Frighteners, The: Director's Cut Edition (1999)

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Released 6-Dec-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Horror Introduction-Peter Jackson (Director) - Discs 1 And 2
dts Trailer
Audio Commentary-Peter Jackson (Director)
Featurette-Ghost Stories
Featurette-Script Development
Featurette-Michael J. Fox And Trini Alvarado
Featurette-Jim Fyfe, Chi McBride And John Astin
Featurette-Lyttleton As Fairwater
Featurette-Introduction To WETA
Featurette-Scene 28, Ghost Effects
Featurette-Motion Control & Bluescreen
Featurette-The Jackson Boys, Stunts
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-On The Set
Featurette-The Reaper, Rustler, The Gatekeeper
Featurette-Jeffrey Combs,Miniatures,Trini's Bruises,Slimeface &Blobman
Featurette-Dee Wallace Stone & Jake Busey, Wallpaperman...
Deleted Scenes
More…-Outakes, Ratings & Final Thoughts,Theatrical Trailer,Credits
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 117:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (61:21)
Multi Disc Set (3)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Peter Jackson

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Michael J. Fox
Trini Alvarado
Peter Dobson
John Astin
Dee Wallace Stone
Jeffrey Combs
Jake Busey
Chi McBride
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music Danny Elfman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
French Audio Commentary
German Audio Commentary
Italian Audio Commentary
Portuguese Audio Commentary
Spanish Audio Commentary
Danish Audio Commentary
Finnish Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Swedish Audio Commentary
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Depending on your point of view, Peter Jackson's rapid rise from small-time, independent filmmaker to reigning emperor of Hollywood heralds either the coming of the celluloid messiah or, on the other hand, just another regulation changing of the guard, replacing one hack who knows how to market (RIP George Lucas) with another. After a clutch of cheaply made splatter-fests and and a discomfiting re-imagining of the Muppets in Meet the Feebles, Jackson gained critical attention (and an Oscar nomination) with Heavenly Creatures. Hollywood saw the possibilities, and Robert Zemeckis agreed to produce Jackson's first big budget feature, The Frighteners, a tamer cousin to his early comedy-horror films. The Lord of the Rings trilogy lay just around the corner, and The Frighteners can be viewed as something of a crossover film, mixing Jackson's indie sensibilities with Hollywood gloss and marking the moment in which he either stepped up, or sold out.

    Written as a light relief from the darkly toned Heavenly Creatures, The Frighteners is a bubbling black blend of bump-in-the-night horror and one-liner comedy. Independent psychic detective Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) runs an almost foolproof scam. After his very dead and ectoplasmic business associates - Judge, Cyrus, and Stuart - stir up poltergeist activity at the target home, Frank arrives armed with holy water and ghost-busting appliances to clean up and exorcise the "persistent residue of the departed" - a simple service with a modest price-tag. When a shrouded reaper-figure appears on the scene, collecting the souls of both the living and the dead, Frank finds himself implicated in a rapidly rising death toll. Frank (naturally) sets out to stop the reaper and clear his name, and with the very recently widowed Dr Lucy Linsky (Trini Alvarado) on side, attempts to stay one step ahead of the highly strung and highly disturbed Special Agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs). But Frank may be more involved in the current spate of deaths than he realises . . . and who knows what secrets lie hidden in the dark Sanatorium on the top of the hill . . .

    From start to finish, The Frighteners dances along the line between creepy and funny. Mixing jump-from-your-seat surprises, eerie set pieces, and a few disturbing "adult" concepts with a comic chemistry between Frank and his partners, all topped off with a Danny Elfman score, The Frighteners mixes genres to (very nearly) great effect. On its US release, most critics were befuddled by the mix and wrote the film off as an unstable piece, unsure of its direction and footing: the film does indeed feel messy. Rather than an issue with genre bending, though, I would suggest that Jackson doesn't quite hit the mark precisely because The Frighteners was his first big budget project. As a general rule, a budget and a Hollywood producer comes part and parcel with restrictions on content and some notion of a lowest common denominator audience to be satisfied above all else. As revealed in the extra features (see below), Jackson decided to toe the party line and make a PG-13 film for the masses, pulling away from his gory horror roots. Ironically, the MPAA slapped him with an R certificate anyway, and The Frighteners became a film that not only was off-limits to the all important teen market, but more importantly, a film of compromised intent. When Jackson lets the ghoulish aspects of the film take over, The Frighteners truly shines, but most of the time it feels as though he's pulling punches. This Director's Cut goes some of the way in repairing the damage and adds to the atmosphere, but just enough to make you wonder what kind of film this could have been if Jackson had trusted himself and his audience and had filmed without studio interference. Not to suggest that this isn't a good movie: even if a little short-changed, it's a lot of fun! Still, it's quite obvious here that Jackson had taken the first step towards Hollywood mainstreaming and that The Frighteners was his farewell to his independent ethos.

