The Frighteners Peter Jackson

Two things become clear with this DVD issue of the original special edition laserdisc director's cut of The Frighteners, the action/horror/comedy wedged between Jackson's art house Heavenly Creatures and his box office gorilla, The Lord of the Rings: that the movie is a mess (and Jackson details the reasons why throughout his first-ever commentary), and that he was just as big a film geek before LOTR came along. The film chronicles enterprising psychic Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), who uses his otherworldly contacts to swindle innocent victims; convinced they're being "haunted," he collects when he arrives to do his exorcist thing. The action gets crazier when he discovers a real psycho killer is actually haunting this small community. But that's not all Jackson throws at us — Bannister has a complex, personally haunted back-story of his own; his relationship with various ghosts is complexly layered; and the various hauntings and evil-doings are thrown at us willy-nilly. The Frighteners, born of a two-page outline to studio heads, was green lit quickly and then pushed hard to a completion date; the result is a mishmash that Jackson readily admits was being radically overhauled almost every day on set. Basing a film on the first draft of a written script has resulted in a story that's a bit (okay, a lot) of a mess, but is chock-a-block with interesting, unfulfilled potential. That doesn't stop Jackson from chronicling the film's every step though, as he did so remarkably with LOTR; The Frighteners also features extensive "behind the scenes" footage — more than three-and-a-half hours worth, in fact. It mostly concerns the digital effects that were considered groundbreaking in 1995 and laid the groundwork for Weta Digital's work on LOTR. It's more than a bit of overkill for what must be considered a minor work in the Jackson canon, but no one will ever accuse the director of giving short shrift to anyone who might be remotely interested. (Universal)