This incredibly brilliant, underrated horror/comedy by then relatively unknown Peter Jackson from 1996 is one of my all-time favorites. I saw this when it first came out when I was about 9 years old, and I’ve loved it ever since! Featuring an all-star cast headed by Michael J. Fox, The Frighteners is the story of Frank Bannister, “psychic investigator”, who can see spirits ever since a car crash that claimed his wife’s life. His two ghost buddies go to random homes and disrupt things, leaving his business card at the scene in order to help Frank make a living by banishing the activity. This time, however, there is another figure lurking, a Grim Reaper sort, who is literally squeezing the life out of people in the town of Fairwater, Nebraska.
Some people in town feel it’s a curse, or that it has something to do with the executed murderer Johnny Bartlett (influenced by the real-life Charles Starkweather), and his accomplice/girlfriend, Patricia (loosely based on Caril Fugate, Starkweather’s accomplice). The movie recognizes this and incorporates it into the story, as the new couple in town watch a documentary on the town’s sordid past. Bartlett was inspired by Starkweather and wanted to outdo him and all other serial killers, despite only achieving twelve murders as an orderly in a hospital. Patricia was released from prison, claiming she was an unwitting accomplice, and turns out to be the new patient of the new doctor, Lucy Lynskey. Turns out, the Reaper has been increasing his body count from the afterlife. Bannister and his ghost pals pull the stunt at Lucy’s house, not knowing that Death is looming and will soon claims her husband, Ray. She starts to believe that Frank is the real deal despite his failing business, and self-deprecating personality. He goes to dinner with her, and her now deceased husband, so she can ask him some questions. He tells her (through Frank) that he lost all her savings in a bad investment, causing her to be angry and reveal that it wasn’t really a good marriage. Frank consoles her, but Ray gets angry and knocks over some wine onto Frank’s clothes. He goes in the bathroom to clean up, and sees the Reaper kill another patron. He leaves the restaurant, while the police question Lucy because they feel Frank had something to do with Ray’s death. We meet a paranoid, gross FBI agent, Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) who has a problem with women yelling. He tells Lucy about what happened the day Frank’s wife died….then all shit hits the fan, and the movie really gets going.
Argh, what am I telling you all this for? Apparently, I’m on a kick where I just want you to see the movie without knowing everything going in. This movie is hilarious at times, and downright creepy in others, and the ending is relatively fantastic. The special effects are really cool, and the back story is darkly sinister juxtaposed against the humorous nature in other parts of the film. It is definitely a unique movie, and it’s hard to imagine another movie quite like it. Given that it was pretty much Michael J. Fox’s last starring role in a feature film before he decided to quasi-retire due to his Parkinson’s Disease, you really should see it. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the Foxster, and he’s great in this. You feel such sympathy for his character, and really root for him to save the day. I’m unsure just how many people have seen this movie, as I know several who love it, and some who have never even heard of it. But it features many veteran horror stars (Dee Wallace Stone, Jake Busey, Jeffrey Combs) and has a terrific cameo by none other than R. Lee Ermey! Gotta watch it for that, right? 🙂