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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Frighteners (Director's Cut) (1996)

"Give it up, Frank! Death ain't no way to make a living!"
- The Judge (John Astin)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: December 20, 2005

Stars: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado
Other Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jake Busey, Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, Troy Evans, Julianna McCarthy, R. Lee Ermey, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Angela Bloomfield
Director: Peter Jackson

MPAA Rating: R for terror/violence
Run Time: 02h:02m:29s
Release Date: November 29, 2005
UPC: 025192674624
Genre: action comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+A+ A+

DVD Review

The Frighteners was released theatrically in 1996, a big, noisy effects-driven supernatural comedy/thriller from Peter Jackson that more or less became one of those love it or hate it films; detractors found the excessive effects buried a story that never seemed to know if it was a comedy or not, while fans seemed to embrace the whole unpredictable nature of things. It wasn't quite a raving commercial success, but it made a mark of sorts, and Jackson has certainly since gained a handle on the concept of making a proper effects-heavy film. Universal has given a nod to the faithful with the release of this director's cut, with 14 minutes of additional footage, and plenty of supplemental Jackson extras to go around.

Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is a shifty paranormal exorcist, and the only thing that prevents him from being an outright charlatan is that he can actually see ghosts. In fact, he employs three of them to help him fleece the locals of Fairwater, but when a series of mysterious deaths occurs around town he becomes the number one suspect. Bannister teams up with a perky widow (Trini Alvarado) to clear his name, but a demented FBI agent (Jeffrey Combs) and a creepy old house full of secrets—as well as the black-shrouded specter of death itself—make that very, very difficult.

This expanded cut doesn't enhance the film if you already disliked it, so if you were hoping for some epiphany in that regard you can look elsewhere. The story still wobbles precariously back and forth in tone, but I think that is one of the elements that originally attracted me to The Frighteners; I enjoy the merging of pratfall comedy and murderous evil spirits, and there is something perfectly disturbing about Jeffrey Combs' highstrung and over-the-top FBI agent Dammers that is hard to categorize; he's odd, funny, and scary, all at the same time. The zingy Danny Elfman score, easily on par with any of John Williams frillier work, rarely quiets down even for a moment, and Jackson utilizes the music bed like a hammer almost nonstop.

There is a hysterical shrillness to nearly every character, and a cameo by a graveyard ghost played by R. Lee Ermey reinforces the idea that he must always be the loudest in any film in which he appears. Perhaps that's another reason for the wafflers to rain on The Frighteners; for some, it's a loud example of wandering excess, where effects overshadow substance.

The visual effects still look impressive 10 years later, and as Jackson has proven in the years since this effort, wandering excess is indeed his strong suit. While some of the script inconsistencies (penned by Jackson and Fran Walsh) seem particularly glaring, the broad scale of the film is hard to look away from.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Universal seems to be an improvement over the 1998 release, with more of consistency with regard to color rendering. Fleshtones, even on the new footage, retain a natural hue throughout Some shimmer and haloing is evident in spots, but overall the level of detail is quite good, with only a few noticeable scenes appearing softer than others. Shadow delineation is generally strong, as well, aided by solid black levels.

Nice job.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track is just about perfect, a loud, aggressive, wall-rattling experience that prompted a few requests from my wife to turn down the sub a little. All elements of this mix work exceptionally well, from the score (another superb Danny Elfman creation) to the noisy sound effects, balanced by dramatic spatial movement that give the dialogue a wide berth. I tried to nitpick something to complain about, but I came up empty.


Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 49 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Peter Jackson
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Universal has issued this slipcased director's cut on one two-sided disc, with Side A containing a Jackson intro (02m:41s), the feature, a director's commentary, the original theatrical trailer and a staggering in-depth look at the storyboards (45m:36s). Jackson's commentary flows well, and, as expected, is crammed with the kind of detailed recollections and anecdotes that make him one of the most effusive and enjoyable directors to hear discuss his films. Likewise with the storyboard segment, a sweeping piece that further channels the kind of fan-friendly background on the production that was evident on The Lord of the Rings releases.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg, because flipping over to Side B reveals another Jackson intro (01m:58s) and then The Making of The Frighteners (03h:43m:39s), an elaborately comprehensive reconstruction of the film, covering all the usual bases (script development, casting, locations, WETA, effects), but with a nerd-worthy level of salient, relevant detail that is usually absent in the typical EPK fluff found on most releases. There are bloopers, lost footage, rehearsals, and bluescreen footage, all assembled with Jackson's seemingly innate attention to detail when it comes to DVD extras.

The feature is cut into a healthy 49 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. And to sweeten the deal, a free ticket to see Jackson's King Kong is also included (good through January 1, 2006).

Extras Grade: A+


Final Comments

Peter Jackson's first big foray into expensive, effects-laden films was met with mixed reviews when released theatrically in 1996, generally deriding the unbalanced tone of the story as it moves sometimes awkwardly from comedy to suspense and horror. This expanded director's cut, adding roughly 14 minutes of footage, may not necessarily negate any of those qualms, but it should appeal to fans.

A whopping making-of running well over 3-1/2 hours, and a detailed Jackson commentary are the icing here, as is a thundering 5.1 surround mix that is loud and fun.


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