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DVD Reviews

HTF REVIEW: The Frighteners - Peter Jackson's Director's Cut (RECOMMENDED)

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#1 of 53 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted December 11 2005 - 05:43 AM

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The Frighteners - Peter Jackson's Director's Cut
Studio: Universal Studios Home Video
Year: 1996/98 (2005 Release)
Rated: R
Aspect Ratio: 2.35x1, enhanced for 16x9 displays
Audio: English DD 5.1; Commentary
Captions/Subtitles: English SDH; French and Spanish Subtitles
Time: 2:02:28
Disc Format: DS/DL (DVD-18)
Layer Switch: Approx 1:20:43
Case Style: Keep Case with textured slipcover

The Feature:
Peter Jackson believes in ghosts. One morning while his partner Fran Walsh was in the other room, Jackson saw the floating apparition of a woman locked in a scream. When he mentioned it to Walsh, she had seen it several months earlier.

Flash forward to the making of Heavenly Creatures, which was to be Jackson's breakout success and exit from the splatter gore genre (which includes my personal favorite, Meet the Feebles). Jackson and Walsh wrote an outline of a ghost story and submitted it to their agent--who then submitted it to producer Robert Zemeckis. Zemeckis, who was shopping for scripts for Tales from the Crypt, thought this story had more potential than a segment on a TV show, so he met with Jackson and Walsh. They pitched a more developed story, and The Frighteners was born, with Zemeckis as Executive Producer.

The Frighteners tells the story of Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) who had a near-death experience and can see ghosts. He partners up with these ghouls to stage paranormal activities, then he offers his psychic and ghost busting services for a fee. For the most part it is a harmless scam, but by being able to communicate with spirits, he can actually be of service to some people. Of course, he walks a fine line of decorum when he crashes funerals to hand off business cards, but we soon forget about that when he crashes his through a nice picket fence and clobbers some garden gnomes. (It seems that Frank is not a very good driver...)

But he is sly... when the owner of the damaged yard, a shallow but pumped up jock named Ray (Peter Dobson), threatens to sue Frank, the ghost buddies come in and scare up enough business for Frank so that the debt is canceled. It is then that Frank meets Ray's wife Lucy (Trini Alvarado), a doctor who has been dealing with some of the town's more disturbed patients (the Bradleys, in particular--a scary old lady, and her daughter played by Dee Wallace-Stone).

Frank's quiet little town of Fairwater does have more than its share of ghosts, and a tainted history of a killing spree that left twelve people dead in a hospital. The perfectly evil Johnny Bartlett (Jake Busey) is sent to the electric chair for his part in the shootings, and his girlfriend--the Bradley daughter--serves time in prison. Years later the Bradley daughter has been released from prison and is all but held captive by her mother in a house adjacent to the abandoned hospital.

More recently, perfectly healthy people in Fairwater have been dying under strange circumstances. This is made even more mysterious when Frank can predict the people who are going to die by seeing a glowing number cut into their forehead. Lucy's husband Ray is one of these deaths, and Frank gets involved with Lucy. Soon, it becomes clear (to Frank, at least) that the specter of death is on Fairwater.

But is Frank actually a serial killer who is responsible for 28 murders? A quirky FBI agent, played deliciously by the Reanimator himself Jeffrey Combs, thinks so. He pursues Frank relentlessly, and interferes when Frank and Lucy are trying to get to the bottom of the mystery.

The Frighteners starts out funny and evolves into light horror--not quite as outlandish or gory as the hard-R Shaun of the Dead, but suspenseful all the same. It is populated with a variety of funny characters, especially Frank's partner ghosts, and the drill instructor ghost in the grave yard played by the great R. Lee Ermey. Michael J. Fox is perfectly cast in his role. The movie never takes itself too seriously.

Even though The Frighteners is rated R, it was intended to be PG-13. For some reason that only the MPAA knows, the excessive use of a shotgun--just shooting holes through doors and walls--was enough to push the rating past PG-13 to R. (The higher rating also allowed Jackson to re-shoot one scene with a little more of an edge to it, but if you have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is no worse. In fact, I showed this movie to a mixed audience including a 12-year-old, and he loved it.)

When The Frighteners was originally released, it had a running time of approximately 110 minutes. For a special edition on laserdisc, Peter Jackson set a new standard by not only extending his movie by 14 minutes, but by preparing a thorough documentary on the making of his film. How thorough was this documentary?

