The Frighteners (1996)

frighteners poster 1996 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Good looking, strong acting, lots of potential

Misses the mark in many places

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Frighteners

Studio:  WingNut Films

Genre(s):  Horror/Comedy

Release Date(s):  July 19, 1996

MPAA Rating:  R

frighteners grim reaper killer

This is why you never wash your hands in a bathroom…that’s the message here, right?

Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is a man with a vision…unfortunately, after the traumatic death of his wife (Angela Bloomfield), Frank’s visions include seeing and communicating with the dead.  When he encounters a woman named Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado), he makes a discovery that the secret to his wife’s death could be tied to a series of mysterious heart attacks around town.  The bodies are piling up, and Frank is the number one suspect in the book of paranoid FBI agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs).  Frank has to stop the phantom killer before it is too late!

Written and directed by Peter Jackson (with additional scripting by Fran Walsh), The Frighteners is a horror comedy.  The film was initially planned as a Tales from the Crypt spin-off film but received an independent release.  The movie performed poorly at the box office but has gained a cult following over the years.

frighteners chi mcbride jim fyfe

Attack of the flying babies!

I was on the Peter Jackson bandwagon pretty early and was excited about The Frighteners.  Jackson had some great kinetic energy in his other films, and they were really original.  While a lot of that carried into The Frighteners, it also feels like the movie didn’t quite connect.

The Tales from the Crypt connection is strong in The Frighteners in that the film has the Tales from the Crypt tone.  There is a lot of humor, but there are also genuine scares.  The movie is populated by odd-ball characters (most of which never develop) and what seems like a basic surface story turns into a story with a number of twists and turns.  It is one of those frustrating movies where you know that it would be impossible for Fox’s character to prove his innocence, but it is wacky enough that it doesn’t have that trite feel to it.

frighteners jeffrey combs fbi agent

Jeffrey Combs out weirds The Frighteners

The tone of the film feels different than many of Michael J. Fox’s movies and it was the last film that he ended up headlining before returning to television.  While there is a lot of humor for Fox to play with, it is interesting to see him in a horror role and it would have been nice to see him in another.  Trini Alvarado is a nice and gentle costar for Fox while actors like John Astin, Chi McBride, Jake Busey, Jim Fyfe, Troy Evans, R. Lee Ermey, and Dee Wallace have a lot of fun with their roles.  Jeffrey Combs over-the-top Milton Dammers feels like a strange inclusion for the movie but does feel like a Jackson creation.

frighteners michael j fox ghost hd

Doc…you built a ghost machine?!?!

Visually, the movie has some good jumps, but time hasn’t been kind to some of the computer animated special effects.  For the most part, the main ghost is pretty terrifying in his Grim Reaper look, but sometimes the ghost and other ghosts really look poorly rendered (the location of the film obviously isn’t in the United States despite what the script says).


The Frighteners has its moments, but it just overshoots its mark slightly.  It is a shame in that sense because it is on the verge of being a great movie but ends up only been a flawed but entertaining movie.  Go into The Frighteners with average expectations, and you’ll probably enjoy the weird kookiness that fits in with Jackson’s movies like Dead Alive.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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