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…
Commentary by: Director Peter Jackson
Full length Feature: The Making of The Frighteners
Discuss The Frighteners: Director’s Cut in our forums!
The Dollmaker Short Film Review – Welcome to Heebie Jeebie City!
Starring Perri Lauren, Sean Meehan, Dan Berkey
Directed by Alan Lougher
The loss of a young child drives a mother to take a set of unusual measures to preserve his memory, and all it takes is one call to The Dollmaker.
When the short film by Alan Lougher opens up, we see a rather disturbing image of a little boy inside a casket, and the sound of a grieving mom speaking with an unidentified man in the background – he’s requesting something personal of the child to help “finish” his product, and it’s not before long that mom has her little boy back…well, kind of. What remains of the child is the representation of his former self, although it’s contained within the frame of a not-so-attractive doll, and the boy’s father isn’t a believer in this type of hocus-pocus (or the price to have this constructed, either). The doll comes with a specific set of instructions, but most importantly, you cannot spend more than one hour a day with the doll, or else you’ll go mad thinking that the soul inside of it is actually the person that you lost – sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Well this is just too good to be true for Mommy, and as the short film progresses, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to her mind – it’s ultimately a depressing scenario, but Lougher gives it that creepy feel, almost like visiting a relative’s home and seeing their dearly departed pet stuffed and staring at you over the fireplace – HEEBIE-JEEBIE CITY, if you ask me. All in all, the quickie is gloomy, but ultimately chilling in nature, and is most definitely worth a watch, and if I might use a quote from one of my favorite films to apply to this subject matter: “Sometimes…dead is better.”
Ultimately chilling in nature!
DIS Review – Not for the Faint of Heart!
Starring Bill Oberst, Jr., Lori Jo Hendrix, Peter Gonzales Falcon
Directed by Adrian Corona
I’ve made this claim many a time on this website before, and in the company of film friends as well: Bill Oberst Jr. is one of those actors that can literally be thrust into ANY role, and deliver a performance with so much harnessed electricity that you couldn’t believe that it was possible. I was the lucky recipient chosen to get a look at his latest project, titled DIS, and I think that I can honestly say – this is the stuff that nightmares are constructed of.
Directed by Adrian Corona, this 60-minute dive into the black depths of hell, and in actuality DIS is located between circles # 6 and 9 in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and trust me when I tell you – there’s not a shred of comedic relief in this demented presentation. Oberst Jr plays an ex-soldier named Ariel, and his seemingly harmless jaunt through the woods will become anything but that, and judging from the film’s opening scenes, you are meant to feel as uncomfortable about this watch as any you might have checked out in recent memory.
Perversion is the norm here, and lord help you if you’re caught where you shouldn’t be…my skin’s crawling just thinking about what I saw. Ariel’s travels are basically dialogue-free, but it only adds to the infinite levels of creepiness – you can tell he’s being stalked, and the distance between he and the horrors that await are closing in rather quickly.
Visually by itself, this hour-long chiller can sell tickets without any assistance – hollowed-out buildings and long sweeping shots of a silent forest give the movie that look of complete desolation. Sliced up into three acts, the film wastes no time in setting up the story of a killer needing fresh blood to appease his Mandrake garden – seriously guys, I can’t type as much flashy stuff as there needs to be in order to describe this innately disturbing production.
If you’re one of those types who tends to shy away from the graphic side of things, then I’d HIGHLY advise you to keep your TV tuned to the Hallmark Channel for some holiday entertainment, because this one registers high on the “I can’t believe someone thought of this” meter. So the quick recap is this: Oberst Jr in a standout performance, visual excellence, and an unshakable sense of debasement on a cellular level – keep the kiddies out of the living room with this one. Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended, and one that I’ll throw down as a top 5 for me in 2017.
Director Corona should be lauded (or locked up – just kidding) for his work on this one – HIGHLY recommended!
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End Review – A Heavy Metal Massacre In Cartoon Form
Starring Alex House, Bill Turnbull, Maggie Castle, Melanie Leishman, Chris Leavins, Jason Mewes
Directed by Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace
“Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil” – Canadian television’s greatest blend of Evil Dead, Superbad and Deathgasm? Yes. That answer is yes. For two face-melting seasons, Todd “protected” Crowley High from episodic villains who were bested by metal riffs, stoner logic and hormonal companionship. Musical interruptions showcased stage theatrics like Sondheim meets pubescent Steel Panther and high school tropes manifested into vile, teen-hungry beasts. It was like a coming-of-age story got stuck between Fangoria pages – all the awkwardness with 100x more guts.
That – for worse – was until Todd fell to a premature cancellation after Season 2’s clone-club cliffhanger. Indiegogo became the show’s only way to deliver a feature-length finale, except to reduce costs and ensure completion, the project would have to be in cartoon form. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End suggests an animated curtain call for this otherwise live-action production, and from a fan’s perspective, familiar maturation follies befall our favorite bloodsoaked friend group. But for new viewers? Start with the far-superior original show – you’ll be lost, underwhelmed and baffled otherwise.
