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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

Would You Rather – 7

May 23, 2013 6 comments

Director – David Guy Levy

Cast – Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Enver Gjokaj, Sasha Grey, John Heard, Charlie Hofheimer, Logan Miller, June Squibb, Eddie Steeples, Robin Taylor, Robb Wells

Release Year – 2013

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Would You Rather is the newest horror film I have come across that settles around the somewhat popular idea of pitting strangers against one another (in a controlled environment) and letting them battle bodies / minds until only one is remaining. In this piece we follow Iris, a young woman facing hard financial times along with the burden of caring for her critically ill brother. When prominent aristocrat Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combes) offers her an opportunity to achieve great personal wealth as well as the vital health care her brother needs, she takes the plunge and agrees to take part in Lambrick’s game – a sadistic and deadly game of “Would You Rather”.

The first act moves quickly, setting up the conflict Iris faces as she is consistently turned down for low-paying jobs as she tries her very best to provide the resources needed to help her ailing brother. Her search leads her to meeting Shepard Lambrick, whose family runs the illustrious Lambrick Foundation that provides charity to people all over the world. Left with no other choice but to accept Lambrick’s offer, Iris joins 7 other people at one of Lambrick’s homes and begins a night of terror where she will really earn every dollar she receives. The “Would You Rather” questions are at first a bit simple, with Lambrick toying at his guests to see how much it will cost them to abandon their beliefs. At the 23 minute mark Iris accepts several thousand dollars to break her vegetarianism and consume an entire beef steak as well as fois gras, and a recovering alcoholic is offered $50,000 to consume a bottle of the world’s finest single malt scotch…which he accepts. It becomes obvious here that Lambrick is very enthused in the acts people will commit for money, securing his belief that “everybody has a price”. At the 34 minute mark the game takes a sinister turn, where the doors are locked and plastic wrap is placed on the walls, and that is when things really kick into high gear. Each contestant is given the option to hurt themselves or hurt another person, and with people of different ages, backgrounds, and mental toughness, not everyone wishes to hurt another person…forcing them to subject themselves to terrible pains. As the story continues the questions grow in intensity, and before long people start dying in gruesome and sometimes heartbreaking fashion.

After the first few questions it becomes obvious that Lambrick is not only trying to break down the contestants and cause disorder amongst them, but he is also trying to eliminate the strongest players first. The participants are faced with the daunting task of severely injuring the strongest player or injuring the weakest, who just so happens to be a kind old lady. Our hearts are tugged on as we watch the strong one slowly inching his way to death as well as watch the old lady take abuse by those who don’t have the heart to finish off the strong one, and the rest of the game plays off with just as much emotional and mental anguish. I do not want to go into extreme detail, but there are some scenes that I assume most viewers will find hard to watch, and not just because the acts are painful, but because they are shocking and break down cultural norms of who cannot be hurt in a horror film. The writing execution of each of the main characters was fantastic and they all served their roles in the end. We had the good, the bad, the ugly, and those who are hard to love and harder to hate, like Lambrick. Lambrick stole the show in this story with just how well his character was written. The gentleman’s dialogue is awesome, his philosophy is wicked, and his remorse is replaced with exuberant praise for his contestants who do what it takes to survive the game. In the end, this story is the framework for how great this flick is, and the positives don’t stop at the story…

Director David Guy Levy is absolutely fantastic in his execution of this film and its awesome screenplay. From the get-go we are enveloped into the storyline thanks to his ability to suck us in to Iris’ crumbling life as she tries desperately to provide for her ailing brother. Once things get going and the “game” starts his execution really starts to hit the spot and we are left almost gasping for breath due to the extreme levels of tension he brings forth from the story. He shoots the film in a very full-frontal fashion and we are forced to watch as the participants are brutally punished in their quest for what they expected to be easy money. The horror reigns high and Levy never shies away from it and in fact only brings us closer to the action when the action arises. Levy received good performances from his actors but none were even close to the epicness that is Jeffrey Combes, as Mr. Lambrick. Jeffrey Combes is no stranger to the horror genre but I have NEVER seen him act as good as he does in this film. Not only is Lambrick unlike any character I have seen him portray but he portrayed him in near Oscar-worthy fashion and left me, a devout Jeffrey Combes fan, in awe at just how great he was in this truly great horror film.

