Way back in 1996 a much younger Peter Jackson broke in to the mainstream (after a string of cult horror movies) with ?The Frighteners?. A ghost-thriller comedy starring Michael J Fox and Jeffrey Combs, the film was at the cutting edge of CGI for the time, and successfully copied Tim Burton?s Beetlejuice formula of mixing laughs with chills. 16 years later, the film has been given a dusting off by Jackson and released on Blu-Ray. But is it some reanimated corpse or a successful resurrection?
I always enjoyed The Frighteners, it was a great blend of subtle humour (well, not always subtle!) and sub-horror film scares. Michael J Fox finds his inner Nic Cage for a pseudo angst-ridden cum maniacally OTT performance as psychic con-man Frank Bannister who really can see the dead. While working with ghosts to scam local residents he stumbles upon a dark death-like apparition which is killing people left, right and centre. Can Frank and his ghostly chums save the town, the girl (yes, there is a love sub-plot!) and himself from the monster and the other townsfolk?
It is an entertaining romp, and the CGI ghosts work very well. The plot bounds along, building tension along with delivering the laughs. In this BD release we get the original theatrical version (1hr 50mins) and the new Director?s Cut (2hrs 3mins). Peter introduces this new version, but for all the pomp and pageantry I can?t say it makes the film any better. In fact, my one big complaint is that the longer cut makes the film, well, too long. It already felt slightly over-length at 1hr 50mins, but adding another 13 mins really makes the craft groan. It isn?t that anything overstays its welcome, it is just that the whole film could pace up ever so slightly. If it were 1hr 45mins it would be about perfect. That said, in terms of value for money, this BD release offers you both versions, plus Peter?s intro AND a whole commentary from the master-filmsmith, an interview with composer Danny Elfman and an OK blooper reel. Not bad for a single disc release.
The picture quality is superb, although it does show up the inconsistencies of the early CGI. Where the ghost effects work well, there are some truly terrible (by modern standards) ?ghost in a wall? shots which just look plasticky and fake. But then we should judge a film by the time it was released, not by what WETA can achieve today. The soundtrack is well up to scratch, giving your surround system a good workout. Unusually for Elfman, the score isn?t overly Burton-esque, fitting in nicely and not taking over the scene.
All in all this is a classic 90s movie from a great director starring a relatable leading actor and some well-cast cameos. It has been given new life by the BD transfer and the added Peter Jackson insights add real value. A good film for families with older children. A great film for friends with some drinks and nibbles. Just be prepared for the long running time?this could be Peter?s practice run for the LOTR movies!