Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) is the small town’s local ghostbuster *ahem* psychic investigator, looked upon even more cynically than you would (rightfully) expect after a spate of deaths caused by a ‘mystery heart condition’.
The townsfolk think he is a fraud and a phony. They’re half right. Thanks to a near death experience of his own, Frank is able to communicate with the dead, indeed many of his closest friends are dead. And he chats with them almost daily. But he is a phony, with the ‘solutions’ to almost all of his cases aided and abetted by a pair of deceased staff members.
Besides which many of the solutions are necessary to fix issues created by Frank himself.
This changes upon the arrival of a dead serial killer. A violent lunatic with several confirmed kills who wants to both add to his tally – and apparently to haunt his former child girlfriend, a broken woman who has been in hiding since the initial killings left her ostracised, despite her absolution from the crimes.
With an early version of the Grim Reaper (via Ringwraiths) trawling the town for the unsuspecting, there are some creepy effects and macabre images. The ghosts moving quite literally through the walls and roofs of homes is as offputting as it is eyecatching, although the ‘standard’ ghost effect is simply having the character a transparent light blue – which seems a little like taking the easy way out.
The film alternates between pally moments and slapstick effects between Bannister and his pre-croaked cronies, and occasional ghastly moments including the murder and evisceration of innocents and the elderly. The inclusion of a cartoonish part Kramer, part real life Gollum FBI investigator further muddies the waters, as part of the film’s allure was the somewhat ‘routine’ nature of the interaction between the dead and the specially equipped living.
After all that it should be predictable enough that The Frighteners is the epitome of ‘tween’, a dark horror comedy with not enough of either under the scattergun direction of a pre LotR-famous Peter Jackson. It has style and a neat ‘dual reality’ twist that separates it from the serial killer thriller that it could be (and in reality is), but uneven pacing and a darker than dark undertone ultimately forced mass audiences away – and similarly impelled emo kids to embrace the film as the work of genius that it so clearly isn’t…
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. For a modern day ‘Great’ Peter Jackson sure has made a lot of uneven films. Here is but another.