The Frighteners (1996)

the-frightners Review by Jake

Alright, so to kick off my first movie review I thought I would start with a film that I finally saw from beginning to end recently. The Frighteners is a 1996 horror comedy directed by Peter Jackson.  The film is about a former architect (played by Michael J. Fox) who can see and communicate with ghosts and uses them to help him to scam people out of money by pretending to bust the ghosts, basically. When a few people around town wind up dead in mysterious circumstances he has to use his ghost power to solve the problem.


Michael J. Fox: Michael J Fox plays a character who starts out the story a little sleazy but isn’t a bad guy. He pulls off some of the more deadpan humor well and manages to come across likable despite the fact that he essentially starts the story as a con artist. The character doesn’t really have a great arc or anything like that but MJF is solid throughout the film.

The First Half: I found the first half of the film to be stronger than the second half. I like the slower pace and the more comedic side of the film which I feel like the film looses as it progresses but hey that is just me.

The Effects: The Frighteners uses a lot of CGI which usually I’m not a huge fan of but the film uses it well I think. A lot of movies from around this time (the early to mid 90s) that used CGI look really dated but this film I think still holds up well in the CGI department. I think it comes down to the fact that the CGI isn’t trying to make something look real and fails (Scooby Doo in the live action movies comes to mind) but rather trying to make things that aren’t real like ghosts and the paranormal look visually interesting.


Jeffrey Combs: Jeffrey Combs plays a crazy, eccentric FBI agent who is investigating the murders in the town and tries to connect them to Michael J. Fox. I like Jeffrey Combs. I like oddball characters. I don’t like this character in this movie. I can’t really describe it you have to see the movie, but this character (Milton Dammers) is absolutely nuts and I think it clashes with the rest of the film. This character would fit really well in Twin Peaks. Most of the other characters are played straight and behave semi realistically (as realistically as you can for a movie like this) but this guy is ridiculous. I think when you have a character like this played so off the wall you have to ground him by either throwing character logic out the window or by having the other characters acknowledge the over the top nature of the character. Milton Dammers just clashes with the rest of the tone of the movie for me.

The Second Half: I touched on this a little bit earlier when I talked about the first half of the film but on thought on would elaborate a little further. The second half of the film is really a letdown. The film kinda changes tone and pace which is just really off putting to me. “Stuff” happens pretty quickly and I think the film’s premise and story line is stretched too thin. I think if the film would have incorporated the “murder” element better or have stuck more closely to the original premise of a guy who scams people out of money being a fake/real ghost buster and elaborated on that instead of introducing a serial killer it could have had more potential.

The Romance: While their isn’t much of one. The relationship or dynamic between Michael J. Fox and Trini Alvarado (who plays one of his would be victims turned friend/romantic interest) just does not work. It’s not a major part of the film and they don’t spend much time on it but I just don’t buy that these two care about each other even a little bit.

The Music: The Film was actually scored by Danny Elfman who I am fan of, but I find the score to be average. Nothing stands out to me as being memorably good or bad.The score is definitely not Elfmans’ best work. The music comes across as  a missed opportunity. I think a more memorable score could have given the film more personality and help extenuate the tension of the climax.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Overall, I think The Frighteners is very average film. None of the acting is bad besides the Milton Dammers character (played by Jeffrey Combs) but I think that comes down to the writing more than anything. The plot starts off with a lot of potential but then just goes in a direction that I felt was tonally inconsistent and uninteresting. The musical score is forgettable. The special effects were probably good for the time and look good still but are nothing mind blowing. I like horror comedies but this film doesn’t pull it off. I think an effort should have been made to push the film into one direction or the other.


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