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The Frighteners – 8

January 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Director – Peter Jackson

Cast – Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace, Jake Busey, Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, Troy Evans, Julianna McCarthy, R. Lee Ermey, Elizabeth Hawthorne

Release Year – 1996

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Horror consumes my life, but even then I have not seen every major horror film there is. The Frighteners is the most recent notable effort to be remove from such a list, and it was as good as I expected it to be. Michael J. Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a man who attained a unique ability to speak to the dead after the sudden death of his wife. Frank does not use his abilities lightly though, and has since become a con man who employs spirits to haunt unsuspecting / potential “customers” and leave them no choice but to call him to remove the “evil” presence. However, when a real demonic spirit invades the town and starts killing at will, Frank becomes the only hope in saving the living from the dead.

The story kicks off right away and gives you the impression that this is going to be a really scary movie, then you realize you are being fooled just like Frank’s “haunted” customers. It is then that you realize this flick is going to be more “fun” than scary, which I expected because over the years I never heard this film referred to as scary. The first act is highly comedic, with fun characters and consistent jokes for you to enjoy. These jokes come from both Frank Bannister as well as his restless undead companions, each with their own unique personality. Nearly all of the main characters was colorful in their own right, with FBI Special Agent Milton Dammers taking the cake as the most outlandish. He was written superbly awesome, in the weirdest of ways, and left me laughing in my seat on several occassions. During the second act the kills begin to hit the screen, with a Grim Reaper-esque being delivering death via squeezing the life out of his victim’s heart. Frank’s unique abilities allow him to see, in sequential order, who the demon’s next victim will be, but only moments before they are to be taken from this world. This gives him little time to save the person’s life, or even convince them that they are in danger, which of course increases the conflict and tension. A fair amount of kills are written into the film and paced at just the right times, but don’t expect much when it comes to gore. There is ONE kill that will leave gorehounds happy, which was added when the filmmakers realized they were going to be tagged with an R-rating with or without the kill. When the third act hits we are provided a unique development where Frank goes through a drastic measure to make himself closer to the demon. This was done because he was powerless beforehand, but now he can fight. Jackson and his longtime co-writer Fran Walsh include constant developments over what is going on behind the killings, and while not overly shocking I did find the revelations towards the end of the film enjoyable.

Jackson’s direction is as good as his writing, although if you are expecting this to be like his previous horror flicks, Bad Taste and Dead Alive, you are in for a rude surprise. He sets the fun tone early on with great performances from Michael J. Fox and his ghastly companions, however horror legend Jeffrey Combes steals the show as Milton Dammers. It was incredible to see Combes deliver such an odd yet wonderfully executed performance unlike any you have seen in his filmography. Several other notables provide supporting roles, like R. Lee Ermy, Jake Busey, and another horror legend – Dee Wallace. Jackson’s horror was good, and while not scary it definitely kept me entertained. I enjoyed the look of the antagonist and the kill sequences, while tame on the surface (heart attack via a squeezed heart) were executed in strong fashion. Sadly, the antagonist and everything that has to do with him comes via CGI effects, which naturally lessens the severity. The CGI was not terrible, but it was not good either. With Jurassic Park debuting a few years earlier it is obvious that good technology was out there, but it was not in The Frighteners. Thankfully, there is so much more going on in the film that you learn to forgive it for the CGI blasphemy. Just look at Peter Jackson’s works since then, his Hobbit trilogies are nothing without computer-generated imagery.

Overall, The Frighteners is a great 90s film that provides a fun story with great execution from one of the genre’s masters who has sadly refrained from returning. You won’t find many scares here, but this is a flick that you can enjoy with a group of friends.

Rating: 8/10

…Additional Stills…

Jeffrey Combs

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30 Days of Night – 7

August 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Director – David Slade

Cast – Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster, Mark Boone Junior, Mark Rendall, Amber Sainsbury, Manu Bennett, Megan Franich, Joel Tobeck, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Nathaniel Lees, Craig Hall, Chic Littlewood, Peter Feeney

Release Year – 2007

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Based on the  successful 2002 comic series by the same name, 30 Days of Night gives us one of the better recent vampire experiences and comes with a sweet story as well.  One year before the Twilight film bombardment began we were given an original take on the vampire sub-genre that also comes with some hard-hitting action, gore, and REAL vampires.