Alex House retains his characterization of Todd Smith (in voice only). At this point, Todd has thwarted the book’s apocalyptic plan, Hannah (Melanie Leishman) has died, longtime crush Jenny (Maggie Castle) isn’t as horny for Todd anymore, and best friend Curtis (Bill Turnbull) has sworn Todd’s name to Hell (since Hannah was his girlfriend). Guidance Counselor Atticus Murphy Jr. (Chris Leavins) is now Janitor Atticus Murphy Jr. because Janitor Jimmy (Jason Mewes) is now Counselor Jimmy, yet Crowley High finds itself plagued by the same satanic uprisings despite these new changes. Why is evil still thriving! How is Hannah back in class! Who is the new “Pure Evil One” now that Todd has denied the book! Welcome to the end, friends – or is it a new beginning?
At just north of 80 minutes, structure runs a bit jagged. We’re used to Todd battling one baddie over a half-hour block – backstory given time to breathe – but in The End Of The End, two mini-boss cretins play
second fifth-fiddle to the film’s big-bad monster (well, monsters – but you’ll see). A double-dose of high school killers followed by a larger, more important battle with the gang’s fate hanging in the balance. Not a problem, it’s just that more length is spent singing songs about Todd’s non-functioning schlong and salvaging relationships from the S2 finale. Exposition (what little there is) chews into necessary aggression time – fans left ravenous for more versatile carnage, underwhelmed by the umpteenth cartoon erection gag. Did I mention there’s a lot of boner material, yet?
These two mini “chapters” – “No Vest For The Wicked” (yarn demon)/”Zits Alors” (acid acne) – never come close to rivaling Hannah Williams’ doppelganger bombshell (“Songs About Boners”/”This Is The End Of The End Of the End”). Hannah [X]. Williams waking up in a room full of other Hannahs, emerging from some sleep-pod chamber; Todd’s gang facing off against this new “chosen one” in a way that erases “Sack Boy” and “Pizza Face” from memory. The End Of The End dashes dildoes-swinging into the show’s biggest mystery while dropping call-backs and bodies with equal speed – maybe too hastily for some.
Now, about the whole pivot to animation – a smooth rendering of Crowley High and all its mayhem, but never representative of Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil‘s very Ash Vs. Evil Dead vibe. All the practical death effects (gigantic man-eating cakes, zombie rockstars) are lost to one-dimensional drawings, notable chemistry between cast members replaced by edited recordings lacking signature wits. This isn’t Metalocalypse, where dismemberment and bloodshed are gruesome on levels that outshine even live-action horror flicks. There’s no denying some of the magic is missing without Chris Leavins’ “creepy uncle” overacting (a Will Forte breed) or the book’s living incarnations of evil. Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End plays hooded minion to Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil’s dark ruler – less powerful, a bit duncier, but still part of the coolest cult around. Just try not to think about how much radness is missing inside hand-traced Crowley High?
It’s hard not to strike comparisons between “reality” and ‘toon, because as noted above, live actors are sorely missed in a plethora of situations. Be they musical numbers, heretic slayings, Todd and Curtis’ constant references to wanking, wangs or other pelvic nods (no, for real, like every other sentence) – human reactions no longer temper such aggressive, self-gratifying cocksmanship. It doesn’t help that songs never reach the memorable level of “Horny Like The Devil,” but the likes of House, Leishman, Turnbull and Castle were masters of selling schlock, shock and Satan’s asshole of situations. Instead, lines now land flat like – for example – Leavins’ lessened ability to turn pervy, stalkerish quips into hilarious underage stranger-dangers. Again, it’s not Metalocalypse – and without that kind of designer depth, a wall prevents inter-dimensional immersion into Todd’s extracurricular madness.
If this review sounds over-negative, fret not – it’s merely wishes of what could have been. None of this is to say Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End should be skipped. When you’re already known for masterstrokes of ballbusting immaturity, metal-horned malevolence and vicious teen-angst creature vanquishing, expectations are going to be sky high. Directors Richard Duhaney and Craig David Wallace successfully service fans with a smile, ensuring that rivers of red scribbled blood spurt from decapitated school children just like we’re used to. It’s just, I mean – ugh, sorry, I just have to say it one more time. BY DIMEBAG’S BEARD, this would have been an epic live-action flick. As is? Still one fine-with-a-capital-F-YEAH return to Crowley High for the faithful who’ve been waiting some 5-or-so years in a Todd-less purgatory.
Todd And The Book Of Pure Evil: The End Of The End brings closure to hungry fans in all the ways they’d hope – albeit turned down a notch through animation. Over-the-top kills and headbanging metal riffs still reign supreme, they’re just drawn by hand instead of oozing practical effects this time.
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