Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Every horrorhound's favorite month is upon us, and to celebrate, I'll be dishing out a personal pick from the genre for every day in October. Some will be obvious and rather unoriginal (sorry that I like movies other people like), while some will be a little more oddball and off-the-wall. Some may even challenge your idea of what constitutes a "horror" movie. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the month with some good movies, even if they aren't ones I recommend!

Today's Pick: The Frighteners (1996)

Before defining the fantasy film forever with his interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson was a pioneer in the horror-comedy genre, crafting trashy classics such as Bad Taste and Dead Alive a.k.a. Braindead. When his chance to hit the States came, he gave us a movie that perfectly captured the feeling of walking through a haunted house attraction: a bit of unease mixed with moments of shock, but all in the name of good fun and lots of laughter. That film is The Frighteners, and I adore every ectoplasmic second of it.

Our story centers around Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox, in his best role since Marty McFly. Oh yeah, I went there), a seemingly fraudulent "psychic investigator" who actually can communicate and interact with spirits, but decides to use them to manufacture hauntings which he exorcises for a significant fee. However, something strange is going on in his quiet little town of Fairwater. Numerous people are dying from a strange heart condition, and when Frank gets roped into the shenanigans, he witnesses a spectral figure that can only be described as Death himself. Frank's investigation will lead to knowledge about a dark event that happened in the town's past, and eventually, even Frank's own life.

If that synopsis sounds too serious, I'm doing the film a great disservice, because above all things, The Frighteners is a hoot. It's filled with laughs that come from both a gleeful script and an impeccable cast. Michael J. Fox is stupendous, and considering that this film was his last leading role in a feature film (before he took a hiatus due to his Parkinson's disease), it's a hell of a one to go out on. I stand by my previous statement that this is his best role since Marty McFly. But, Fox isn't the only one having a blast. The rest of the cast is full of wonderful character actors like oddball Jeffrey Combs, psychotic Jake Busey, Gomez Addams himself, John Astin, and the always welcome Dee Wallace Stone. Everyone is giving it 100% because the material is just an excuse to really play and cut loose.

The movie also has a great way in how it reveals its rules and mythology. You never feel bogged down by the world The Frighteners imagines, but rather like you're peeking into a silly little universe that you wish you could visit. And as far as the horror elements, they are handled excellently. Not all the digital effects hold up, but thanks to the intangible nature of the spirits, their level of quality actually gives them their own unique flavor. Plus, any movie that features the criminally underutilized image of the Grim Reaper is worth checking out.

The Frighteners is spook-a-blast entertainment at its peak. Even though there's a gritty charm to his earlier forays into the genre, this will always be my favorite Peter Jackson film, even if it isn't necessarily his best. With all the tools and clout at his disposal, I wish Jackson would make a grand return to the genre that made him who he is (The Lovely Bones does NOT count), because I feel like he could have an even grander version of The Frighteners to unleash upon us. Now that Michael J. Fox is back in the acting world full-time, maybe we can get a sequel? Someone forward this article to Mr. Jackson.

For tomorrow's pick, we'll be dealing with some of the creepiest mannequins ever put on film. Hint: It's not Mannequin 2: On the Move. See you then!

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