Before there was Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson directed this little tromp.

Cast and Crew Information

Michael J. Fox as Frank Bannister
Trini Alvarado as Lucy Lynskey
Peter Dobson as Ray Lynskey
John Astin as the Judge
Jeffrey Combs as Milton Dammers
Dee Wallace as Patricia Ann Bradley
Jake Busey as Johnny Charles Bartlett
Chi McBride as Cyrus
Jim Fyfe as Stuart
Troy Evans as Walt Perry
R. Lee Ermey as Sgt. Hiles

Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Directed by Peter Jackson

Availability Information

Available in regular and director’s cut DVD editions and a director’s cut HD DVD edition. This review refers to the (HD DVD) director’s cut edition. The package indicates a difference of 14 minutes in the running time, but I’ve never seen the theatrical edition, so I don’t know which minutes those are.

Premise

Frank Bannister is something of a ghostbuster, ridding homes of various spirits and ghosts. What his clients don’t know is that those spirits are, in fact, his business partners. The system starts to break down when an actual malicious spirit goes on a killing spree.

High Point

Frank’s introduction at the funeral. That tells us a lot about what we need to know of the character in a very short amount of time.

Low Point

Only one ghost figured out how to alter and rearm his spirit form? The gag plays well at the time, but it feels like there’s something missing when there’s no followup.

The Review

This is somewhat original. It’s very different in tone and style to “Ghostbusters,” but the comparisons are inevitable, simply because that movie really created a new genre that this follows. This has a different premise, different attitude, and very different tone, as “Ghostbusters” was always a comedy, but this is a blend of the comedy and horror genres. (The horror doesn’t get very extreme, or the comedy aspect would fail, but it’s definitely there.) It’s loaded with the oddball characters one would find in traditional independent film. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects are decent, given this early CGI era. There are some brief boundary issues in an opening scene, and the surface textures are that trademark 1990s glossy finishes that stand out when compared to physical props. It’s not terrible, and they’d have been considered very good at the time, but the technology has matured so much since then that it stands out today. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story is written well enough, with Frank’s history and depth being added and layered in over time. The culprit is easy for the viewer to identify, but the viewer has more information than Frank, so it’s not surprising that it takes him longer to put it all together. I give it 4 out of 6.

The acting is well done, with Michael J. Fox playing a slightly different smartass than usual, and the supporting cast fitting their roles well. I give it 5 out of 6.

The production has a few issues. The pacing is very slow for this style of movie. This, again, was common in the early days of such complete CGI, when the studios insisted complete shots be used because they were expensive, and not because it made for a better movie. The sound was also designed in the early days of digital surround sound, and the rear channels weren’t put to great use. I give it 3 out of 6.

The emotional response is fairly strong. It’s an enjoyable couple of hours, which neither draws the viewer completely nor drives them away at any time. I give it 4 out of 6.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable movie, but it was most interesting to me as an early work that Peter Jackson learned from before making “The Lord of the Rings.” Go in with low expectations, and you’ll enjoy it easily. I give it 4 out of 6.

In total, The Frighteners receives 28 out of 42.