The Frighteners (1996)

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The Frighteners is a horror comedy film made by the eponymous Peter Jackson. In fact, The Frighteners would turn out to be the last horror film he would make before he gained stardom by adapting The Lord Of The Rings into an epic cinematic trilogy. At the time, however, The Frighteners was Peter Jackson’s biggest production to date: it was funded by Universal Studios and had some relatively big names attached to the project: including Michael J Fox (Back To The Future), Dee Wallace (E.T. The Extra Terrestrial), R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket), Jake Busey (Starship Troopers) and Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) in starring roles, Rick Baker (An American Werewolf In London) on special effects, and Danny Elfman (The Nightmare Before Christmas) as the film’s music composer. As a result, The Frighteners is Peter Jackson’s most commercially viable horror film. The Frighteners does contain a few elements of Peter Jacksons early splatstick style cinema, but The Frightneners is a much more toned down affair with an emphasis on character comedy instead of overly violent slapstick comedy.

However, unlike a lot of other Peter Jackson affairs that involve his work with special effects team Weta Workshop, the special effects of The Frighteners are mainly computer generated with the odd practical effect mixed in. In my opinion, this is the biggest problem with The Frighteners as the CGI effects make the film look very dated, even  ridiculous by today’s standards. The creatures created by CGI look quite flat, fake and primitive. These may have been cutting edge graphics in 1996, but computer generated effects have come a long way since 1996. Today’s film industry has the ability to create effectively realistic monsters, so to see something so primitive in The Frighteners makes the film look incredibly dated. In fact, the CGI takes away from the film’s frightening attributes, and instead, it actually makes the film more awkwardly funny to watch.

However, I sense that the film’s intention wasn’t to be scary, as the film pays more attention on comedy – through physical slapstick and quirky characteristics – than it does on horror elements. In fact, I feel that the film’s common title as a ‘horror’ movie is a dubious one, because the film contains elements of many different genres. It’s a comedy, romance, drama, action and fantasy film all wrapped into 108 minutes with a very satisfying ending. However, despite dipping into so many genres, the story of The Frighteners is a very simple one to follow with clear protagonists and antagonists. The film offers a conventional cinematic experience that contains no though provoking imagery, nor any artistic risk in order to try and challenge the medium of film. All in all, The Frighteners is a very fun film to watch. The film is a fantasy adventure with dark supernatural elements sprinkled throughout, nothing more, nothing less.

The Frighteners is one of my favourite films. If one is able to look past the film’s dated qualities, it’s a really silly, really enjoyable romp. The Frighteners sports some decent technical aspects, high production values, and some very impressive performances from an entire cast of quirky, lovable characters. It feels very different from Peter Jackson’s previous works, but it still retains a lot of the silly, slapstick humor and empathetic character interactions that makes his early works so strong. In conclusion, I thoroughly recommend that one watches The Frighteners. I really enjoyed it and so did many critics at the time, despite the film being officially classed as a box-office failure. Although, it still baffles me as to how Peter Jackson went straight from creating The Frighteners to creating the epic The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring straight afterwards.

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