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The Frighteners (1996)


Average Rating: 6.2/10
Reviews Counted: 36
Fresh: 23
Rotten: 13

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

Average Rating: 5.4/10
Reviews Counted: 11
Fresh: 4
Rotten: 7

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


Average Rating: 3.4/5
User Ratings: 62,345



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

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


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Critic Reviews for The Frighteners

All Critics (39) | Top Critics (11) | Fresh (23) | Rotten (13) | DVD (28)

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

Incredible, the amount of work that went into ``The Frighteners.'' And appalling.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

A mess with sporadic flashes of creativity.

January 1, 2000
USA Today
Top Critic

Violent, frenzied, foul-mouthed ghost comedy.

Full Review… | December 15, 2010
Common Sense Media

Despite being awful in almost every respect, The Frighteners does offer one small pleasure: R. Lee Ermey parodying his Full Metal Jacket drill sergeant character.

January 23, 2006
Fantastica Daily

It actually works up till its last few minutes.

December 4, 2003
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

An incredibly underrated scare-comedy from Peter Jackson that deserves a much wider audience.

July 14, 2003
KFOR Channel 4 News

Quirky Peter Jackson film that's half comedy and half horror/gore-fest. Mostly enjoyable results, although Fox a bit miscast.

March 18, 2003

Woulda been five stars, but the cop-out ending smacks of the test-screening process.

March 7, 2003
New Times

The talented director of "Heavenly Creatures" has pulled together a film that wants to be everything to everyone simultaneously.

Full Review… | December 26, 2002
Entertainment Asylum

"The Frighteners" does have a zesty pace and some cool effects, and those unfamiliar with Jackson's work may find something to love.

Full Review… | June 5, 2002
Boxoffice Magazine

Full of special effects, but still strangely 'indie', the movie has a unique sensibility ...

Full Review… | April 17, 2001

Every frame drips with Jackson's moviemaking fever.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000

Huge ghostly fun, and a fine achievement from the early days of CGI.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Empire Magazine

Talk about taking a step in the wrong direction. Peter Jackson, does your mother know what you've done?

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
San Francisco Examiner

It's a fascinating failure, perhaps, but it's still a mess.

Full Review… | January 1, 2000
Jam! Movies

Audience Reviews for The Frighteners

Fun and creepy!!!

John Manard

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

Take elements from 'Beetlejuice' and 'Ghostbusters' and you have this quirky, light yet also dark, soft comedy horror from the man who gave us 'LOTR's'. You could almost say its a sequel of sorts to 'Beetlejuice', or it could have been, a very familiar ghost story which isn't really for kids, even though it might look like it. Danny Elfman does the score here I might add.

The story sees a man who can see and communicate with spirits of the dead (because he had a nasty near death experience that changed his outward perspective on life, and he lost his wife at the same time). The amusing part is he uses this special skill to make money by conning people with a phony haunting routine, a business deal he has with a few ghosts that help him pull off the stunts.

At the same time a bad spirit manages to come back and start/continue his hobby of killing people. As 'Frank' is the only person here that can communicate with the dead its up to him and his ghostly buddies to stop this evil ghost.

One of those films that did OK upon release but not great, has since become a bit of a cult. I saw this at the cinema when it first came out and I must admit to slightly enjoying it but not massively. The effects, even back then, looked pretty ropey if you ask me, some really dodgy CGI going on. By today's standards it looks even worse, this is a shame as it kinda lets the film down for me, both of the older films mentioned earlier look way better.

Its a fun fanciful film for sure and what I liked best was the fact it didn't shy away from the odd moment of adult humour or adult visuals. One minute the film is quaint and amusing like a kids cartoon, the next you can see someone getting their head shot off with a shotgun! albeit very quickly with no gore. The ghosts are the best thing about the film naturally, I loved how Jake Busey's ghost character has this sadistic, barbarous almost masochistic personality, along with his living compadre. Really gives the film a nice evil twist instead of going down the more safe route.

The other ghosts tended to be slightly corny really, the two that help Fox are pretty lame and cliched. John Astin's ghost character is also heavily cliched but looks cool, whilst Jackson even thought to include a ghost version of 'Gunnery Sergeant Hartman' from 'Full Metal Jacket', well I can't say that for sure but the part is played by Ermey so you decide. I thought the spook angle could of been much better, much more bizarre or varied, its too...standard.

Its definitely a solid ghosthunting film which is helped by the likeable Michael J Fox, but I wonder if he was the best choice for this role. The best character for me was played by Combs, his nervous, twitchy insane undercover cop is fun to watch, looks a bit like Jim Carrey and also has some nice dark moments.
Along with the films tone, the plain poster and rather meaningless film title you can see why it was hard to sell originally. Changing gears too often and too quickly leaves you pondering what the film really wants to be, but despite that I like a good zany spectral comedy so this film sits well with me. It may sound corny but put simply, if you liked 'Beetlejuice' you will probably like this.

Phil Hubbs

Super Reviewer

"The Frighteners is a movie I have always wanted to see, but never had the chance to. It has been on T.V. a lot but I've never been able to catch it from the beginning. Although some of the quality of the movie was a bit cheap looking, you have to remember the year it was made.
I really enjoyed the movie. It had humor, horror, and a good story. I was surprised at how dark the story was. I thought it was just going to be a silly ghost film, but the story is really disturbing.
I miss Michael J. Fox in movies. I know his disease keeps him from acting, but he's missed. By me at least. I will be seeing this again."


Super Reviewer

The Frighteners Quotes

Get back in the goddamn ground,you unorganised grab-asstic gob of teleplasmic shit!
– Submitted by Bobby H (17 months ago)
Frank Bannister:
Well, Ray, you appear to be dead.
– Submitted by Augusta M (23 months ago)
And she was so young and beautiful!
– Submitted by Augusta M (2 years ago)

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