Frighteners, The: Director’s Cut (DVD)

Starring Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, Jim Fyfe, Chi McBride, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs

Directed by Peter Jackson

Released by Universal Home Video

For years, fans of The Frighteners, Peter Jackson’s first studio film shot directly after Heavenly Creatures and Forgotten Silver were made, have lamented that the only decent edition of the film was available on Laserdisc. As great as the technology was, most people didn’t have the money to afford The Frighteners (or many other films, which is why DVD has won out) on Laserdisc. Well, folks, I have some very good news for you. News that Universal, for whatever bizarre reason, decided not to unveil to the film’s fanbase in pretty much any capacity; The Frighteners: Director’s Cut DVD is the exact same version as the one that’s only been available on Laserdisc all these years.

Correction; it’s actually a much better version.

That’s because not only did Universal give it a new anamorphic transfer, meaning the film has never looked better, but they also brought Peter in to film brand-new intros for both the movie, which now includes the extra 14 minutes of footage that was taken out of the theatrical print, and “The Making of The Frighteners“, the documentary shot by Peter and his crew during and shortly after the film was made.

I’m so glad this film has finally gotten the kind of DVD release it deserves, not only because it’s great to finally have a definitive version of it on disc, but because it allows me to talk about just how much I love The Frighteners.

I remember I was one of the only people among my group of friends that had any interest in seeing it at all when it was released back in 1996. I managed to convince at least one or two of my group to come along, and of course they loved the hell out of it like pretty much anyone who’s seen has. A brilliant mixture of comedy, horror, and drama filled with (at the time) cutting edge special effects and a brilliant cast all combined to create one of the greatest examples of how right a studio picture can be if it’s in the hands of a genius (i.e., Peter Jackson…). We’ll pretend that, for whatever reason, you’re not familiar with the story…

Frank Bannister (Fox) is an empty shell of a man. After the death of his wife a few years earlier during a fight in the car while he was drunk, he stopped construction on the house he had been building for them, as well as pretty much anything else that could be considered “living”. He gained, however, the ability to see ghosts and communicate with the other side, but instead of helping people with real problems he sends his two Frighteners (McBride and Fyfe) out to people’s homes to setup fake hauntings so he can come in and “clean them”.

At the same time we meet Frank, a strange string of deaths begins to occur in the small town in which he resides, and it all appears to be the work of the Grim Reaper himself, come to collect on the souls of the living. Frank is accused, of course, since he is now seen as the town weirdo (and keeps showing up on the scene of the murders), and FBI special agent Milton Dammers (Combs, in the kind of role he’s not given nearly enough of) is sent in to try and crack him. The truth of the matter is a bit more complicated, however, and has to do with the spirit of a long-dead serial killer come back to finish the “good work”, as he calls it, and Frank’s the only one who can stop him.

The Frighteners is a great film, plain and simple. The writing is brilliant, the effects (especially for when they were made) are top-notch, and Jackson proves that he can make a fun, entertaining, effects-filled film that sticks with the audience because, more than anything, it has characters you can believe in. He spends the time to make you care for his creations, and that just sucks you into the story that much quicker. Did I mention I love this film?

There are 14 minutes more of it this time around, too, and while it feels a bit strange at times (since I’ve seen the theatrical version more times than I can count), it all works to make the world of The Frighteners that much fuller. None of it slows down the pacing or makes the movie drag, as it’s maybe a minute here and a minute there, but I can see why they would’ve removed it to get a more theatrically friendly running time. Ironic when you consider the length of all the Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong, eh?

Side one of the disc (yep, it’s a flipper) also includes the first-ever commentary track done by Jackson, and as anyone who’s ever heard the man talk or seen the man work can attest, it’s very in-depth, but never to the point of boring. Jackson seems to have a knack for knowing exactly what aspects of making a film the audience is interested in, and focuses on those aspects with just the right amount of geek wisdom to keep people hanging on every word.

The only other feature on this side is a look at the storyboards, also with commentary by Jackson, and while it’s certainly not dull, I thought it went just a little too long. The storyboards themselves were fantastically drawn, however, so I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of sitting through it.

Then you flip the disc over and get to the meat of this Special Edition: “The Making of The Frighteners“. When Universal first announced this DVD was coming out, they never made it clear as to just how much of this documentary, which is infamous because of the aforementioned rarely seen laserdisc on which it was solely featured, would be on the disc. The back of the DVD states there are over 4 hours of special features written and directed by Peter Jackson, so I took that as a good sign. Indeed, despite the fact that Universal made no solid mention of it in any press release, this is the entire 4 hour long making-of featurette that fans have been screaming to have on DVD for years now.

I cannot begin to tell you how happy that made me on Wednesday night when I sat down to watch this and it just kept going, and going, and going. Any minute I expected something to be cut out of it (as I had just seen the entire thing from a laserdisc port a few months ago), but nothing is. Not the bloopers, not the interviews with the stars, not the deleted scenes… it’s all here, and it’s all done with a crystal-clear new transfer… for the most part. I’ll get to that in a minute.

While watching “The Making of The Frighteners“, I was reminded yet again of just how damn good it really is. Jackson touches on every single aspect of creating the film, from the two-page outline he and Fran did right before they started work on Heavenly Creatures (two pages that got Robert Zemeckis interested enough to give them the money for the film) to the early shooting script that eventually became the novelization of the film (!), to the special effects, casting, shooting, post…it’s everything you could possibly want to know about The Frighteners but could never ask. This and From Dusk Till Dawn’s “Full Tilt Boogie” should go down as two of the best behind-the-scenes horror featurettes ever made.

One strange anomaly I found within is the footage they use in clips. Sometimes it’s crystal clear, which you can tell came from the DVD anamorphic transfer, while other scenes look as if they’re laserdisc (or worse) quality. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this at all, but overall it’s not really that distracting. In fact the only reason I mention it is that it’s the only thing (other than the rather lame DVD menus) that I had any issue with on the DVD. And let’s be honest; considering how long some of us have waited for this special edition, it’s an insignificant complaint.

Okay, I’ve sung the praises of this DVD long enough, I think. The long and the short of it is this; throw away any previous version of this films you may have (especially the one released a few years ago with the horrible cover) and get this DVD now. This is the version of The Frighteners we, as fans, have been waiting for since DVD first arrived, and we have to show Universal that we appreciate them finally giving us what we want.

Now, for that Special Edition of Braindead…

Special Features
Commentary by: Director Peter Jackson
Full length Feature: The Making of The Frighteners
Theatrical Trailer

5 out of 5

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