    For fans of the film, this repackaging of the laserdisc special edition of The Frighteners is a must have. Stuffed to the gills with extra features (Jackson was documenting the entire filmmaking process before he'd even thought of the extended Lord of the Rings DVD packages) and graced with excellent video and audio transfers, Jackson obviously knows how to treat his fans (although Universal do not! - see my notes below under Extra Features). Maybe a little overkill in the extras department (the inevitable extended edition of King Kong, I think, may end up being the straw that breaks the camel's back), but a film definitely worth revisiting. Turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and enjoy!

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    Very nice indeed! Close to perfect and only a few small issues. The Frighteners is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, 16x9 enhanced.

    Sharpness and detail are excellent: tiny hairs and wrinkles on faces come up clean and crisp. Blacks are deep and solid, although occasionally can exhibit a little blue noise. Low level noise is present but usually minor. Ghostly auras, though, are very grainy. Colours are very natural throughout, clean and well saturated.

    Not much to report in the way of artefacts. Some aliasing is visible on car grilles (for example, at 7:20) and a few minor film specks appear and there. All in all, it's a very good video transfer.

    There's a grand total of 31 subtitle streams, covering both the feature and the commentary, all in a nice white font. The English titles are accurate and readable. The film is divided into 49 chapters (including the introduction) and the layer change occurs at 61:21.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    I really wanted to give the audio transfer full marks, but it just manages to trip over its own feet and fall short of reference quality. The film is graced with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 track (384Kbps), English DTS 5.1 (768Kbps), and English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0). I listened to the DTS and commentary in full and sampled the Dolby Digital track.

    Dialogue is crystal clear and exhibits no audible hiss or distortion. Audio sync, however, is a severe problem. While the Dolby Digital track (from what I sampled) is accurate in the sync department, the DTS is very sloppy. Slipping in and out of sync throughout, an otherwise amazing track becomes almost impossible to listen to - poor sync is highly distracting! One wonders what's happening in Universal quality control. (Most of the audio in the extras features is also out of sync).

    EDIT: Although audio sync issues for both the DTS track and the audio on extra features persisted on both my Sony and Teac players and my laptop, user comments below indicate that no such problem exists in the final release disc. I can only assume my review disc was faulty. Ratings have been adjusted accordingly.

    If you can manage to ignore the audio sync, then the DTS track will knock you over. The surround mix is very aggressive, with discrete effects emanating from all around the sound stage: bullets zing around the rears and voices pan every which way. The subwoofer gets a starring role, supporting rifle-fire, ghostly rumblings, and numerous thuds and bumps. The opening scene especially gives an indication of what you're in for aurally, and even if you dislike the movie, the audio will convince anyone of the need for surround sound and DTS. The Dolby Digital track is also very good, but doesn't match the dynamic depth of the DTS.

    I'm a long time fan of Danny Elfman's film scores and his style is perfectly suited to The Frighteners. I wouldn't call this his best work, though: the score sounds like he switched into autopilot and combined quotations from his earlier work. It has that unmistakable Elfman sound and works in the film well but doesn't stand on its own as a particularly striking piece of music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    From the man obsessed with showing the world every step of the making of the Lord of the Rings comes another mother-lode of detailed backstage access. Did you expect anything less? All the extras have been ported from the special edition laserdisc release of The Frighteners bar Jackson's new introduction for the DVD release.

    There's a lot of information here. Disc 1 runs a total of 173:58 and Disc 2 98:20. Like Lord of the Rings, a play all option is available or each featurette can be selected individually. All of the featurettes are 4x3 unless otherwise stated below. Both extras discs (and Jackson's intros) are full to the brim with spoilers (as is my summary below) so watch the film first.

    I'll also point out here that Universal's recent trend of including a ridiculous amount of forced warnings between language selection and the menu continues unabated. Even the Piracy ad is forced (it's unskippable, but you can fast forward it). Poor form Universal!


