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Just before doing "Lord of the Rings," director Peter Jackson (who can be seen in a cameo as "Man with Piercings") made an off-kilter horror/comedy movie called "The Frighteners," the tale of the undead and the guy who makes a living off of them. Though "Frighteners" was barely in theaters at all, this cult flick is funny, creepy, well-acted and wonderfully directed.

Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) has seen spirits and apparitions ever since the car crash that killed his wife. Now he operates an amateur "ghostbusting" operation that is supposed to exorcise ghosts from people's houses -- the problem is that the ghosts who haunt those houses are in league with him (Chi McBride as the opinioated afro-ed Cyrus, Jim Fyfe as the nerdy Stuart, and most of John Astin as what is left of The Judge).

Frank's business certainly isn't hurt by the fact that for years after a serial killer's murderous spree, people have died mysteriously of heart attacks. Then Frank starts seeing fiery numbers emblazoned on the foreheads of people who will die, including the husband of doctor Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado). As if trying to stop a specter of death weren't hard enough, crazed FBI agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) believes that Frank is the one murdering people. But the evil specter is still killing -- and Lucy is the next victim.

Peter Jackson once said that he has a "moronic" sense of humor, and it shows up in all its glory here -- from bug spray dissolving a ghost's face to a piece of talking oily sludge to a drill sargeant ghost with submachine guns, this is weird and absolutely hilarious. It's the perfect blend of comedy and horror.

But he's also good during the more serious moments, such as Bannister's flashbacks to his wife's death, or the eerie sight of homicidal young lovers dancing with a gun. The opening shot is pure Jackson, with the camera swooping through a window, past fluttering curtains, and though a hole in the attic floor to a screaming woman below.

Jackson also takes the opportunity to poke a bit of fun at more conventional ghost movies: the big Gothic house, crazy old lady, ghost in '70s clothes, and Fox's hilarious turn as a ghostbuster. Nothing horrific is sacred. "There ain't nothing worse than a bunch of pissed-off brothers... that's ALREADY DEAD!" Cyrus yells at one point.

Does it have a flaw? Yes -- the opening scene doesn't seem to make much sense later on in the movie. But Jackson makes up for that with a surprisingly tight, coherent plot, and a satisfying finale that makes more sense than most other horror movies do.

The cast is brilliant, whether it's the twitchy, wild-eyed FBI agent, or the three weird ghosts. Michael J. Fox does an excellent job as Frank, with the right combination of cockiness and pathos, while Alvarado is solid as the idealistic young doctor. But the scenes are reallystolen by Dee Wallace-Stone and freaky-eyed Jake Busey, as homicidal young lovers.

