For every week in the month of October, TheWeek.com's entertainment editor Scott Meslow will be recommending a horror film that's currently available on Netflix Instant Watch. This week: The Frighteners.
Less than a decade before he changed the face of the modern blockbuster with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a relatively untested director named Peter Jackson made his Hollywood debut with an offbeat horror/comedy called The Frighteners. Michael J. Fox stars as Frank Bannister, a freelance ghosthunter who uses his actual ability to communicate with spirits to scam clients for an easy paycheck. But when a series of bizarre murders start happening around town — and police suspect that Frank is the one responsible for them — he’s forced to do some actual supernatural detective work in order to get to the bottom of the case.
The Frighteners was originally conceived as a possible movie spin-off from the HBO TV series Tales from the Crypt, and the movie still shares the TV show’s anarchic, spooky/wacky sensibility. There’s a fine line between horror and comedy, but The Frighteners manages to pull it off, with a loaded cast that includes cult figures like R. Lee Ermey, Chi McBride, and Re-Animator's Jeffrey Combs. Best of all is Michael J. Fox, cast brilliantly against type as a protagonist who's far more morally dubious than a character like Alex P. Keaton or Marty McFly.
There’s more than enough to recommend The Frighteners on its own merits, but the film is an extra special treat for Lord of the Rings fans; though it’s set in the Midwest, Jackson shot in New Zealand, and he enlisted the help of special effects firm Weta Workshop to bring the film’s ghosts to life — the very same firm that later shot to fame for their extensive work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ring in your Halloween with The Frighteners, and enjoy one of the most overlooked and underrated horror movies of the 1990s.