Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Day 88: The Frighteners

Another gift, and in this case, I hadn't expected to dip into this particular movie until well after this blog had run its course. I've already ruminated on Peter Jackson as a director of well-written genre pieces in my King Kong post and, so, it's a bit abhorrent to me to revist this same man's work so soon afterwards. Particularly since I've seen The Frighteners a couple of times already, though it's probably been at least eight years since I've seen the film. Unfortunately, I've gotten a bit sick and needed a day of much rest and relaxation to recuperate. The only other option was another Val Lewton piece and that's even more abhorrent to me.

As it is, I'm glad I watched this film. When I first saw The Frighteners in its theatrical run, I was already aware of Peter Jackson having watched Dead Alive (its true title is Braindead, but I can't think of it by that name) zillions of times. When I left The Frighteners I liked the movie well enough, though I felt the comraderie between the ghosts that helped out Michael J. Fox was a bit labored and underdeveloped and some of the plot machinations strained credibility. I revisted it when it came out on video and found that the film was full of riches on a second viewing, with wonderful connections between side characters that I missed on my first viewing. This began to clue me in on the sound structures Jackson and Fran Walsh build into their scripts, though it would be some time before I had that final a-ha! moment when I was able to articulate this aspect of these films.

Years later, I began to hear about a longer cut of the film (and the accompanying behind the scenes documentaries) available on laserdisc and I was curious to see it. This is what I watched today and it is a remarkably better film than the theatrical cut, with little snippets of character development that improved the viewing experience enormously. From what I could tell, most of the added material involved the ghost friends of Michael J. Fox and the establishment of the "rules" of ghostiness the film deals with. These developments turn the film from a pretty-good genre movie with some effective creepy moments and a show-stealing turn by Jeffery Combs, into an intrincately wound automated toy of a film, with surprising deviations and delightful contrivances. Of course, this may also be a result of having seen the film before, but it seemed that with one or two exceptions, the added material made everything in the film much more believable, understandable, and enjoyable.

It remains a loud, shrill, and hyperactive experience. And the plot's convolutions are a bit too much. And I really, really wish that there could have been something in the script to justify the presence of the FBI agent in the climax or that the heaven at the end of the movie wasn't such a cheap plot device (though it's still fucking earned) or that the movie could have sorted out whether son of Busey was a mythical creature or a literalistic boogedy boo back from the grave, particularly since the "soul-collector" character is totally scary and it's a bit of a let-down to see it unmasked as a serial killer. But it is so god-damned delightful when Michael J. Fox uses the afterlife mythology of the movie in order to defeat the villains, and Jeffery Combs's deranged FBI agent goes so far off the deep end, and the movie's so internally consistent while it constantly threatens to jump off the tracks, that I was overdelighted while watching it. I haven't felt the joy found in cinematic exuberance in some time, but I remember it now. It's here in The Frighteners, a messy, rough masterpiece of genre fusion.


Ted said...


I'm gonna hate when you stop publishing this.

David Wester said...

Thank you! I'm wondering if I'll be able to cold turkey. My girlfriend sure thinks so.

upcoming movies said...

I will give this movie 8 rating out of 10. It is surprising movie that you people enjoyed. The story is constantly movie by making movie more and more interesting..