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The Frighteners (SE)
DVD disk
Jan 11, 2006 By: Jason Adams
The Frighteners (SE) order
Director:
Peter Jackson

Actors:
Michael J. Fox
Trini Alvarado
Jeffery Combs

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Frank Bannister is a psychic investigator who uses his ghostly pals to rip off unsuspecting people. However, when a ghoulish specter dressed as the Grim Reaper begins murdering the living, the con man must become a real detective to try and stop the killer’s rampage.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Before all the giant ape madness and pre-pointy eared Orlando Bloom, Peter Jackson made his first foray into Hollywood with this underrated 1996 film. It’s hard to describe THE FRIGHTENERS, which is one of its strengths. It’s a fun and surprisingly successful amalgamation of different genres—part supernatural thriller, part black comedy and even a little slasher horror thrown in (along with plenty of gore and a trademark Danny Elfman score).

The film boasts a strong cast, most noticeably Michael J. Fox, who does a good job playing against type. His Frank Bannister is an embittered and manipulative fraud, but he’s still got that likable Marty McFly quality to him. Jake Busey is equally convincing as a whacked out psychotic (not too shocking considering he’s the spawn of Gary Busey). Chi McBride, John Astin and child friendly R. Lee Ermy make for some entertaining ghosts. And look for horror favorite Jeffery Combs, the Re-Animator himself, stealing every scene he’s in.

However, the main selling point of THE FRIGHTENERS is the groovy special effects work, especially with the Reaper and other ghouls. For being a decade old, most of the CGI still looks pretty impressive, thanks to the geniuses at WETA. While translucent spirits aren’t anything new (darn you Patrick Swayze for setting the bar so high!), the brilliance lies in how Jackson and crew cleverly utilize the effects. The ghosts constantly interact with the live actors so often and seamlessly in such clever ways that you won’t think “green screen” for a single second. In THE FRIGHTENERS, it’s easy to see the attention to detail and imaginative storytelling that would garner Jackson praise (and multiple Oscars) for the LOTR trilogy.
THE EXTRAS
This double-sided single disc Director’s Cut is as comprehensive a DVD as they come, and definitely worth a double dip if you already own the old version.

Side A:
Commentary by Peter Jackson: It’s always a pleasure to hear Peter Jackson talk about film. He’s got a childlike energy and passion for movies that make his commentaries entertaining and informative. It had been a few years since I’d seen THE FRIGHTENERS and luckily Jackson points out exactly what's new in this director’s cut.
[Geek Note: While praising the creative and realistic benefits of CGI, Sir Peter mentions wanting to make another balls-to-the-wall zombie splatter film…to which I say “Bring it on, Mr. Jackson!”]

Storyboards (45:33): Nearly an hour of animated storyboards with intro and commentary by the director. Most of the storyboards are for scenes that they never got to film, either for lack of time or moolah, so this is a nice way to see Jackson’s creative side unrestrained.

Side A is capped off by the film’s Theatrical Trailer.


Side B:
Making of THE FRIGHTENERS (3:43:21): The pièce de résistance of this DVD is this nearly four hour long documentary that covers every aspect of THE FRIGHTENERS you can imagine. Seriously, try and think of anything related to this movie that you want to know about and I guarantee you its covered (at length) here, including:
  • Countless interviews with cast and crew
  • Deleted scenes (including The Gatekeeper—an enormously obese, foul mouthed robot baby)
  • Bloopers (the best being Michael J. Fox repeatedly calling John Astin’s Judge character “Doc”)
  • In-depth looks at the effects, both digital and practical, for nearly every sequence in the movie
  • Character and actor vignettes
  • Makeup tests
  • Script Development
  • Rehearsal footage
  • Music
  • Stunts
  • Real life ghost stories from Jackson and the actors
  • Ginormous assloads more…
This has got to be one of the best, most detailed special features I’ve ever seen on any DVD. If you’ve ever wanted to know what its like to make a movie from start to finish, this is as close a look as you’ll get without actually being on set.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Hopefully now that Peter Jackson is Peter “Lord of the Kong” Jackson, this sadly overlooked film will be discovered by a larger audience. The extra 12 minutes in this director’s cut of THE FRIGHTENERS is nice, but it’s the supremely badass behind-the-scenes documentary that makes this a great DVD package. Fans of Jackson’s, or the horror/comedy genre in general, shouldn’t hesitate to buy this one.
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