It’s very rare for a film to cross genres effectively, but The Frighteners (1996) is just one of those special films. It’s altogether funny, and terrifying, but most of all a thrilling fantasy. The film is about Frank Bannister, who develops psychic abilities, after a car accident kills his wife and he is injured, allowing him to see, hear, and communicate with ghosts. He gives up his job as an architect, letting his unfinished “dream house” sit incomplete for years, and puts these new skills to use by befriending a few ghosts and getting them to haunt houses in the area to drum up work for his ghostbusting business; Then Frank proceeds to “exorcise” the houses for a fee. But when he discovers that an entity resembling the Grim Reaper is killing people, marking numbers on their forehead beforehand. With the help of his ghostly pals, Frank pursues this ghastly creature. Meanwhile, Dr. Lucy Lynskey is investigating Patricia Bradley, a woman who was involved in a mass-murder as a teenager, and has been experiencing ghostly attacks. Despite the fact that the police, and FBI Agent Dammers want to pin the murders on Frank, he and Lucy realize that something supernatural and sinister is happening in Fairwater and will stop at nothing to find the truth.
This film didn’t do too well at the box office, because frankly, no one knew what to make of it so the marketing fell apart. If you want to watch some both funny and scary…both fantasy and thriller…then this film can be a great mix! Michael J. Fox plays Frank Bannister with his usual charisma and instantly pulls you in effectively to this strange new world. No other actor was considered for the Frank Bannister role other than Michael J. Fox. Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were having a meeting with Robert Zemeckis (who produced) about the film and his name came up. Zemeckis liked the idea, and sent the script to Fox. The film was originally planned as a Tales from the Crypt (1989) feature, but producer Robert Zemeckis liked the script so much, he decided it should stand on its own and not be part of a series. Danny Elfman was so impressed with Peter Jackson’s previous movie, Heavenly Creatures (1994), that he offered to do the score for one of Jackson’s next movies, and agreed to this movie without even knowing what it was about.
Michael J. Fox performed many of his own stunts in the film. Ironically he broke his foot by a simple fall whilst filming in the forest at night. Peter Jackson said Fox’s injury was actually a blessing in disguise because it allowed him to work on the script some more, and edit some of the film’s scenes while Fox recovered for a week. When Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson were writing the part of the Drill Sergeant in the graveyard, they wrote the part as a spoof of R. Lee Ermey’s character in Full Metal Jacket (1987) with the intention of getting an actor in New Zealand for the role. But they didn’t feel the actors who auditioned were right and finally ended up approaching Ermey himself, and he said YES! The shot of R. Lee Ermey screaming down at Frank Bannister in the cemetery is a clear reference to the shot of him screaming down at Pvt. Joker in Full Metal Jacket.
The film’s serial killing couple is based on real life people. Charles Starkweather, the real life killer referenced in the movie, killed 11 people (and 2 dogs) during a nearly two month killing spree. His 14-year-old girlfriend (Carillon Ann Fugate) accompanied him for, and participated in most of the killings. He was caught, tried, convicted, and executed (by electric chair), in a seventeen month span. Caril was not executed, but sentenced to a “Life” term in prison. She was paroled after serving 17 years in prison. In order to trick the audience into believing that Patricia Bradley (the Caril character) was innocent of the Fairwater murders, Peter Jackson specifically wanted Dee Wallace for the part. He figured that her role as Elliot’s mother in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) was about the sweetest character you could find, and therefore no one in the audience would suspect her.