The Frighteners is actually really frightening
Don't you hate it when a movie preview is misleading? Well, I do. But what I like is a movie that is better than what the preview showed. That's the case of The Frighteners. The preview shows it as some kind of comedy, but it really isn't. Sure, there are some funny moments, but overall, the movie is more like the title suggests: frightening.
The movie begins as a young woman is running through a mysterious house. She is being chased by something mysterious in itself (the walls, ceiling, floor, etc.) This small opening sequence has an MTV-type editing quality to it. However, the rest of the movie is much better. We find Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) advertising his "psychic" business at a funeral. He runs into the Lynskeys (Trini Alvarado and Peter Dobson) and gives him his business card so that he can pay for the damage to the yard.
But there is more to Bannister's story. People think he is a scam artist, but I wondered how they could question his ability. With the help of three ghostly friends-- Cyrus (Chi McBride), Stuart (Jim Fyfe, who plays the part considerably well), and the Judge (John Astin, whose character is just silly)--Bannister pulls off his "ghostbuster" routine and getting a lot of cash. But after he scams the Lynskeys, he sees a number burned into the husband's forehead. What he doesn't know is that the number is connected with the recent murders of several people in the town.
This is a very good premise and probably one of the best of its genre, if not THE best. The reason I say this is that the characters are good and the plot is more intriquite than first thought. Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say this: there are the murders that are investigated by an FBI agent (Jeffrey Combs, who gives a slight parody of David Duchovny), the mysterious house, and the numbers. The best thing about all these points is that they all interrelate, like an episode of Seinfeld. From something you wouldn't expect comes a mystery movie mixed with wild special effects.
As for the acting, well, its much more than I was expecting from a thriller/chiller/mystery/horror movie. Michael J. Fox shines as the "psychic investigator" who lost his wife and lives in an unfinished house. Jeffrey Combs is too psycho for the part, because I thought the part needed more of a seriousness. McBride, Fyfe, and Astin are also very funny as the three friendly ghosts who help Bannister out. But the real star of the movie is the zany effects. There are some gruesome effects, though the movie is not gory, especially compared to Natural Born Killers, in which this movie shares a few ideas with. Critics are making a big deal of the gore, but there really isn't any too harsh parts.
The Frighteners is rated R. The language is somewhat harsh, especially during a scene in a museum (check out the Judge's antics). The violence is mostly comical but there is some murders that are shown, though edited quickly in the MTV fashion. There is no nudity, but there is a short sex scene (check out the Judge's antics in the museum, again). The movie is way too scary for little kids and maybe even for some older people with heart problems (you'll see what I mean). But for those that like a good ghost story with fantastic special effects, this one is for you.
***1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie