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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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Identity – 8

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Director – James Mangold

Cast – John Cusack, Ray Liotta, Amanda Peet, John Hawkes, Alfred Molina, Clea Duvall, John C. McGinley, William Lee Scott, Jake Busey, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Rebecca De Mornay

Release Year – 2003

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Due to the fact that “thriller” films incorporate several aspects that horror films do(suspense, violence), as well as my personal enjoyment for thrillers, I have decided to throw in thriller films as well into this horror project. When I think of great thrillers I imagine several of Hitchcock’s films, one being “Strangers on a Train” of course. Quite often since the days of Hitchcock we have been given mindless thrillers that offer cheap thrills and even cheaper direction. However, in 2003 a rare gem of a thriller was delivered to us by director James Mangold(who had previously directed “Girl, Interrupted”) and his star studded cast, the film was titled “Identity”.

The film follows the legal case of convicted murderer Malcom Rivers(the excellent Pruitt Taylor Vince)who committed some rather heinous crimes. Although he has since been sentenced to death for his crimes, a journal he had written at the time of the crimes had been “lost in evidence” by the prosecution and has now surfaced and is believed to contain enough evidence to allow him to be granted a “stay in execution” by reason of insanity. A late night meeting between the presiding judge, prosecutors, his lawyer, and an expert psychologist Dr. Malick(Alfred Molina) has been called so that both sides can discuss this matter and the judge will rule on his fate. We are then thrown into a crazy story involving complete strangers from all walks of life falling victim to various unfortunate events and all winding up at a remote Nevada motel, with no where to go due to flooding. When the strangers soon start dying one by one, they begin pointing fingers at each other as they try and figure out who the culprit is. However after some investigation they begin to realize they all may not have arrived at the motel out of mere coincidence, as they all share a common secret that may have to do with why they are there, and why they are slowing being killed off. As Dr. Malick begins to pry into Malcom Rivers’ thoughts at the late night meeting, we are then shown an incredible twist that will determine who lives and who dies between our strangers at the motel. Don’t rush to judgement however, the shocks are just beginning.

This film is one of those thrillers that is just done right. The pacing is perfect and gets you hooked right from the start. The story is great, the score is great, the directing is great, the acting is good, and the atmosphere and scenery are perfect for this story. Like I mentioned, this story grabs your attention right from the beginning. Aside from maybe about 10 minutes of drag time a little after midway through the film, I was completely glued to the screen! I really liked the storyline and how every time we think someone is the killer, they get killed off in pretty gruesome fashion. Although we don’t see many of the deaths actually “happen”, this film did not stray away from showing us the aftereffects of the gory deaths. Normally I would gawk at the idea of not being able to SEE the kills and only the aftereffects, but this film does not fall victim to that notion due to the fact that if we saw the kills, then it would much easier to guess who the killer is. We would be able to judge the height, and most likely the sex of the killer as well if we were able to at least see their hands or feet, and its never fun figuring out who the killer is early on in the film! As you all should know by now, I’m a huge fan of people being stuck in an area with nowhere to go while a killer is on the loose. It really adds to the sense of claustrophobia knowing that you really truly have nowhere to hide. The rainy, night time setting at the motel is perfect for this scenario due to the fact that there are only 10 rooms at the motel, which lets the killer slowly eliminate any possibilities of where the next victim can be hiding.

Overall, this is a great paced, tension filled thriller that will keep you guessing, give you some hope, and then throw all that away and make you keep guessing again until the shocking conclusion that you never saw coming.

Rating: 8/10

– I ranked this film #46 in my Top 50 Horror Movies of the Decade(41-50) post.

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