Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ten Statements About....THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

Don't look now, Michael J. Fox...a 90's CGI effect is coming to
“That was the Soul Collector and he's been taking people out since time began.  He's been going about some dark business here in Fairwater and we ain't nothing but worm bait.  When your number's up,that's it.”

1) The thing I like about Michael J. Fox’s Frank Bannister is that he doesn’t shy away from being a scumbag, and director Peter Jackson doesn’t flinch away from his scumbagginess.  It makes his story arc have more heft when he starts finding a way towards his own humanity again when confronted with this rash of mysterious deaths.  However....

2) much as I liked Trini Alvarado’s Lucy, and as much as I admit that she and Fox have some real chemistry, their romance never quite feels real.  Part of it is because there’s no impetuous for it to happen; it seems like these two become attracted to each other solely because Jackson wanted a love story in the script.  Plus there’s the fact that she seems to fall for Frank, like, two or three days after burying her husband, which gives it an added layer of awkward.

3) Even though it’s obvious John Astin’s Judge is meant to be a comedic figure like his fellow ghosts Jim Fyfe and Chi McBride (who let him into this film?)...boy does his performance serve as a reminder of how good an actor he is.  Sure, it’s vaguely embarrassing watching him hump a mummy, but the scenes between him and Frank range from the spooky to the downright poignant...and his 'second death’ is something of a shock.

4) Even though there are some CGI moments which are wince-worthy (many of the sequences involving The Soul Collector moving through walls are thoroughly awful), I’m impressed as how well most of the shots do work.  The ones involving the normal ghosts are inventive and cool, and I like the way The Soul Collector swoops and swirls around the night skies as it seeks out its latest victim.
Don't you just hate it when you get some Jake Busey caught
on your gravestone?

5) I’ll be honest--Jackson makes a concerted effort to hide Fairwater’s true identity as two New Zealand towns (and also makes a concerted effort to not nail down where Fairwater is supposed to be), but the combination of the cars and the landscape doesn’t jibe with an American town, let alone what seems to be a small town with a big ass museum in it

6) The time frame seems a bit...screwy here.  If we’re to assume that Frank’s wife is the first of the Soul Collector’s murders, and that over two dozen murders happened between then and the start of the film before people start noticing, it should take place over time...and yet the backstory claims that Dee Wallace Stone’s Patricia has only been released for six months.  I would think the sudden rash of mysterious cardiac arrests would be a lot more noticeable if they were happening more than weekly--plus Frank’s downfall, establishment as a psychic investigator with three ghosts in tow and the like seems rather rapid in this context.

7) I do think, even though Jackson telegraphs the big twist regarding The Soul Collector--which is not the revelation of who he is--it comes as a bit of a shock, and the impact of the revelation works even more by letting the viewer in on it, and then plays on our perceptions as opposed to Lucy’s.
"Yep...I'm your designated movie love interest."

8) Boy, does Elizabeth Hawthorne’s Magda stick out.  While everyone who is New Zealand-y tries to affect an American accent with varying degrees of success, Hawthorne doesn’t even try...and every time she opens her mouth it’s a little shock of disbelief entered into a film that works real hard to create a credible world.

9)  I am a little conflicted by Jeffrey Coombs’ Milton Danvers, although I suspect a lot of that comes from Coombs’ performance.  It is obvious that he’s here to be a major fly in Frank’s ointment, consciously looking to pin all the deaths on him.  But there are moments where Danvers elicits a creepy sort of sympathy, especially when we learn the extent to which his past undercover work cost him.

10)  Since this is 1996, the score is a) primarily instrumental and b) composed by Danny Elfman before he became a parody of himself.  But there is a moment that utilizes Sonic Youth cover of The Carpenter’s ‘Superstar’ that is shudderingly creepy.  I mean, literally giving you the chills.

Overall...a great little comedic thriller with some effective special effects, it surprises me that it has fallen through the crack between Jackson’s indy films and the Lord of The Rings stuff.  Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. I've always sung the praises of this film, and also touted it as perhaps the most important film in Jackson's career. It birthed WETA, I believe, and put him in amongst some bigger star names and a bit more money.