Well, if you have seen the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings movies, you know that hours of supplements are indeed possible. But back in 1998 when the Signature Collection laserdisc was released, The Frighteners set a high water mark with a 4.5 hour original documentary, written and directed by Jackson himself. This had never been done, and I kicked myself for not getting the laserdisc after it quickly went out-of-print.

But patience is a virtue. Seven years after the laserdisc release, we are finally able to see the extended cut of the film and the complete content of the 4.5 hour documentary. And here's the kicker: if you act fast, you can get a copy of The Frighteners with a free movie ticket to Peter Jackson's King Kong. This "Hollywood Movie Money" is good for up to $10.50, and is valid from December 14th, 2004 to January 1st, 2006.

Any time you can get two movies for the price of one, that is a win-win to me (and from the reviews of King Kong thus far, it is a big win). And it goes without saying that I consider this edition of The Frighteners to be a must-have.

The Feature: 4 / 5
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The Frighteners is presented in 2.35x1 widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 displays. The visual effects, which were cutting edge CGI work in the day, are still impressive. The color palate ranges from grainy black and white news footage, to hyper-realistic flashbacks, to darkened rooms of an abandoned hospital, to the floral beauty of a hidden garden. Black level is solid, especially during the night scenes. I detected traces of edge enhancement, though, during a few of the daylight sequences.

Video: 4 / 5
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The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix is quite aggressive. There were many directional surround effects and some subwoofer activity to keep things interesting. Even the closing music had surround activity (that made those viewing the movie just a little uneasy--it was almost like a TV was on in the other room). Danny Elfman's score was great, as well.

Sound: 4.5 / 5
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The original Signature Collection laserdisc was legendary for its 4.5 hour making-of documentary. This has been ported over to the DVD in its entirety, although it has been reconfigured slightly to accommodate disc space.

The DVD is presented as a dual-sided, dual-layered (DVD-18) disc. I would have preferred two single-sided discs, but I had no playback issues with this disc.

On Side A of the DVD, in addition to the extended movie, there is a feature-length commentary track with Peter Jackson. The movie itself is also started with a newly recorded introduction with Peter Jackson, where he explains the importance of The Frighteners to him.

Storyboards (45:36) are presented to music and narration by Peter Jackson. This was part of the original documentary. I like how you do not have to push the button dozens of times to advance forward--rather, the storyboards are turned into a mini-movie of their own.

Rounding out Side A is the theatrical trailer (2:10).

Side B continues The Making of the Frighteners with another newly recorded introduction by Peter Jackson and the remaining 3:43:38 of the content of the original Signature Collection laserdisc release (the 4.5 hour figure is the sum total of the storyboard segment and the trailer).

This making of documentary is very thorough, with discussions ranging from script development, visual effects, a deleted sequence, rehearsal footage, and a very funny blooper reel (which, ironically, has more R-rated language than the movie itself).

I am going to have to watch more of this (time does not permit me to view the whole thing, sorry) but what I did watch was very informative and entertaining. It is like getting a master class on a 5-inch disc.

Extras: 5 / 5
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In Conclusion:
The Frighteners is a fun comedy horror flick that set a new standard for supplements back its day, and is still great by today's standard.

Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5
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In Current Release

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#2 of 53 OFFLINE   Mike_S


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Posted December 11 2005 - 06:07 AM

That's a great review, Steve. I bought this one (with the Kong movie ticket inside) Like you, I drooled over the LD set with all of the supplements, so I'm glad to (finally)pick up the DVD version. Very quirky and very entertaining. -Mike
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#3 of 53 OFFLINE   Stephen Orr

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Posted December 11 2005 - 06:16 AM

I loved this movie and picked up the DC last week. Haven't watched the movie yet, but am about 2/3 through the documentary. Kong ticket is tacked to my phone board, waiting until the 23rd... (birthday, waiting for my son to come home for the holidays)

#4 of 53 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted December 11 2005 - 06:35 AM


#5 of 53 OFFLINE   Daniel-M


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Posted December 11 2005 - 07:53 AM

Region 2 gets a three singlesided discs and DTS, i think i will go for that

#6 of 53 OFFLINE   John Swarce

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Posted December 11 2005 - 01:17 PM

