As legend has it, Robert Zemeckis hired the more or less unknown (to mainstream Hollywood) Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh to work on a Tales from the Crypt film, which he would direct. Zemeckis was so impressed with the movie-making couple, that it was decided that The Frighteners would serve well as Peter Jackson’s break-out directorial debut for an American audience (he had of course already directed bizarre New Zealand cult classics Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles and Braindead, and the critically acclaimed festival film Heavenly Creatures).

Zemeckis and Universal were so pleased with the rough cut of the film that they further decided to release it as a stand alone project, and bump up the release by a few months so it would come out in the peak summer blockbuster movie-going season. Their gamble did not turn out so well for the film or for Jackson and Walsh. It was released in a year that included such 90’s staples as Twister, Mission: Impossible, The Rock, Ransom, The Nutty Professor and Jerry Maguire, and specifically came out right in-between Independence Day and A Time to Kill. All of those films did a whole lot better at the box office. Once again proving that a film being a flop doesn’t necessarily equal bad quality, and a hit moneymaking film doesn’t always equal good quality.

Peter Jackson’s master plan for his follow up project was sidetracked thanks to the films inability to find an audience. He had hoped to do his remake of King Kong immediately afterward, but had to walk away from that near and dear to his heart project and concentrate on another. He did those Lord of the Rings pictures instead. Things worked out okay for him. He gained himself the power in Hollywood to do whatever the damn hell he wanted to, and with that power did King Kong.


Anyhow, disastrous money losing flop of a movie aside, that doesn’t stop The Frighteners from being a great comedic horror movie. Produced by Robert Zemeckis from a day when he actually made movies instead of traced them. In the lead role is his Back to the Future collaborator Michael J Fox as a tragic nice guy scam artist ghost-buster turned unlikely hero.

Also appearing are cult favorite character actor’s the like of John Astin (the original Addams Family TV series), Dee Wallace (E.T.‘s mom), R. Lee Emery (Full Metal Jacket), and horror movie master thespian Jeffery Combs (the Re-Animator trilogy).

Peter Jackson’s ambitious young fx company Weta Digital (before their Oscar winning years) undertook an assignment that required more digital effects shots than almost any other movie made up until that year.

This is my birthday movie pick for the year. And believe me, when you’re involved in a theatre that already screens so many great movies, it’s quite difficult to pick something extra special for a birthday wish (my first choice was Hudson Hawk, I cannot lie, but the powers that be wouldn’t let us show that one). So, if you’re a fan of Peter Jackson, if you haven’t seen this one before, or if you haven’t seen it in a theatre since the nineties, this is a rare chance to see this modern cult classic up on the big screen in all it’s glory.

The Frighteners – Friday March 26th – 11:30pm – only at the Mayfair.

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