The Frighteners

Year: 1996
Production Co: Wingnut Films
Studio: Universal
Director: Peter Jackson
Producer: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh
Cast: Michael J Fox, Dee Wallace Stone, Jake Busey, R Lee Ermey, Chi McBride, Trini Alvarado, Jeffrey Combs, John Astin
Long before he took over the moviemaking world, Peter Jackson was turning out very dependable flicks, and before Lord of the Rings swept the world, this was his most accessible and commercial.

A great idea sees Michael J Fox (in his best movie role after that of Marty McFly) as paranormal investigator Frank Bannister who charges the people of a small New England town to clear spirits of the dead out of their houses. In truth, he's a gifted conman with three wily spooks that help him carry out the hauntings he then charges to cleanse.

But there's a new spirit in town, looking like Death and racking up its number of victims, and Bannister faces the first real challenge of his paranormal career.

There's a lot going on and a lot of distinctive characters whose threads need weaving together, but Jackson and wife Walsh's skills as scriptwriters bring it all together nicely. It's quite as effective as both a horror and a comedy and an early showcase for the sort of digital effects that are now standard.

Even though the effects and the story showed a unique level of skill at the time, they've dulled a little with age - although that might be a certain ring and a certain gorilla casting giant shadows back across Jackson's career (and likely forward through it as well). But it's still original and very enjoyable.

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