years as an infiltrator of cults and demonic cults and who, in fact, will only do damage without ever helping the protagonists in the least.

In short, summing up and concluding, we have on our hands a movie that is truly more unique than rare. Not even Peter Jackson himself will ever repeat it in the future (moving on to other kinds of movies), and so it remains one of the few examples capable of combining horror and fantasy with grotesque humor and an irony blacker than the bottom of hell.

The Frighteners 1996 movie
Amazon Prime Video
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