The Frighteners (1996)



Critic Consensus: Boasting top-notch special effects and exuberant direction from Peter Jackson, The Frighteners is visually striking but tonally uneven.

Movie Info

Charlatan Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) has genuine psychic powers, but he doesn't use them to help people. Rather, he generates cases for his supernatural private-eye firm by harassing a group of hapless ghosts (including a dearly departed Wild West outlaw and an undead judge played by John Astin) into staging hauntings and poltergeists in the homes of likely marks. Bannister's world turns on its head when he starts noticing real hauntings around town -- ghostly assassinations that seem to … More

Rating: R (Rated R for terror/violence.)
Genre: Horror, Kids & Family, Comedy
Directed By:
Written By: Fran Walsh, Frances Walsh, Peter Jackson
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 18, 1998


as Frank Bannister

as Lucy Lunskey

as Ray Lynskey

as Judge

as Milton Dammers

as Patricia Bradley

as Johnny Bartlett

as Stuart

as Sheriff Walt Perry

as Old Lady Bradley

as Magda Rhys-Jones

as Debra Bannister

as Harry Sinclair

as Steve Bayliss Report...

as Deputy

as Deputy

as Bryce Campbell

as Young Patricia

as Dr. Kamins

as Museum Curator

as TV Presenter

as Mrs. Waterhouse

as Sylvia the Maid

as Resuscitating Man

as The Waiter

as Jacob Platz

as Orderly

as Baby in Bouncer

as Nursery Baby

as Nursery Baby

as Nursery Baby

as Nursery Baby

as Hospital Patient

as Passerby

as Man with Piercings

as Hospital Patient
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Frighteners

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (11)

Story was originally conceived as an episode of "Tales From the Crypt," and that is perhaps what it should have remained, as the thinness of the conceit shows throughout, painfully so in the first half.

Full Review… | March 26, 2009
Top Critic

At times the relentless special effects and tangled plotting veer towards visual and narrative overkill, but the final tonal swerve is shocking and effective.

Full Review… | January 26, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

The actors can't keep the film's mood from verging on hysteria as the story roams all over the map. "The Frighteners" has flitted everywhere, even to heaven and hell, before it's over.

Full Review… | May 20, 2003
New York Times
Top Critic

Fortunately director Jackson, at home with all kinds of excess, keeps everything spinning nicely, not even losing a step when the mood turns increasingly disturbing.

Full Review… | February 14, 2001
Los Angeles Times
Top Critic

An object lesson in what to avoid when making the transition from low-budget films to studio productions.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic

A mess with sporadic flashes of creativity.

January 1, 2000
USA Today
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for The Frighteners

Fun and creepy!!!

John Manard

Super Reviewer


Before he began the masonry on Middle Earth, Peter Jackson was renowned for his edgy New Zealand B-movies like 'Bad Taste' and 'Dead Alive'. His first foray into mainstream was 'The Frighteners' and it is an unsung masterpiece. In a conventional chiller-comedy, Frank Bannister (an utterly charismatic Michael J. Fox) would be a mendacious huckster preying on the superstitions of his clientele. The cunning twist is that Frank is a bilking blowhard but he actually does possess a foothold in the world of the supernatural and his accomplices are the poltergeists haunting his customers. The improvisational banter between Frank and his cohorts (Chi McBride and Jim Fyfe) is mischievous but John Astin a.k.a. Gomez Adams is a firecracker as The Judge (a necrophilia joke with a museum mummy is rowdily pushing-the-envelope). The ectoplasmic special effects by the WETA LIMITED company are state-of-the-art (the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper villain slinks with gangly purpose while he squeezes the hearts of his victims). Eccentric horror movie maven Jeffrey Combs is introduced later in the film as a deranged, prattling detective with swastika-etched scars and his delivery of "what did he do Frank? Piss on your hush puppies?" is gut-bustingly funny. Danny Elfman's score is a gothic accompaniment to the bells-and-whistles. If any late-90's movie can be lovingly compared to 'Ghostbusters' in its pursuit of both guffaws and scares, 'The Frighteners' is a terrifically resplendent successor.

Cory Taylor
Cory Taylor

Super Reviewer

Judge: Give it up, Frank! Death ain't no way to make a living!

"Dead Yet?"

The Frighteners is a bizarre, messy, but ultimately really fun, interesting, and entertaining film from Peter Jackson. Like Peter Jackson's other "horror" films, this is more of a comedy than anything else. There's a lot more humor than there are scares. It works really well as a horror comedy also. Helped by great supporting roles from Jeffrey Combs and Jake Busey, this is one of those movies that I feel I like a lot more than I should, but oh well.

Frank Bannister is a psychic investigator who uses his ability to see the dead, which he got after a car accident in which is wife died, to make money. He has some ghost friends who haunt peoples houses and then leave one Frank's business cards, giving him easy business. However, he may actually need to do some real work when a ghost that looks like Death continues to kill at random.

Michael J. Fox is pretty good as Frank Bannister. He seems to gel in these movies where he needs to run around a lot and there's a lot of chaos, like Back to the Future. What makes this film so much fun though is how it is approached by Jackson. There's this sense when watching the film that just about anything and everything could happen. I don't always like that, but here I really did.

The Frighteners is a strange film and is very hard to describe. I could try, but it's really one that needs to be seen. There's the chance that you may not have as much fun as me, but it's still worth a look, especially if you like any of the other early movies from Peter Jackson. 

Melvin White

Super Reviewer

The Frighteners Quotes

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