Wednesday, 22 February 2017

The Frighteners (1996)

Twenty years ago, when Peter Jackson was still required to make movies that had a sensible run time, he produced this comedy-horror film starring Michael J Fox.  I dread to think what bloated mess we'd get these days, or what contortions would be required to justify 40 minutes of Legolas stealing everyone else's thunder.

Fox plays Frank Bannister, a "psychic detective".  This job is of course a scam, but not in the way you might expect.  Frank really is psychic: or at least, he can see and speak to ghosts.  The scam is that Frank has a couple of friendly spirits stage a haunting for him (though other people can't see them, ghosts can move physical objects around), then he turns up and "exorcises the restless spirits".

Unfortunately for Bannister, not all ghosts are as friendly as the ones he works with, and he is about to stumble across a particularly malevolent one.  This ghastly ghostie likes to squeeze the hearts of human beings until they die from cardiac arrest.  Which would be bad enough all by itself, but (a) the bad spirit's about to go on a tear through people to whom Frank has some connection, and (b) Frank's wife died in odd circumstances some years earlier, all of which makes him the prime suspect in the eyes of local FBI man Milton Dammers.

Side note: Dammers is played by Jeffrey Combs, who should be familiar to pretty much anyone who watches much geek-friendly TV, and he totally steals the show here as the embittered and neurotic agent.  Just a wonderful performance.

Anyway, Frank now has to try and prevent the actual murderer - who no-one else can see, let's remember - from continuing its killing spree, while staying one step ahead of the authorities.

The Frighteners does a good job of blending the comedy and horror genres, mostly by keeping the majority of the former in the first half of the film, and by making the humour that does appear in the later stages be more and more dark and twisted.  The overall result is pretty solidly entertaining, though there are a couple of minor plot issues that you need to hand-wave away, and the final victory is a bit too neat and tidy for my tastes.

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