The Frighteners

1996

The Frighteners

Critics Consensus

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

63%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 38

71%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 62,983
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The Frighteners Photos

Movie Info

Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is blessed, or cursed, with the ability to see ghosts easily. He has gone into business as a psychic investigator, but it hasn't gone too well. However, when Lucy and Ray Lynskey (Trini Alvarado and Peter Dobson) seem to be having trouble with a poltergeist in their new house, he is able to drum up a little business. If their troubles were confined to having a few objects flying about the house, everyone would be much happier. Unfortunately, perfectly healthy people keep dying from heart attacks. The reason may involve the town hospital, which is the site of a mass murder. The murderer was executed, but his crazy lover still lives in the town. Assisted by his astral side-kicks (including John Astin), Frank tries to stem the tide of uncanny deaths.

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Cast

Michael J. Fox
as Frank Bannister
Trini Alvarado
as Dr. Lucy Lynskey
Peter Dobson
as Ray Lynskey
John Astin
as The Judge
Jeffrey Combs
as Milton Dammers
Dee Wallace
as Patricia Ann Bradley
Jake Busey
as Johnny Charles Bartlett
Jim Fyfe
as Stuart
Troy Evans
as Sheriff Walt Perry
Julianna McCarthy
as Old Lady Bradley
R. Lee Ermey
as Sgt. Hiles
Elizabeth Hawthorne
as Magda Rees-Jones
Angela Bloomfield
as Debra Bannister
Peter Jackson
as Man with Piercings
Desmond Kelly (II)
as Harry Sinclair
Jonathan Blick
as Steve Bayliss
Todd Rippon
as Deputy #1
John Sumner
as Deputy #2
Jim McLarty
as Deputy #4
Paul Yates
as Deputy #6
Melanie Lynskey
as Deputy #7
John Leigh
as Bryce Campbell
Nicola Cliff
as Young Patricia
Ken Blackburn
as Dr. Kammins
Stuart Devenie
as Museum Curator
Genevieve Westcott
as TV Presenter
Leslie Wing
as Mrs. Waterhouse
Frank Edwards
as Resuscitating Man
Alan O'Leary
as The Waiter
William Pomeroy
as Jacob Platz
George Port
as Orderly
Billy Jackson
as Baby in Bouncer
Sophie Watkins
as Nursery Baby #1
Taea Hartwell
as Nursery Baby #2
Max Grover
as Nursery Baby #3
George Grover
as Nursery Baby #4
Tony Hopkins
as Hospital Patient #1
Clay Nelson
as Passerby #1
Liz Mullane
as Nun, Nun #2
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Critic Reviews for The Frighteners

All Critics (38) | Top Critics (13)

  • [Michael J.] Fox seems to be trying to get hip in the movies, and he's lost his way here.

    Aug 23, 2017 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
  • 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.

    Mar 26, 2009

    Todd McCarthy

    Variety
    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.

    Jan 26, 2006 | Full Review…

    Nigel Floyd

    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.

    May 20, 2003 | Rating: 2.5/5
  • Full of special effects, but still strangely 'indie', the movie has a unique sensibility ...

    Apr 17, 2001 | Rating: 3/5 | Full Review…

    Ben Falk

    BBC.com
    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.

    Feb 14, 2001 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Frighteners

  • May 11, 2016
    Competent filmmaking by professionals (which is to say that the thinness of the plot is neatly covered over by CGI extravagance), despite that it wallows in cartoony humor too often. Eric Stoltz dodged this bullet I think.
    Kevin M. W Super Reviewer
  • Oct 25, 2014
    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 T Super Reviewer
  • Oct 26, 2013
    This movie is what would happen if Evil Dead 2 and Ghostbusters had a drunken, passionate night of lovemaking. This would be the result of that lovemaking. This movie certainly has its tonal issues and a lackluster climax, but it's still a lot of fun and it certainly reminds me a lot of the Evil Dead 2 in some of its silly moments, and this movie does have plenty. Unfortunately, I did find the whole experience to be a little disappointing. Like I said, the movie does have it's silly moments, and many funny characters, Dammers for example was a really entertaining character. But it's never really consistently funny or scary. The movie jumps back and forth between serious and funny like it's nothing, and I found that to be problematic because I never knew how to look at the movie. Is it a scary movie with some light comedic touches or is it a comedy with some horror? I think in this movie the horror undercuts the comedy and vice versa. It's not like The Evil Dead 2 where both elements can coexist and actually end up working together to make the movie an incredible experience. I don't think this script is as focused as it could've been, which is why the horror and the comedy don't really coexist that well. But the movie is still quite entertaining with a good cast, and it has some pretty clever use of special effects. Of course, since the movie is almost 20 years old then it means that it looks a bit outdated, but there's still some really cool scenes here. Another problem is that the climax of the film was really unsatisfying. Unsatisfying in the sense that they pretty much rush through it to get to the finale, almost as if they forgot that they had a limited time span to tell their story. It was also unsatisfying to see Frank Bannister, after dying, being sent down back to earth just so they could have the stereotypical happy ending with Frank falling in love with Lucy. I thought that was really lame. It's not like the movie was depressing or anything that Frank dying would've really changed how you felt about the movie. So that liberal use of deus ex machina was pretty lame. Still, the movie's entertaining with some really funny moments and some cool special effects. Even if it's a little disappointing in some regards, I had fun watching this movie. It should've been better than it was, but still good;.
    Jesse O Super Reviewer
  • Mar 05, 2013
    If I hadn't known that Peter Jackson directed "The Frighteners" before watching it, I would've guessed Tim Burton. This is his kind of film: a quirky ghost story that has no real purpose other than to show off wacky visual effects. "The Frighteners" isn't very good, but it can be entertaining. Michael J. Fox is likable in his role (before his character becomes nothing more than a plot device in the film's second half) and Jeffrey Combs is wonderfully over-the-top, and there is some good humor, too, but the film is just too messy and incoherent, and the final twenty minutes or so are pretty terrible.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

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