The Frighteners

on July 19, 1996 by Lea Russo
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   Australian writer/director Peter Jackson has made a career of depicting the dark and twisted. His low-budget directorial debut, "Bad Taste," about four idiots who must destroy alien-eating people, took violence to a gorefest extreme while hilariously spoofing cartoons and horror films. In another humorous exploitation of slaughter, "Dead Alive," followed a man cursed with a vicious zombie mother. Next came the critically acclaimed "Heavenly Creatures," and while the film was a departure from Jackson's typically bloody comedies, he focused on the real-life nightmare of two friends who committed murder. Sadly, Jackson's latest film, "The Frighteners," lacks the gruesome comedy and scathing insight that has characterized his work.
   Michael J. Fox, Mr. Squeaky Clean, plays a tortured psychic who employs his ghost friends to help him make a buck. When the grim reaper starts taking lives prematurely, though, Fox's character is blamed for the murders. With the help of a lovely doctor (Trini Alvarado), the psychic must battle a sadistic FBI agent; a psychotic mother/daughter team; and, of course, the Angel of Death. "The Frighteners'" premise sure sounds like Jackson's style, but the film avoids any real journey into darkness. Even Jackson's sick humor is dumbed down for mainstream tastes, and what's left of the comedy falls broad and flat. (Fox tries to deliver a campy, bad-ass line, but is so entirely unsuccessful that no one laughs.) Moreover, the film's tone fluctuates from light to serious and back again. "The Frighteners" does have a zesty pace and some cool effects, and those unfamiliar with Jackson's work may find something to love. But many will recognize "The Frighteners" as the film that turned another artist into a studio puppet. Starring Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone. Directed by Peter Jackson. Written by Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson. Produced by Jamie Selkirk and Peter Jackson. A Universal Release. Thriller
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