The Frighteners (1996)

Tis hard to believe in this century that the name Peter Jackson wasn’t known to that many in the mid- 90s. Film nuts like myself were aware of him, devouring the likes of Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles eagerly. I remember distinctly saying to a friend, after viewing Jackson’s R-rated puppet movie, that I believed something extraordinary would come from him in the coming years. Had no idea it would be the greatest fantasy trilogy in film history, but bugger me if I wasn’t right for a change!

But before Jackson got to Middle Earth, he had a quirky little ghost tale on his mind. After writing a treatment with his wife Fran, he garnered another’s opinion that there was something special about him. A fellow a wee bit more influential than me: one Robert Zemeckis of Back to the Future fame. Zemeckis initially wanted to direct it himself, but decided the personality of the script would best be served by Jackson directing it himself.

"full of gallows humour and (in some cases quite literally) larger than life characters"

On a sadder note this would become the final (in front of camera) lead for Michael J. Fox before he stepped away to deal with the onset of Parkinson’s disease.

Fox plays Frank Bannister, a resident ‘spiritual cleanser’ with a checkered past, deemed by most as nothing but a con man. But there is more to Bannister’s reputation than the town could possibly conceive. Frank surely is screwing them for money as they suspect, but he can, in fact, see ghosts—he’s using three of those ghosts to create demand for his talents. He developed this ability after a terrible car accident that claimed the life of his beautiful wife. A cloud of mistrust has hung over him ever since, due to the fact he claimed to remember nothing and his wife’s body had a number carved into her forehead. Frank ‘performs a house cleaning’ at uptight health-obsessed Ray’s place (conning his way out of a debt he owes him) and notices a glowing number only he can see. Ray soon ends up dead and asks Frank to take him to his funeral. Lucy, Ray’s widow, actually believes in Frank’s abilities and asks him to be a medium to communicate with Ray. At the restaurant, where they meet, Frank actually shows something of a conscience, becomes uncomfortable and retreats to the bathroom. Where, low and behold, there is another patron in there with another glowing number on his forehead. Frank freaks as a demonic entity enters the room and kills the patron. Seems many in the town are dying inexplicably, so much so that the authorities are noticing. This starts Frank down a path of discovery, conflicting emotions, possible answers to his past and even a possible redemption. That is, should he decide to change.The Frighteners (1996)

I loved this movie when it came out. More than most did apparently, as it didn’t really set the box office on fire. It all came down to the characters for me. Sure it’s full of gallows humour and (in some cases quite literally) larger than life characters, but Fox’s character arc anchors the film and takes you on a journey where you’ll feel one way about him at the start and completely different by the end. It’s his performance that kept me invested throughout the lunacy. And speaking of lunacy, the always enthralling Jeffrey Combs of Re-Animator fame, is the highlight of the flick, turning in a hilarious oddball agent character who dry heaves anytime a woman raises her voice.

The marketing of this film suggested more of a straight forward horror, so perhaps the expectations of audiences were to be scared. This is more in the vein of Beetlejuice and isn’t remotely frightening. The effects range from a combination of practical and optical effects of yore to the burgeoning (but not quite there yet) use of CGI in the 90s. The former being top notch, the latter being not so great. Seen for its merits, it’s characters make it a great night at the movies, but it’s efficacy at living up to its title (and dishonest marketing) is severely lacking. It’s merits were enough to imbue good will for me and has always been a welcome revisit throughout the years.

The Frighteners is a movie that’s title shouldn’t be taken literally. Look beyond that and you are getting a cast of wonderful characters and Michael J. Fox at his likeable best, playing a character that’s flawed, interesting and entertaining.

3/5 stars

The Frighteners (1996)

4k details divider

Ultimate Edition (4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray)

Home Video Distributor: Turbine Medien (Germany)
Available on Blu-ray
- December 2, 2022
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
: English
English: Dolby Atmos; DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 & 2.0
Discs: 6 Discs (2x UHD + 2x BD + 2x Bonus-BD)


A marked improvement over previous releases! It’s a native 4K scan from German distributor Turbine Medien. Set a great deal at night, the picture handles darkness with inky clarity without signs of crush. There are no signs of heavy DNR, with the film elements presenting an organic fine grain. Details are crisp and consistent with one exception: there are a few, sparing scenes, where skin tones shift to a redder tone between shots inconsistently. It’s probably from colour timing issues but as someone who doesn’t notice these nit-picky type things usually, I have to say I did notice viewing this Dolby Vision transfer.


GRAND! We get a Dolby ATMOS 7.1 mix that’ll make the neighbourhood think a storm is coming. It’s rich in nuance and especially in environmental effects with bangs and crashes whipping around constantly. Overheads really get good use and superbly show what’s possible, should you spring for ceiling speakers. These are German discs but a quick switch to English is there on all discs. This mix is as good as it gets!


There is nothing new offered in the superbly generous 6-disc package and usually I wouldn’t write about legacy features being ported over but this is a Peter Jackson film. Jackson is one of the most prolific directors out there that documents their process and, just like he did with The Lord of the Rings, amassed an exhaustive record of how he made The Frighteners. Unlike the LOTR 4K set, Turbine Medien has included all the hours and hours of documentaries that cover every aspect of the film. You get 4K versions of both the director’s cut and theatrical release, as well as 2 blu-rays of both versions as well. You get an open matte version (a sort of video commentary shot years ago by Jackson) on another blu-ray, as well a 6th disc with aforementioned documentaries etc. It’s all packaged in a beautiful thick box with a metallic finish that houses the 6-disc set in a firm slipcase package, two posters, lobby cards and a thick book (*written in German). It gets no more complete for collectors or film nuts than a package like this.

Special Features:

Discs 1 & 2 (UHD & Blu-ray – Director's Cut)

  • Audio Commentary with Peter Jackson
  • US Trailer
  • German Trailer

Discs 3 & 4 (UHD & Blu-ray – Theatrical Cut)

  • US Trailer
  • German Trailer

Disc 5 (Blu-ray – Director's Cut - Open Matte)

  • Audio Commentary with Peter Jackson
  • US Trailer
  • German Trailer

Disc 6 (Blu-ray – Extras)

  • Introduction by Peter Jackson
  • The Making of The Frighteners
  • No Way to Make a Living: A Look Back at The Frighteners

4k rating divider

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  4/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 5/5 stars

Composite Blu-ray Grade

4/5 stars

Film Details

The Frighteners (1996)

MPAA Rating: R.
110 mins
: Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson
Michael J. Fox; Trini Alvarado; Peter Dobson
: Horror | Fantasy | Comedy
No Rest for the Wicked..
Memorable Movie Quote: "When a man's jawbone drops off it's time to reassess the situation."
Theatrical Distributor:
Universal Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
July 19, 1996
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
December 2, 2022.
Synopsis: After a tragic car accident that kills his wife, a man discovers he can communicate with the dead, and he uses that gift to con people. However, when a demonic spirit appears, he may be the only one who can stop it from killing the living and the dead.


The Frighteners (1996)