The link on the homepage in the Reviews section does not bring you here! It sends you to the lasers edge website! John
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#7 of 53 OFFLINE   Steve Tannehill

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Posted December 11 2005 - 01:25 PM

Curious, thanks... we'll get that fixed. - Steve

#8 of 53 OFFLINE   CraigF



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Posted December 11 2005 - 02:33 PM

A couple of comments and a query from the "other" thread: I like the way the new scenes were added essentially seamlessly to the theatrical cut, very well done. People seem to have had good luck with the DVD-18, I think only one problem was reported, at the layer change. Steve: did you notice that the LFE sometimes sounded muddy and distorted? I have never heard LFE sound quite that "bad". I'm wondering if somebody with the older TC release or the laserdisc can comment if it sounded similar. For all I know, maybe it's meant to sound like that, kind of an ugly menacing tone.

#9 of 53 OFFLINE   DavidofLondon


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Posted December 11 2005 - 09:26 PM

I watched the movie and listened to the commentary track (on the R1 DVD) yesterday. I was tempted to wait for the R2 three disk version but R1 was cheaper (even allowing for shipping to the UK) so I went with that. I agree with the review but I noticed something while listening to the commentary. Peter Jackson is chatting away describing various things, talking fairly constantly throughout the commentary. Then at around 1 hour 16 minutes (sorry didn't note exact time). The commentary went silent, for a good couple of minutes. It was long enough that I wondered if my settings had screwed up and I'd changed to the non-commentary view of the movie. Then just as I was about to check my settings Peter started talking again. I wonder if he popped out for a coffee/tea break and forgot to pause the recording?

#10 of 53 OFFLINE   Chuck Mayer

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Posted December 12 2005 - 03:08 AM

Own the LD, but I'll purchase this. DVD is better to maintain, though I also would have preferred two discs (having a changer myself). The Doc is a master class. Excellent material. The new scenes add to the film in simple ways, making it a bit funnier. Good SE, Chuck
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#11 of 53 OFFLINE   Sten F

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Posted December 12 2005 - 03:16 AM

You might want to go for the German 4-Disc set, which is best version available.
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#12 of 53 OFFLINE   TheLongshot



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Posted December 12 2005 - 04:02 AM

Except that it is in PAL... Jason

#13 of 53 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted December 12 2005 - 07:25 AM

Apart from the comedy, is this film genuinely creepy, even outright scary in places, ie. moments of shock? Or is it just a goofy, fun kind of movie?

#14 of 53 OFFLINE   Dome Vongvises

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Posted December 12 2005 - 09:20 AM

A little from column A and a little from column B.

#15 of 53 OFFLINE   Dave Mack

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Posted December 12 2005 - 10:56 AM

I loved it when I saw it on opening day but I could tell that 1/2 the audience didn't know WHAT was going on tone-wise. But I also loved DEAD ALIVE and Heavenly Creatures...

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#16 of 53 OFFLINE   Vincent_P



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Posted December 12 2005 - 11:12 AM

It could be that he discussed something that the legal department at Universal objected to, so it was removed from the commentary. That happens a lot. Vincent

#17 of 53 OFFLINE   Dale MA

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Posted December 12 2005 - 11:27 AM

It's kind of like a really dark Ghostbusters with scary bits thrown in for good measure Posted Image

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#18 of 53 OFFLINE   Gordon McMurphy

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Posted December 12 2005 - 11:41 AM

Thanks, guys. I'll try a rental.

#19 of 53 OFFLINE   CraigF



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Posted December 12 2005 - 12:17 PM

Has noone else with a sub watched this? Everyone thinks the LFE is "just peachy", worth 4.5/5 for sound?? Of course it's just opinion, but 4.5/5 doesn't leave much room for all the good dts soundtracks with great and undistorted LFE. Oh well, I get much more bothered by distorted sound than an occasional glimpse of EE, but probably not typical here (I come from the audio side to HT). I spent several hours dicking with my sub after watching this disc JIC I had mis-adjusted something since an extremely rigorous re-setup 6 months ago...and it's on the disc. It's the only issue I have with the disc, otherwise great content and at a good price too.

#20 of 53 OFFLINE   Mark Lucas

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Posted December 12 2005 - 01:42 PM

I think maybe the LFE channel clips in places. I think the WSR review of the LD noted it but I'm not sure. I do remember the DTS LD got a 5+ though.

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