"Frighteners" might not make you believe in ghosts, but it will make you laugh, shiver, and maybe even shed a tear or two. Wildly funny, weird, gross, and sometimes really peculiar, this is Jackson's splatter-gore at its best.
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on 28 October 2011
I remember seeing this at the cinema as consolation for the fact that the film we wanted to see had sold out. Turned out to be one of my favourite films.
Directed by Peter Jackson between his low budget slasher pics (Bad Taste & Braindead) and his big budget adventures with Frodo & co what starts out as a kooky comedy turns into a horror without missing a beat.
A great cast, beautiful locations & some good (but dated) CGI make this one of the most enjoyable & under-rated films ever.
The Blu Ray picture and sound is an improvement on the DVD and also includes the theatrical (109mins) & directors cut (122mins), an introduction by Peter Jackson (which I believe was made for the 10th Anniversary dvd edition), The Making of (an immense 3hrs 45mins in total), which includes everything you'll ever need to know about this film and its production.
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on 22 December 2002
You would never guess by watching this film that it was a bit of a flop at the box office. It has a big star name, bundles of laughs, state of the art special effects, and Peter Jackson at the realm as director, a name who is currently synonymous with raking in megabucks at the big screen. More than that though, this is essentially a great film. Original in its humour, and with a great storyline, this is a film that works as a feelgood movie and a horror flick at the same time, similar in vein therefore to Jacksons previous movies such as Braindead, or Sam Raimis Evil Dead trilogy.
This is one title that it is difficult not to commend highly to anyone from any background. It has something in it for everyone and really deserves much more recognition and praise than it has so far received.
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VINE VOICEon 11 January 2006
I'd just about given up on this ever getting released on DVD! When the first Lord of the Rings film cleaned up at the box-office and director Peter Jackson became a household name I was convinced that the Director's Cut of The Frighteners was a dead cert for a DVD release. 5 more years later, and the entire LOTR trilogy out on DVD twice over, there was still no sign ... and I'd lost faith. But here it is, finally! Better late than never, Universal!
Let's get to the good stuff... Most important of all as far as I was concerned, the UK release is NOT CUT this time around! When I saw The Frighteners in the cinema, one bit in particular made everybody in the place sit up and go "Whoa!" So imagine my disgust when the UK home release of the theatrical version turned out to have emasculated this very sequence by inserting a spurious shot of M J Fox falling, right in the middle of the shot, splitting it into two and virtually completely removing the exploding head. If the idea was to "lessen the intensity" of the sequence, then it worked. Sadly I thought I'd bought the same intense film I'd seen at the cinema! Needless to say, I got shot of my UK version and got the uncut US version instead. Happily, the UK DVD release of the Director's Cut contains the sequence uncut and is identical to the US version.
In fact this UK release - in a rare reversal of the norm - is actually superior to the US release for a couple of reasons. The UK version offers DD5.1 and DTS5.1 soundtracks in addition to the director commentary, whereas the US version doesn't have DTS. And the UK version comes on 3 separate DVDs (one for the film and two discs for the incredibly extensive extras) whereas the US version is a single-disc release, cramming the same content onto one of those horrible double-sided DVDs that you hardly dare handle. And don't be misled by the US version stating that the film is extended by 14 minutes where the UK version claims 12 - that's due to the slight timing difference between US and UK TV systems and the content is identical.
The Frighteners is now ripe for rediscovery. The additional material is not just a load of exposition and reinsertion of deleted scenes better left out - a surprising amount of it is FX stuff you'll be surprised wasn't in the film all along. And for those interested in the process of film-making, the 4 hours of extras form one of the most in-depth "making of" documentaries ever seen - Peter Jackson set out to deliver the kind of behind-the-scenes material he always wanted to see as a budding film-maker, and it shows. Highly recommended.
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on 14 June 2004
The Frighteners is that rare breed - a comedy horror that actually is funny and, in parts, scary.
Following a car accident, Frank Bannister (Michael J Fox) is able to see the dead. He turns this to his advantage and works as a Psychic Investigator - getting his ghost friends to haunt homes and then exorcising them for money. He is scraping by until he begins to see numbers carved into peoples' foreheads and those people begin dying. He soon finds himself suspected of murder and on the run whilst trying to piece together a mystery which leads him back to an executed serial killer and the death of his own wife.
Michael J Fox is very good as the cynical Bannister caught up in something that no one else understands or believes. Fox plays it more or less straight and most of the comic relief comes from the supporting cast (especially Chi McBride and Trini Alvarado as the ghostly sidekicks). Jake Busey puts in a great turn as a psychopath.
The film is fast paced and the special effects are not looking too dated 8 years on. A very enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours and it's always interesting to see what Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson were up to pre-LOTR.
Give it a go.
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on 4 February 2002
i have to agree with all the other reviews, this simply is one of the best films i have ever seen, michael j fox is on top form and really makes this film, the story is a real gem and has a great ending. jake busey is particularly good as the nasty villian back from hell to wreck havoc, as are the rest of the cast. looking at the film you would never guess it was made in new zealand the production quality is so good! peter jackson has made a fine job at the helm as well as writing the very witty script. one of the best parts about watching the film is spotting all the shortland street characters who play cameo parts in the film as well as fox's dead wife! bravo, top film although no one is likely to see it! please buy it you will not be dissapointed.
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on 7 April 2012
I'm not commenting on the movie, I don't think it's relevant to comment on the movies themselves here, there are better places for that like IMDB.

This blu-ray benefits from an excellent transfer. Visually, it's probably the best that could be made out of the original material. No complaints, great show.

Being a french-speaking person, I was originally going to buy, naturally, the french edition from Thanks to discerning commenters there, I didn't, and bought this one instead!

What makes this UK edition stand out is that:
- it includes the two versions of the movie (the original theatrical cut and the director's cut) - the french edition only has the theatrical version!
- it has english and french languages
- it has english, french and spanish subtitles
- the extras have english and french subtitles - the french edition doesn't even have subtitles for the extras!