Overall, Would You Rather is another great horror film that has gone under the radar and not received the attention it deserves. The story is great and will keep you engaged until the end credits roll and the direction is just as good. It comes with a lot of horror that hits hard and never lets go for more than a few moments, making for one of the most effective horror films I have seen in a while.

Rating: 7/10

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Abominable – 6


Director – Ryan Schifrin

Cast – Matt McCoy, Haley Joel, Christien Tinsley, Karin Anna Cheung, Jeffrey Combs, Natalie Compagno, Michael Deak, Paul Gleason, Lance Henriksen, Rex Linn, Ashley Hartman

Release Year – 2006

Reviewed by John of the Dead

Due to my love for ANYTHING having to do with cryptozoology, I have a strong interest in horror films having to do with Bigfoot, The Yeti, Abominable Snowman, etc.  When I randomly came across this film I thought, “oh what the hell, let’s do this” and surprisingly enough this film was not as bad as I expected it to be.  It is nothing special, but it does add a unique twist to the Bigfoot horror sub-genre that I have yet to see.

Abominable follows Preston Rogers, a paraplegic returning to his hometown after his release from a mental institution due to a violent accidental death his wife suffered.  Because Preston is bound to a wheelchair he must stay in his room throughout the day, but is given something to keep him entertained when a group of young women rent the home next door to him for a weekend of fun.  Preston’s curious mind gets the best of him and he decides to watch the girls and see what they are up to, and catches something unlike anything he has ever seen before.  If his eyes are not deceiving him, a giant creature reminiscent of Bigfoot has grabbed one of the girls and taken her into the woods.  He tries to contact several people, including the authorities, but nobody believes his claims.  Sure enough, Bigfoot has come back to consume more humans, and Preston now has a long night ahead of him.

For a film that I believe debuted on the Sci-fi channel, this is a pretty good production.  We get no crappy CGI effects or horrendous acting and instead are given a legitimate film that beats most of the crap they show on that channel.  To make this even cooler, we get a full fledged live-action Bigfoot in this flick that delivers some pretty cool kills and comes with some campy mannerisms as well.  He was not a scary looking Bigfoot, but came of a bit comical to me, which I enjoyed.  Think Hatchet’s Victor Crowley but in Bigfoot form.  Now, to make THAT even cooler, we get some small roles from horror legends Jeffrey Combes and Lance Henriksen.  Personally I would have preferred it if they themselves were the stars of this film, but that was not the case.  Bummer.

Story-wise this film is the usual creature feature, but with a twist I have never seen in a creature feature film…a Rear Window-esque element.  Because Preston is bound to a wheelchair he heavily resembles Jimmy Stewart’s character in Rear Window in which he is witnessing horrible things taking place but can do little about it.  We also got this in the Shia-starring knockoff of Rear Window titled Disturbia a few years back.  While this immobility element is not a new idea, it is a new idea in the realm of creature features, so I found that enjoyable and unique in its own right.

Director Ryan Schifrin did a fine job setting up a creepy atmosphere for the film, and secured a positive feel from me thanks to him settling for a live-action creature and some live-action gore scenes as well.  He definitely put all seriousness aside and simply made this a fun film.  It does not come off as overly cheezy like Peter Jackson’s early works like Dead Alive, but Hatchet-esque in the form of a creature feature.  Nicely done.

Overall, this is a cool watch that does not deliver anything genre bending or overly praise worthy but does enough to be a fun-to-watch creature feature once things get going.  If you like these creature oriented films with a little dash of campy fun then give this one a shot.

Rating: 6/10

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