    On Disc One, Jackson offers a new introduction for the DVD and his new skinny, sans-spectacles style still seems unreal. Presented 16x9, it contains spoilers. A bad move on Universal's part has been to tack the introduction on to the start of the movie so that it plays every time you play the main feature. Either skip to the next chapter or select the beginning of the film from the scene selection menu. Peter Jackson offers a second introduction to the supplementary details on Disc 2 and his plans to put together the laserdisc.

Audio Commentary

    A decent commentary from Peter Jackson with plenty of anecdotal information and explanations of the filmmaking process. With the wealth of information on Discs 2 and 3, it's a wonder Jackson had anything left to say at all!


    As the content of each featurette is obvious from its title (and to avoid simply repeating their content), I'll limit my comments to stand out segments. Most of it is worth watching if you're interested in the filmmaking process, even if some of the interviewees are just a tad irritating. Everything from script development, casting, shopping for a producer, to the development of WETA is covered in excessive detail. By far the best segment is Storyboarding. After discussing the storyboard process, Jackson offers commentary over the entire storyboard with music and sound effects. The feature runs 45:36. This is, in my opinion, the best way to present storyboards: switching between multi-angles for a whole film gets tiresome. Jackson points out changes from the storyboard to the final product, explaining why elements were chopped or the inspiration behind new developments. The storyboarding for the whole film was never completed and the feature ends (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) as Frank fights with Bartlett in the crypt. Well worth a look. The development of WETA is also interesting to see. Moving from a "creature shop," to adding a single computer for Heavenly Creatures, and on to The Frighteners and The Lord of the Rings, WETA's progress is one of those great underdog success stories. Richard Taylor is as irritating as ever, though, sporting a sad, sad 90s hairstyle. Interestingly, the idea to film The Lord of the Rings came about because WETA now had a lot of computers which could be put to use on some sort of fantasy film. The rest is history.

Deleted Scenes

    Jackson's first cut was two and a half hours long - too long in his mind (he sings a different tune now). Several scenes and characters (including the cherubic Gatekeeper) were given the boot. Some made it back into the Director's Cut and were definitely worth reinstating. Leaving out the Gatekeeper, though, was an excellent choice. Cut elements are shown throughout the featurettes and several as stand alone pieces. Some deleted scenes are more finished than others.


    A 4x3 trailer for the film rounds out the package.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This Director's Cut release replaces the old Region 4 release (reviewed here). The older release has none of the special features on offer here, no DTS track, and no 16x9 enhancement. The bass issues seems to have been resolved as well.

    The first Region 1 release is 16x9 enhanced but DTS and extra free. The new Director's Cut release includes the same extra features ported from the laser disc as ours, but presented on a DVD-18 (double-sided, dual layered). DVD-18s have become something of a trend for Universal special editions lately, but complaints that the discs fail to work and freeze up constantly are rife on the internet.

    Side A contains the film, introduction, commentary, trailer, and the storyboard feature. Side B contains the making of featurettes in a single block. Video is in the correct aspect ratio and 16x9 enhanced but there is no DTS track! Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.

    The German Region 2 release includes the original theatrical cut on a fourth disc.

    Even though the Region 4 release has audio sync problems with the DTS track, (EDIT: see edit under audio) the fact that we have one and Region 1 doesn't, in combination with possible problems with the DVD-18 format, makes Region 4 the clear winner. If you would like the theatrical cut, though, then the German Region 2 hits the front of the pack.


    It may not pull off the balance between horror and comedy, but The Frighteners is still a fun film. Whether the film marks the moment in which Jackson sold out to Hollywood is an open question.

    Video is excellent

    The DTS track sounds fantastic.

    Ported from the laserdisc special edition, the extras are expansive and exhaustive. A very solid package.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Adam Atkinson (read my bio)
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-S336, using Component output
DisplayLG Flatron Widescreen RT-28FZ85RX. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationYamaha RX-V357
SpeakersDB Dynamics Belmont Series: Fronts: B50F, Centre: B50C, Rears: B50S, Sub: SW8BR

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Does the German 4-disc set have the same audio-sync issues? - Klokwerk REPLY POSTED
DTS Sync Issue mentioned in review - Dean Walsh REPLY POSTED
Try on another Player? - Bill T
Thirding lack of sync problems - Swiss Cheeseman
DTS Track - John N