The Frighteners (1996) – Peter Jackson

Michael J. Fox takes the lead in what was Peter Jackson’s first big studio film, with Bob Zemeckis serving as executive producer. While some of the special effects have not stood the test of time, it remains a fun film, trying to walk that balance between horror and comedy.

Frank Bannister (Fox) is a con man with a gift. He can see ghosts. He uses them to help make money, conning people into believing they are being haunted. Despite the rough edges of his behavior, he’s driven to conning people to make money to raise enough to finish building the dream house he had planned with his late wife.

When she died in a car accident the trauma triggered Bannister’s ability to see the dead.

Now something is stalking the streets of a small town in California (read as New Zealand), and Frank is going to have his hands full as everything seems to tie back to a murder spree in a mental facility by Johnny Bartlett (Jake Busey) and his young lover, Patricia (Dee Wallace).

Paired with a recently widowed woman, Lucy (Trini Alvarado), Frank, and his cadre of ghosts are racing to stop a series of murders before they happen, as Bartlett has returned from the grave in the guise of a soul collector. And nothing is going to stop him from upping the score of his original murder count.

While some of the computer-generated images really don’t hold up the story is crafted well enough, particularly the director’s cut, that it holds up nicely. Some of the humor can be a little crass, but Fox is right on point as a tortured character who just wants to get past the trauma of the past while honoring his wife.

It’s not until he is truly prepared to confront Bartlett that he realizes that he needs, and wants to live and that our sins and blessings may follow us to the next realm.

The cast is well-rounded, joining Fox, Busey, Wallace, and Alvarado are John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Chi McBride, R. Lee Ermey, and Troy Evans. It’s actually a very well-executed film, and has a Jackson cameo, of course.

It also serves as a huge stepping stone for Jackson, this led him from Heavenly Creatures to Lord of the Rings. So it’s an important film in his filmography, and honestly, I always enjoy watching Fox on screen. He’s been a favorite forever, and I will always delight in his performances.

And you can see in Jackson’s work his love for effects married with practical effects, which will serve him so well in The Lord of the Rings.

Honestly, this one ended up being better than I remembered it, so I was more than happy to have a look at it again.

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