Monday, August 5, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Seventeen - The Frighteners, "Jake Busey is a Grim Reaper? Papa must be proud!"

Before he was the superstar director/producer/etc. for the mammoth undertaking that was The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, Peter Jackson (along with his partner Fran Walsh) was making great horror and comedy films of the smaller sort.

The last such movie before LotR went into production was The Frighteners, which pit Michael J Fox as a semi-fraudulent psychic investigator, Frank Bannister, against the demonic powers of the mythical figure of Death who, for reasons to be revealed in the film, has taken up killing random folks in the sleepy community of Fairwater.

While Fox isn't exactly seedy enough to completely pull off the appearance of being a "local con man," He has the same mannerisms of the plucky, rebel nice guy that I remember from his turns as Marty McFly in Back to the Future. It makes on odd kind of sense when his Ghostbuster routine feels more than a bit hammy and awkward only to transition to deadly seriousness when he spots a number on someone's forehead.

And while I can't say I really was sold on Trini Alvarado's eagerness to believe, when things start getting real in the third act I really admire her character's guts (and Trini's portrayal of such). I think my favorite line in the film comes when Lucy is escaping from the shotgun-wielding Patty after the former had just been saved from a Bartlett carpet strangulation via Frank's timely interruption. Her semi-annoyed yelling of, "No! Not that way!" as she pulls him in another direction is priceless.

The ghosts themselves are interesting, but a bit of wasted potential, I think. There are only a few bits where Frank's helpers do anything interesting and there are plot holes revolving around their in-universe mechanics... particularly, what happens when ghosts die? I mean, we see three of the dead up in heaven, but where are the rest?

Still, I love John Astin and Chi McBride for their many other roles so it's always good to see them here, even if it means that I can see right through them... literally.

I think the other main standout for the film is B-movie legend Jeffrey Combs as the misanthropic and female-phobic FBI agent. He does a tremendous job playing a creepily arrogant character (a role he's played with much aplomb in the Re-Animator series). He has to be one of my favorite horror actors of all time and the combination of menace and dark humor that he projects here is golden, perfect for breaking up the tension of the film.

To be honest, I think, aside from a few minor plotholes, the only real drawback to the film is that the computer graphics are very rough. Pretty much anytime the Reaper figure is featured or Bartlett is rummaging around under wallpaper or carpets, the effects are cheesy as all get out. While much better than the practical effects of their day, we've just come so far in what computers can render that it's hard to look back and find any charm.

I mean, consider these graphics, then compare them to what was put together for The Lovely Bones.

Though, while I would've liked to have learned exactly how Bartlett escaped and got his hands on the Scythe that empowers him to masquerade as Death, I'm pretty satisfied with how he and Patty were thwarted... I just wish it didn't look so rough.

As far as dark comedies go, though, The Frighteners is still a great film from an awesome production house. The casting was a little uneven, but that is overshadowed by the members that really perform! It's just one of those films that's terribly fun and great to come back to year after year.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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