{2jtab: Movie Review}

The Frighteners - Blu-ray Review


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4 stars

15th Anniversary Director's Cut

Originally released in 1996, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners is the only heir-apparent to the throne of ‘Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice’ as it captures Burton’s delicate balance of gothic horror and comedy so well.  There’s also a dynamic story about the consequences of the past upon the present through its haunted metaphors.  And who can forget composer Danny Elfman’s enchanted soundtrack?  Ripe with WETA wonder and dark themes, The Frighteners arrives on blu-ray in a wonderfully extended Director’s Cut.

One-time architect Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) has a secret; the dead help scare up business for his psychic exterminator service.  After he loses his wife, Debra (Angela Bloomfield), in a car accident, Frank develops the ability to see, to hear, and to talk to the dead.  Soon enough, he uses this ability – with the help of three ghouls: a jive-talking gangster named Cyrus (Chi McBride), a nerd named Stuart (Jim Fyfe) and an Old West gunslinger known as the Judge (John Astin).  Together, these four work together to drum up business in the one tiny California coastal town.

After “exterminating” the ghouls from Dr. Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado) and her husband’s (Peter Dobson) house, Frank learns that a serial-killing spook dressed as the grim reaper is claiming souls in the style of how his wife died.  Quickly, the team of spectral ghosthunters discovers that the ghost of Johnny Charles Bartlett (Jake Busey), who killed 12 people over 30 years ago, has returned to reunite with his lover, Patricia Bradley (Dee Wallace) and bring about the death of any human who crosses his path.  Making more trouble for himself than good, is Agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs), a bizarre FBI Agent who is deeply troubled and full on into demonic S & M.  His quest to prove Frank guilty of his wife’s murder is also an obsession.  Somehow, against these forces, the gang of spooks and Frank must overcome in order to survive the grim reaper.

The macabre weirdness shields The Frighteners from any serious criticism; this script – written by Fran Walsh and Jackson – is dark look at the humorous world of ghosts and, in spite of its hackneyed moments, rises from the grave with sharp wit.  Full of zingers and scenes that bring a cutting knife to its deadly operations, The Frighteners is stronger than its weaker points (which, if we truly are counting, are but few).

Jackson is a crazed beast behind the camera; still wielding it like it was the lawn mower in his violent Dead Alive.  The camera speeds and zooms with intensity both inside and outside its locations.  Zipping along briskly, the structure feels lighter than it actually is; the murder and madness behind its characters is dark in nature and when in action.  This is definitely not a movie for kids.

Still the history of this film in its relation to the birth of WETA is fascinating.  With producer Robert Zemeckis on board, the original intention was for it to be a spin-off of Zemeckis’ co-produced Tales from the Crypt television show.  Yet, Walsh and Jackson impressed Zemeckis so much with the material that Jackson was allowed to shoot it and stay in New Zealand on a restricted budget.  Jackson, having bought a ton of computers for the effects in Heavenly Creatures, made WETA his headquarters and, thus, a legend in special effects production was born.

Let us not forget, however, that The Frighteners is Fox’s final lead role.  While some critics have suggested that Fox is miscast, I personally feel the movie is all the stronger for his stellar charisma.  For the careful observer, one can see why Fox would be attracted to the material and, in certain scenes, the emotion Fox was feeling due to his diagnosis is visible.  For proof, look no further than the haunting interrogation scene.  For that reason alone, The Frighteners is not to be missed.

Fifteen years after its initial release, The Frighteners makes its hi-def debut with the extended Director’s Cut that ties up the loose ends of the Theatrical Version (also included).  This is Jackson at his darkest and his measured funniest.  Its stunning visuals are also a hint at the magic of his Lord of the Rings trilogy yet to come.  In any home, The Frighteners should scare up laughs and chills a plenty this Halloween season.

{2jtab: Film Details}

The Frighteners - Blu-ray ReviewMPAA Rating: R for terror/violence.
: Peter Jackson
: Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Cast: Michael J. Fox; Peter Dobson; John Astin; Dee Wallace; Jeffrey Combs
Genre: Comedy | Fantasy | Horror
Tagline: Death is no way to make a living!
Memorable Movie Quote: "Sheriff! You are violating my territorial bubble. "
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Theatrical Release Date:
July 19, 1996
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
September 13, 2011

Synopsis: Charlatan Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) has genuine psychic powers, but he doesn't use them to help people. Rather, he generates cases for his supernatural private-eye firm by harassing a group of hapless ghosts (including a dearly departed Wild West outlaw and an undead judge played by John Astin) into staging hauntings and poltergeists in the homes of likely marks. Bannister's world turns on its head when he starts noticing real hauntings around town -- ghostly assassinations that seem to be tied to the execution 20 years earlier of a brutal serial killer. Lucy Lunskey (Trini Alvarado), the wife of one unlucky victim, teams up with Bannister to get to the bottom of the killings and find out what shut-in Patricia Bradley (Dee Wallace Stone) and her witchy mother (Julia McCarthy) have to do with the sinister spree..

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

The Frighteners - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades

Blu-ray Disc
4 stars

5 Stars

Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars


Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - September 23, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
: English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: DTS 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region A

The glorious 1080p transfer is a meticulous feast for the eyes. The gothic glooms are captured in a wonderfully crisp palette of solid colors and black levels that never leak or run from shadows.  The special effects look remarkably strong for its age (except for the rather shallow grim reaper) and the style of Jackson’s camera is still current.  The skin tones are perfect and naturally warm with only a hint of moodiness in their color.  Elfman’s bombastic score is rendered in a wonderfully dynamic DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that rips up the floorboards with power and shakes the walls.



  • There is a wonderfully verbose commentary track from director Peter Jackson attached to the Director’s Cut of the film (which should be the norm for this film as it is wonderful).  His poetic waxing and waning of his film mechanics brings a rich understanding to the quality found in his features.  It’s a great track; a little something for everyone.

Special Features:

Beginning with the old 10th anniversary introduction by Peter Jackson, it quickly becomes apparent that all of these special features have been ported over from the DVD Director’s Cut release.  Normally, this would be obnoxious.  Because that release was such a long-winded and complete affair, there really is no way you could ever top it.  Everything is included here.  Nothing new, but it’s still a great release.

  • The Making of ‘The Frighteners’ (90 min)
  • Storyboards (20 min)
  • Deleted Scenes (15 min)
  • Disc also includes the Theatrical Version of the movie

{2jtab: Trailer}