31 Days of Terror: The Frighteners
Before he was immersing the world in JRR Tolkien's Middle-Earth with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was a master of horror. Though Dead Alive is probably his most memorable foray into the genre with ridiculous amounts of gore, The Frighteners was a more mainstream attempt at blending horror and comedy.
After a near death experience in which his wife is killed, Frank Banister obtains the ability to speak to ghosts. He bonds with several ghosts to take advantage of the community who has blamed him for the death of his wife by posing as an exorcist, using the ghosts to cause problems so he can make easy. However, when strange heart attacks around the town line up to be a continuation of a deceased psychopath's killing spree, Frank must put away his selfish needs and the save the town.
This is a fun movie and what makes it fun are the characters and the performances. Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, and Peter Dobson are great but the knockout performances comes from the ghosts. Chi McBride and John Astin as the Judge are hilarious and R. Lee Ermey in a cameo that's reminiscent of his Sergeant Hartman character from Full Metal Jacket is great. Surprisingly, the villains are just as chilling. Jake Busey playing a psychotic killer is dead on site, but Jeffrey Combs as an unhinged FBI agent steals the show. His performance is so strange and unique, blending anti-social behavior and anxiety into something unique.
Another surprise is the use of CGI, espcially considering how practical Jackson's early films were. There's barely any blood in this film either, relying heavily on theatrical scares and music cues than guts and gore. Sadly, the CGI doesn't hold up as well as it once did. While the ghosts look good, the Reaper-like character you see throughout the film is all CGI, moving through walls like Freddy Kreuger. In some shots he looks fantastic while others not so much.
There are a lot of great horror elements here though. Gothic lighting, tilted camera angles, and a soundtrack by Danny Elfman really make this film shine. And there's a spectacular flashback scene where Michael J. Fox is walking through a dark abandoned hospital while at the same time witnessing murders that took place years earlier when the hospital was brightly lit and everyone was wearing white, making for some beautiful imagery.
The Frighteners is all but forgotten and if you're a fan of Peter Jackson, it's a worthy addition to his resume.