Have fun :-)
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The director's cut of The Frighteners doesn't help the film's awkward shifts of tone much, but then this always seemed like two or three good ideas that never really gelled into the same movie. The idea of Michael J. Fox's paranormal investigator running a scam with a trio of real ghosts who haunt the houses he charges to exorcise is never given enough of a comic workout, just as the inspired idea of an undead serial killer trying to beat the competition in the body count stakes because "the title should be held by an American" never becomes a genuinely chilling figure. There are a few neat twists, but the film still feels more like it had a pitch and a treatment rather than a solid script, offering only a third as much fun as it really should. Still, no complaints aboutthe lavish extras on this 3-disc set - aside from the usual deleted scenes and trailer there's even a four hour documentary produced by Jackson!
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on 17 November 2007
I feel that this is a hugely under-rated film. Prior to Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson just wanted to have fun and that's what The Frighteners The Director's Cut is definitely the version to watch taking it a little over two hours. There are occasional slow moments but, for the most part, it keeps a great pace.

Everyone turns in a great performance, it's nice to see Michael J. Fox in a slightly different role as he doesn't play it directly as a comedy but is still funny and likeable. Trini Alvarado is a good female lead and works well with Fox. Frank's ghostly chums are all played fairly over the top but are entertaining and don't wear out their welcome and Dee Wallace Stone is fantastic in a very different role than usual. It is Jeffrey Combs, however, playing the crazed FBI agent Milton Dammers, that steals the entire movie. His screen time is fairly limited but what he gets, he absolutely makes the most of. Every line, every mannerism is hysterical while still remaining unnerving. It's such a multi-layered performance and is an absolute joy to watch.

Danny Elfman provides a wonderfully haunting score and Peter Jacksn's directing is as appropriate as ever. Often manic and busy, you can definitely see the makings of an Oscar winner. The CGI effects are impressive for the time although they may seem a little dated now. The one gripe I have about this movie is that the beginning doesn't make a whole lot of sense once you've seen the entire movie.

Overall, this is a movie that never fails to cheer me up. It makes me laugh and it works well as a 'horror' movie too in a mad-capped kinda way. As for the DVD, I recommend the 4 disc set that comes with a documentary over 2 discs that goes into extreme detail. Jackson's commentary is also well-worth a listen. A must for fans of the quirky, Michael J. Fox and especially Jeffrey Combs.
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on 8 July 2013
Director Peter Jackson delivers a riveting film that defies description.Part Supernatural Comedy,Part Horror Fantasy,Part Psychological Chiller,and part Slasher Thriller.Jackson somehow effortlessly mixes them all together to great affect.

Michael J.Fox (in what sadly became his final live-action movie role) plays a troubled ex-architect who has the unique ability to see ghosts.The only friends in his life are three spirits,a 1950's nerd,a 1970's gangster,and a judge from the 1800's.Fox uses them to haunt the local residents in the small town of Fairwater where he lives,in order to supposedly step in,exorcise them,and make a profit.It's a great scam,until a genuine evil spirit starts to terrorise the town,and Fox realises that he must use his psychic abilities to stop it.

Fox couldn't be better in the role.He gives a fantastic performance,walking a fine line between comedic,and dramatic.He's troubled,and edgy,yet he always remains likeable and sympathetic.Even more amazing considering how many special effects are going on around him throughout the story.He is ably supported by Trini Alvarado,who helps him counter balance the digital effects,and mayhem in the film with some humanity.

The production design in the film is fantastic too.It has a unique look to it,and another atmospheric score from Danny(Beetlejuice,Batman)Elfman gives it just that extra boost to add to the quirky tone.I really enjoyed this on first viewing,but it wasn't until the second viewing that I fully appreciated it.The wide range of characters,multi-layered plot,and dazzling visuals can make it a bit difficult to take everything in the first time around.The second viewing gives the film a much fuller experience in my opinion.

The director's cut adds 14 minutes of extra footage,and makes the plot,and characters much more complete.I cannot praise this film enough.It pulls you in from the opening credits,and delivers laughs,spectacle,twists,and surprises from beginning to end.It's just a shame the film was released in the summer of 96,instead of Halloween as Jackson intended.I think it would have done much better at the box-office.
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