#9: The Frighteners — dir. Peter Jackson
With all his Lords of the Ring-a-ding and the King Kong debacle, it’s really, really easy to forget that Peter Jackson got his start in horror. And not just horror mind you, but the sickest, most gruesome, fucked-up gorefests you will ever seen. I have yet to see a more bloody finale than to that of Dead Alive or Brain Dead depending on how you saw it. I owned that film videotaped unrated from PRISM back in the day. A man chops up zombies with a lawnmower, to the point that Lionel is literally dripping with goo. Honest to Christ, it narrowly missed this slot by about a single finger.
But it was between his cartoonish gore and his becoming the spokeshobbit for all mankind that Peter Jackson I think had his truest glory. His first moment was when he did the outstanding Heavenly Creatures, a remarkable horror film about serial killing girls that again narrowly missed the cut. The aftereffects of Heavenly Creatures is all over this film — from Trini Alvarado’s characters last name to how he assembled this cast.
But it’s the cast and the fun that ultimately wins this for me. Michael J. Fox playing what would ultimately be his last major film role. (There’s a bit of speculation on that, whether you count the Stuarts Little, which I don’t, and Mars Attacks!, which he’s not the lead in technically.) And Frank Bannister is such a wonderful shit. This is Ghostbusters, done as a horror movie by a con-artist. And he’s awesome. Then you got his arsenal of ghosts. Them fighting against a Jake Busey who’s a horror effect in and of himself and Jeffrey Combs, of Re-Animator fame.
They were aiming for a PG-13 rating, and they new they weren’t going to get it, so they ramped up the gore where they could. It’s not the buckets of chunky blood from his previous efforts, but you can see that playing in the cracks. It’s such a great story, it’s simple, it’s got moments of pathos that just breach the edge of sentimental. But in the end, it’s just great fun. There’s sort of a cartoonishness to his early horror, and then Beautiful Creatures is just solid dramatic excellence. But Frighteners hits on all the notes for me. It’s not the greatest film, but god, can I just soak it in when it’s on.