30 Days of Night stars Josh Hartnett(Halloween H2o: 20 Years Later) as Sheriff Eben Oleson, who is preparing his northern Alaskan town for the unusual phenomena in which they will experience 30 days of no sunlight, just darkness(a real phenomenon).  When a series of heinous acts suddenly plague the town, Sheriff Oleson knows that something is not right, but he has no clue for what lies in store for the town.  A gang of menacing vampires have made their way into the small town to take advantage of the month-long darkness and feed on the townsfolk.  Undermanned and underpowered, Sheriff Oleson, with the assistance of his separated wife Fire Marshall Stella Oleson(Melissa George; Triangle, The Amityville Horror remake, Turistas), must band together whatever few survivors are left in the town and try to survive the longest month of their lives.

We horror fans always appreciate new ideas thrown into old horror sub-genres, and the vampire sub-genre is one of the oldest around.  The idea of centering this film on the Alaskan phenomena of suffering a month-long delay of sunlight was a genius idea that really surprises me given I had never seen this used in previous horror films, despite this being the PERFECT atmosphere for some vampire carnage.  We all know they cannot handle UV radiation, so the conditions could not be any better for some great vampire action.  Thank screenwriters Steve Niles(original creator), Stuart Beattie(Hard Candy), Brian Nelson(Hard Candy, Devil) for this awesome story.

The rest of the storyline plays out well thanks to this unique idea, providing for many thrills, chills, and constant developments.  By now you should all know that I am a huge idea of nowhere-to-run scenarios, and a small sleepy town plunged into darkness and miles from any other sign of remote civilization provides a nice nowhere-to-run scenario, and I loved it.  None of our characters were safe, at any time, thanks to the vampires having free reign due to the lack of UV radiation, so once the vamps show up the tension is high and it never truly relents.  We experience our protagonists resorting to hiding out in attics for extended periods of time, much like what Anne Frank went through, except she of course experienced a different breed of monster.  Don’t think that for this film taking place in an isolated area that the film does not “move” very often, because it does.  Our characters are constantly forced to relocate here and there, which is not only an anti-boredom technique but brings on some good tension as well given they must put themselves out in the open to do so.  The ravaging gang of vampires were cool to watch, and even came with their own completely original language as well.  We do not get much background information on them, and in this case I did not mind that one bit because simply put…it worked.  Sadly, we do not really get many characters worth fighting for in this one, however that may fall more on acting and casting than the actual storyline.  We do not get much character drama either, which came as a surprise to me given the circumstances they are facing.  Usually in such dire situations there is a lack of social order and people begin arguing and going amok, but for some reason we do not get much of that in this film.  It is not a requirement, but it sure does make for some added conflict that we could have used.

Director David Slade is no newbie to the horror genre thanks to his well-received breakout film Hard Candy(which I did not care much for), and it shows in this film.  Is cinematography is awesome, providing a beautiful visual tone to the watch that only exemplified the vast amounts of gore he threw into the carnage.  Slade provided some of the best vampire action I have ever seen, giving us maniacal vampires who stop at nothing to satisfy their bloodthirsty needs.  I was really surprised at just how mean-spirited these vampires were, not merely just killing for blood but aiming to inflict as much pain as possible on their victims, something we rarely see employed but an awesome and well executed idea in this film.  The look and mannerisms of the vampires rocked, and at times they seemed more like a mix between vampires and the high-speed “infected” from films like REC and 28 Days Later, except with the acrobatic abilities that vampires tend to possess.  I mentioned that this film “moves” well thanks to its constantly changing sets, and I must commend Mr. Slade for using some awesome and creative sets which definitely helped with the film’s pacing.  For a film just a few minutes shy of a two-hour runtime, good direction is key if you want to keep the viewer’s attention.  At times the film did tend to slow down a bit, but thanks to the film’s captivating visuals you should not find yourself dozing off with this one.

Overall, this is a fun and cool vampire watch that delivers heavily on the action and gore, and comes with a unique story thanks to some ingenuity as well.  Fans of real vampires giving real carnage should find this a fun watch, and it comes recommended from me.

Rating: 7/10

– This film made the #10 spot on my Top 10 Horror Movies of 2007 post.

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