The Frighteners (1996) Review

I don’t know the last time I was so infuriated and frustrated watching a movie. The Frighteners has so many good ideas but is delivered as a muddled, mess of a film. Considering it comes from the guy who has so expertly brought us Middle Earth, you’d think much more care would be taken for something he has complete creative control over.

It starts very well and lays some great foundations for the rest of the film. It begins with a scary opening, with monsters coming out of the walls to attack a woman and is then dispatched by a scary looking Mother. Add to this a psychic who can see and communicate with the dead and you have the ingredients for a decent story, with many different possibilities.

There are some good ideas here but they are delivered poorly


None of these elements are properly built upon though. What Jackson has is the potential for either a really scary movie or a really funny one. What he presents is neither, which baffles me when he has developed some great elements.

A monster who reaches into your chest to crush your heart is a great idea. It is realised on-screen in a very scary way too but never given the full intensity and creepy effect it could have had. If he’d carried on in the same vein as the first scene delivers, then he could have had a horror film to rival most others.

The casting of Michael J Fox seems wasted


On the comedy front, Michael J. Fox plays the hero, a man who can see the dead and uses them to scam people into paying for fake “exorcisms.” This is a great idea and add the fact that the ghosts are unique, disgruntled characters, from a decaying cowboy, a 70s disco dancer and a geek, you could have had a buddy comedy or something close. Unfortunately, this isn’t delivered well either and we only get a glimpse of the potential relationship Fox has with the rest of the ghosts.

Fox is actually heavily under-used here. He’s never the charming, everyman we saw in Back to the Future and he seems to be as confused by the mess of the story as everyone else is. He is more delivering lines than actually acting, although the role does call for him to play to nothing, with a lot of CGI effects used.

The effects are good but everything else seems to be a mess


It’s so infuriating because a psychic who can see ghosts going up against a killer ghost is a film that almost writes itself. Add Michael J Fox as your hero and the movie begins to come together. Jackson just adds so many other elements, from an annoying dead husband, a bolted-on tragic back-story and weirdest of all, a purely bizarre FBI agent who doesn’t add anything but confusion to the whole story.

The finale delivers on some of the promise. It is a great chase through an abandoned hospital which shows some of Jackson’s later success. This comes too little too late and add to it a “twist” which makes little sense compared to the beginning scenes of the movie, it’s just another confusing element.

Overall, The Frighteners should be called The Frustraters. It has the potential and cast for a great movie but is delivered as a confusing mess that is trying to be scary and funny but fails on both accounts. The effects are the best part of the whole film and the ending has some promise but not enough to save it. Considering this comes from Peter Jackson, that is the most baffling element of all.

Rating – 2

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

A surprising miss from the guy who has given us the Lord of the Rings trilogy



2 thoughts on “The Frighteners (1996) Review

  1. I actually really enjoy this movie! But i can see how it might be frustrating to people. I think it’s a pretty unique little movie and well I am a sucker for Michael J. Fox. I do agree this one could have been crafted better and someof that early CG can be kinda painfull to watch, but over all i like it’s quirk!!

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