The Frighteners (1996)

Each week, the magazine "Entertainment Weekly" includes a blurb in 
their movie section which compares the opinions of several national 
critics.  Their ratings are averaged and compared to the weekly 
results of an audience exit poll.  Not surprisingly, the public 
tends thinks more of most movies than the critics do.  One of the 
explanations for this might involve the concept of popular versus 
critical opinion.  I won't go down *that* road.  Another likely 
reason is the simple fact that most people want to enjoy what they 
pay for, even if they don't really like it.  Think about that.  Add 
in the price of popcorn, plus the investment of time required to 
wait in traffic, wait in the lobby, and wait for the trailers to 
end, and you're stuck in a situation where the only alternative to 
feeling good about a movie, is to feel shame for the wasted effort.  
For this reason, I presume that most folks will *not* be walking 
out of THE FRIGHTENERS, a failed supernatural comedy that is nearly 
unwatchable for the first thirty minutes.

The beginning is the worst-- a sloppy, incoherent mess that shows 
such silliness as a woman (Dee Wallace Stone) being chased through 
an old mansion by special-effects induced apparitions, a short 
"psychic investigator" (Michael J. Fox) attempting to crash a 
funeral, and that same person later careening down a hill in an 
out-of-control jalopy.  Huh?  Is bad driving what New Zealand 
director Peter Jackson (HEAVENLY CREATURES) thinks is funny to us 
Americans?  Next comes the appearance of a floating Elvis statue-- 
"he lives," utters an unbeliever-- and the discovery that Fox's 
character is a con man, thankyouverymuch.  Though he really *can* 
see the spooks, he's actually on fairly friendly terms with them.  
They help him scare up business.  Of course, nobody in the small 
coastal town is particularly fazed by these ghoulish goings-on.  
Maybe they've seen GHOSTBUSTERS a few too many times, but the 
residents sure take their psychic investigator in stride.  Just as 
they seem unfazed by a recent rash of inexplicable deaths...

Mercifully, the movie gets (a bit) better as it goes.  The human 
element is execrable, but a clever cast of Caspers often amuses.  
Chi McBride is funny as a jive-talking spirit still wearing bell-
bottoms.  That's John Astin under make-up as the (literally) jaw-
dropping Judge; he has some salacious fun with an Egyptian mummy.  
Also look for a memorable appearance by R. Lee Ermey, reprising his 
FULL METAL JACKET role as a deceased drill instructor.  I rather 
enjoyed all the oppressive imagery of death and decay.  You may 
want to leave the younger ones at home, though, as the rotting 
corpses and dusty skeletons may send them screaming into the lobby.  
Heh, heh.  A macabre finale, set inside of an abandoned hospital, 
is the high-point of this low movie.  Jackson cross-cuts between 
the present (Fox and Trini Alvarado in peril) and the past (Jake 
Busey as a mass-murdering orderly) and it's a grisly gas.  With 
exploding heads and carved foreheads, the sequence might even have 
been scary, if the rest of the movie hadn't so completely dulled 
our senses. (Rated "R"/106 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: July 21, 1996

Home   |   Recommended   |   Reviews   |   Views   |   Letters   |   Links   |   FAQ   |   Search!

Please report problems to
Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros -Movie Hell™ is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros