The Frighteners (1996)

Since having a near-death experience, Frank Banister (Michael J. Fox) has acquired a special gift – he can see ghosts.  Like any other true-blooded American, he uses that gift to extort money from the of people of his small town.  He prays on the families of those who have recently lossed a loved one, by telling them he can communicate with the deceased (business is good since townsfolk are dropping like flies due to a strange heart condition), but he also claims to be able to exercise haunted houses.  He works with a pair of ghost sidekicks who help him drum up business by levitating beds and banging shit around, but always just happen to leave one of Frank’s business cards behind so the residents know who to call for help.  It is on one of these fake calls that he meets the Lynskey family – A doctor named Lucy and her asshole husband Ray.  Frank does his bit and gets that cheddar, but as soon as he goes to leave, he sees a number scratched into Ray’s forehead.  He is freaked out by that and rushes home.

The townspeople are on edge about all of these strange heart-related deaths throughout the community, nothing has shaken this town this bad since Johnny Bartlett and his girlfriend killed those 12 people at the asylum all those years ago.  Soon another heart victim is found, it is Ray Lynskey, that shit clown Frank met the other night.  Too bad for Frank that Ray runs into him again, well a ghost version at least.  Ray is on his way to his funeral; Frank is wondering why Ray just didn’t go into the light like he was supposed to, and Ray just said that he wanted to see his wife again.  It’s a little late to start acting like a nice person, dirtball.  Frank agrees to help Ray speak with his wife, but Frank ends up falling for Lucy, who seems to already be over the death of her husband and is ready to find some fresh meat (and my ‘meat’ we mean penis).  As Frank excuses himself from the most awkward date ever, he sees a man in the crapper with another number on his forehead.  Oddly he is the next person to die as a large hooded ghost flies in and crushes the man’s heart.  Since Frank was the last person to see two recently killed people, the cops are after him for questioning; and have even brought the FBI’s leading paranormal detective, Milton Dammers (Jeffery Combs), in on the case.

Although Frank claims to not know what is going on, he knows that all of this is too familiar.  You see, Frank’s near-death experience was related to the very real-death experience of his wife, who when found at the scene of their car accident had a number 13 carved into her forehead, just like the numbers he has been seeing on people around town.  He tries to put it all behind him until Lucy comes to visit, but know she is sporting and new fashion accessory – a bright pair of digits on her forehead!  Just then the hooded ghost bursts into Franks jail cell to get his murder on, but Frank’s ghost cohorts are able to wrestle him away long enough for them to escape.  So now they have a murderous ghost as well as Agent Dammers following them.  In order to stop the killer ghost, Frank gets Lucy to medically stop his heart and effectively kill him so he can try to stop the ghost before he kills Lucy.  As the ghost version of Frank catches up with the hooded figure, the ghost reveals himself to be serial killer Johnny Bartlett, adding to the numbers that he killed while still alive.  Just before Frank can stop him, he is brought back to life.  The duo proceed to the home of Johnny’s former girlfriend Patty, to see if they can figure out a way to stop the Johnny ghost.  Patty is keeping Johnny ashes, which would be helpful in stopping him, but she is unwilling to help them, as she is batshit crazy and has been helping him kill these people all along.  Frank and Lucy escape to the condemned asylum, and as they try to reach the chapel with Johnny’s remains Frank keeps having flashbacks of what happened the day all of those people were murdered.  It turns out that Patty is just as wicked as Johnny, and after chasing them through the building with a shotgun, and shooting Dammers in the face has our heroes cornered.    Our leads are able to stop the pair’s reign of terror, and end up together as expected.

Alex’s Thoughts: What to think? What to think?  I really don’t know where to stand on The Frighteners.  On one hand, it’s a fun watch; but on the other hand, it can’t decide if it’s a comedy or a serious movie.  I guess I’m going to take the stand that although it has a few good moments, overall I don”t really care for it due to its lack of committed to a genre.  The movie starts out ominously enough with Patty being terrorized in her house, but quickly shifts gears into the comedy relief of the ghost sidekicks. It keeps going back and forth with serious deaths followed by paranormal slapstick before getting really edgy in the end with the brutal hospital massacre.  I’m not sure if this is a Peter Jackson Directing/ Writing issue or interference from the studio.  Either way, it makes it difficult to really appreciate it.  While Jeffery Combs is always great, and Jake Busey is just as visually disturbing as his father, Michael J. Fox doesn’t really show much interest in being on set.  Other then the Back to the Future movies, I really haven’t enjoyed any of his films, and maybe because (in my opinion) I don’t think he his a great leading actor.  This one just seems too much like a family movie in parts, but is far too violent in the climax to watch with children.  Alex Rates This Movie 5/10

Tim’s Thoughts: I have always enjoyed The Frighteners but I never like it as much as I want to. This is one of those movies that every time I watch this, I think I like it more than I actually do. What’s not to like? I love Micheal J. Fox, and this also has Jeffery Combs, who is one of my favorite B movie character actors. That being said, there is something that I can’t quite put my finger on that makes this movie less than great for me. I like how dark it is, and enjoy it’s willingness to go to those extremes, but I just can’t get my heart behind this. All that being said, I still like this movie, it’s just good, not great. I think Alex has it pegged, it can’t decide what genre it wants to fall into, and it suffers for it, but I have to say I think I liked it just a bit more than him.  Tim Rates This Movie 7/10

“Give it up, Frank! Death ain’t no way to make a living!”

View the IMDB entry for this movie here or add it to your Netflix queue

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