The Frighteners

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Details At A Glance

Category Comedy/Thriller Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1996 Commentary Tracks None
Running Time 105:16 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Cast and Crew
Production Notes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (53:20)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Peter Jackson
Universal Pictures
Columbia TriStar
Starring Michael J. Fox
Trini Alvarado
Peter Dobson
John Astin
Dee Wallace Stone
Jeffrey Combs
Jake Busey
Chi McBride
Case Brackley
RRP $34.95 Music Danny Elfman

Pan & Scan/Full Frame No MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
Czech (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Polish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Well, it is not often that we have a New Zealand film out in Region 4, so this was welcome indeed onto the release sheets from Universal. However, just how do you categorize the film? Comedy seems to be the best shelf to put this on, but it certainly has a black comedy side to it which makes this a rather appealing prospect, if ultimately slightly flawed.

    Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is a psychic investigator who is something of a con artist. He preys upon the population of Fairwater by ridding their houses of unwelcome spirits. Slight hitch is that Frank, courtesy of a road accident that killed his wife, has the ability to see those from the other side, and the unwelcome guests are actually his ghostly business partners (for want of a better term) Stuart (Jim Fyfe) and Cyrus (Chi McBride), with some assistance from The Judge (John Astin). His most recent victim, err sorry ... customer, is local doctor Lucy Lanskey (Trini Alvarado) and her slightly boorish husband Ray (Peter Dobson). Trouble is that Fairwater is in the grip of a mysterious death "plague", which turns out to be the work of something a lot more sinister than a few friendly, ghostly sabre rattlers. The problem appears to be The Grim Reaper himself, the spirit of a mass murderer from Fairwater's past in Johnny Bartlett (Jake Busey), who was (is?) obsessed with the record number for murders. Unfortunately, Johnny has a little habit of marking his victims with their number in his grisly count and Frank can happen to see that number whilst the victim is still alive. After Ray becomes a victim, Frank falls for Lucy (or is it vice versa?) which is just a little problem as she is marked as victim number 41, and the race is on to stop Johnny and his former partner Patricia Bradley (Dee Wallace Stone). Throw into the equation a slightly inept FBI Special Agent in the form of Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) who is convinced that Frank is the murderer, and things are not too simple.

    Actually, this all sounds a lot more complicated than it actually appears on film, and it is actually a rather entertaining romp into the supernatural. Michael J. Fox has something of a talent for slightly off-beat comedy and is very good here indeed. He obviously does not take the whole thing too seriously and as a result is completely believable in a somewhat unbelievable story. Trini Alvarado, best recalled by me at least for the superb Little Women, is perhaps not so successful in the role of the romantic interest, but is still decently believable. Trekkers will no doubt recognize Jeffrey Combs from his multiple roles, and he is seen in a very different light here, demonstrating a quite appealing interpretation of the inept special agent. The gems here though are the small roles of John Astin as the decaying ghostly judge and Chi McBride as the ghostly and slightly militant African American. Both of these roles are very well handled and really add something a little bit special to the story, whereas they could so easily have become absurd jokes. The real star here though is the special effects work, and it really has come up well in this issue. The ghostly auras are superbly done and the ghostly inhabiting of the walls, carpets and buildings in general are quite wonderful. The only real let down in this area was The Grim Reaper himself, which I found to be less than convincing for some reason. The whole film however is well brought to life by some good direction from Peter Jackson, and whilst it is not superb cinema, it is nonetheless a very enjoyable romp.

Transfer Quality


    This is a damn fine transfer, especially for a non-16x9 enhanced transfer.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, but it is not 16x9 enhanced. This is both mystifying, as the Region 1 release is 16x9 enhanced, and unacceptable. There is no reason why this should not be 16x9 enhanced and Universal is doing its customers a grave disservice by not producing 16x9 enhanced films every time.

    The transfer has come up beautifully sharp with some lovely definition. There was no hint of graininess in the transfer and shadow detail was very good throughout. The transfer is quite clear and this especially helps the special effects work shine, especially the ghostly auras. In all, this is far better than I was expecting for a non 16x9 enhanced transfer, based upon previous experiences of these from this source.

    This is a nicely vibrant transfer with some lovely rendering of the colours. The result is a very natural look to the film with some great contrast with the ghostly auras coming up especially well as a result. Even though a fair amount of the film is shot at night or in darker areas, there is no drop-off in the colours throughout.

    There appeared to be just a minor MPEG artefact in the transfer, during a pan shot at 58:40 which showed just a hint of motion blur: other than that, there were no MPEG artefacts. There were a few problems with minor film-to-video artefacts, mainly instances of aliasing throughout the film and some mild shimmer in the opening logo. And to be honest, even these were not that noticeable and hardly disrupted the film. There did not seem to be any significant film artefacts, and those that were present were definitely not an intrusion at all. Overall, this is significantly better than I was expecting.

    This is an RSDL format disc, with the layer change coming at 53:20. Whilst the change is just noticeable, it is not disruptive at all to the film.


    Unfortunately, the very good video transfer is not attached by the audio soundtrack. From the opening Universal logo this demonstrated an appalling overemphasis of the bass channel in the mix, which results in it at times drowning out everything else.

    There are seven soundtracks on the DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks in English, French, Italian and Spanish, with a surround encoded German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, a Czech Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and a Polish Dolby Digital 2.0. I listened to the default English soundtrack. However, you should note that the Polish soundtrack is nothing more than a reading of the script over an English soundtrack.

    The dialogue was generally clear and easy to understand throughout, taking into account the overemphasis of the bass channel which sometimes drowned out the dialogue.

    Audio sync does not appear to be a problem with the transfer.

    The score comes, not unexpectedly for this sort of film, from Danny Elfman, and it has to be said that this is just a little different from his usual style, albeit still recognizable as his work. It is as usual for his work a nicely demonic sounding effort, and helps propel the film along very nicely.

    Okay, the bass channel problem makes it a little difficult to comment upon the overall soundtrack, as too much detail is lost as a result. However, when the bass permitted, there seemed to be some very nice use of the surround channels although not too much detail out of the rears. The result is quite a naturally balanced soundtrack, which is unfortunately not given much chance to show itself. This really is a poor example of a soundtrack and to be honest I am surprised that it was allowed through quality control. Whilst they were probably striving for a nicely propulsive bass channel to emphasize the demonic feel of the film, they failed miserably.


    Well, not exactly an inspiring bunch here.


Theatrical Trailer (1:56)

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    The usual quality effort from Universal with nicely detailed filmographies included.

Production Notes

    Another typically good effort from Universal, well detailed and very legible.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 release misses out on:     Region 1 is therefore reluctantly the region of choice, but you simply have to go with the 16x9 enhancement.


    An enjoyable enough film, but not exactly a masterpiece. The effects work is in general really cool and I would normally recommend this one, but the lack of 16x9 enhancement and the audio problems provide a worrisome disincentive. Interestingly, this is the first widescreen Universal release to not have the widescreen banner across the top of the front cover.

    The overall video quality is good.

    The overall audio quality is quite poor.

    The extras package is not too inspiring.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
24th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL