The Frighteners (M, 105mins) Directed by Peter Jackson *** ½

It was Sir Peter Jackson’s first real foray into the sometimes nightmarish world of Hollywood.

What turned out to be Michael J. Fox’s last leading role in a feature film. The film that helped the fledgling Weta Digital show its immense potential and surely the only film starring Angela Bloomfield, Genevieve Westcott and Anthony Ray Parker.

Twenty-five years later and what is striking The scary ones this is how much Jackson’s effects and tension withstood, how beautiful the port city of Canterbury (now a Christchurch suburb) of Lyttelton is, and how confusing and confusing the final act is from a otherwise entertaining roller coaster.

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Yes, seen now, The scary ones is a fascinating throwback to a time when Jackson was transitioning from his low-budget independent sensibilities to the blockbuster fantasies to come.

It’s easy to see what drew producer Robert Zemeckis to the project (he was originally planned as a Tales from the Crypt function before Back to the future director suggested it would work best as a standalone story). It delivers the same dark humor and a crowd-pleasing mix of broad comedy and real thrills and chills that have infused Zemeckis-led stories like Who wants the skin of Roger Rabbit? and Death becomes her. Although, if there’s one movie that most resembles the sensation, it’s Tim Burton’s, albeit a bit more anarchic, 1988. beetle juice, with its visceral and nightmarish visions and its really laughing scenery.

The Frighteners, shot in New Zealand, was Michael J. Fox's last leading role in a feature film.


The Frighteners, shot in New Zealand, was Michael J. Fox’s last leading role in a feature film.

Here, Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh navigate the balance of light and dark well, striking a tone that both allows Weta to work his spooky magic and Fox to showcase his comedic timing. , his free-fall skills and his serial car crash abilities. His maniacal and nervous “psychic investigator” Frank Bannister is a compelling presence, the Canadian-born actor playing him with a nervous energy and awkwardness that makes you wonder if he was feeling the first effects of Parkinson’s disease which has anything to do with it. little limited his career since.

For those unfamiliar with the plot of the movie Universal made the mistake of releasing in late summer, rather than right before Halloween in the US, but was a smash hit for Boxing Day here. (in a very crowded cinematic summer of 1996/97), The scary ones takes place in the town of Fairwater, in the American Midwest.

A character by Peter Jackson directs Michael J. Fox on the Lyttelton set of The Frighteners.

John Kirk-Anderson / Stuff

A character by Peter Jackson directs Michael J. Fox on the Lyttelton set of The Frighteners.

As we join the action, the shadow of death has once again descended on this seemingly cursed hamlet. Last week, three citizens succumbed to a mysterious heart disease that has killed more than 30 people in four years. The mood hasn’t been so hectic since the infamous Bradley-Bartlett murder spree in 1964, when 12 people were killed at the local sanatorium by the apparently possessed Johnny Bartlett (Jake Busey), encouraged by his teenage girlfriend Patricia Bradley (Nicola Cliff). He got the chair, it ended up locked up by his mother.

So while former architect Frank, able to see spirits since a traumatic accident killed his beloved wife Debra (Angela Bloomfield) five years ago, believes now is the perfect time to exercise his staging craft of hauntings with the help of a trio of trapped souls, even they’re not so sure.

“Death is not a way to earn a living,” advises the increasingly decrepit judge (John Astin).

Michael J. Fox takes on the role of Frank Bannister from The Frighteners.

John Kirk-Anderson / Stuff

Michael J. Fox takes on the role of Frank Bannister from The Frighteners.

Frank’s regular appearances near the grave begin to wane, and when the local newspaper portrays him as a con artist, the concert appears to be almost over. However, when an installation at the home of Fairview’s new doctor, Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado), causes Frank to see a digital sculpture similar to the one found on Debra’s forehead, of Lucy’s husband Ray (Peter Dobson) , who later finds himself dead, he suddenly finds himself not only charged with his murder, but potentially the only person who can stop the indiscriminate death of everyone in Fairview.

What follows is a manic, at times breathless battle between good and evil, that diffuses predictable tropes, but isn’t afraid to shake them up either. Among the highlights is a beautifully constructed interrogation scene and a pretty shiny carpet draw, just as the knockout seems a done deal. Less convincing is the final stage, which definitely seems to be made up of the hoof and the somewhat confusing “physics” of who can strike who – and when – between the spirits, Frank, and the other humans.

Best viewed as a flawed but fun game, a striking counterpoint to the more serious Celestial creatures, The scary ones, like Jackson’s 1994 masterpiece, also doubles as a poignant elegy and a snapshot of a Christchurch that was destroyed by the devastating earthquakes of 2010-11.

As a local and Fox fan, it’s hard not to be teary-eyed as you watch the about 34-year-old in his prime, trap around London St and Reserve Tce, and spy on various haunts long reduced to ruins or distant memories.

  • The Frighteners is screened in Wellington and Christchurch as part of this year’s Terror-Fi Film Festival. It is also available to stream on Neon.

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