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"THE FRIGHTENERS"
(1996) (Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Minor Heavy Moderate Extreme Extreme
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Mild Minor Extreme None Moderate
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Mild Minor Mild Moderate Extreme


QUICK TAKE:
Horror: A psychic conman tries to stop the ghost of a serial killer from continuing his murder spree.
PLOT:
Frank Bannister (MICHAEL J. FOX) is a psychic conman who, with the aid of two friendly ghosts, cons people into paying him to get rid of the ghosts (his friends) that are haunting their homes. He drums up business at the local cemetery and doesn't have a great reputation. It seems that Bannister can see the dead because he survived a traumatic experience years ago where his wife was killed. When a growing number of people continue to die in Fairwater from a string of mysterious heart attacks, he becomes suspect number one. But Bannister knows that it's "Death" who's killing everyone since he, and only he, can see what's really happening. He befriends a newcomer, Lucy Lynskey (TRINI ALVARADO) after her husband Ray (PETER DOBSON) becomes one of the victims. As Bannister and Lucy dig for answers, they discover that Fairwater had a mass murderer, Johnny Bartlett (JAKE BUSEY) who was executed for killing twelve people. His accomplice, Patricia Bradley (DEE WALLACE-STONE) had been locked up for years, and now lives with her mother. As more and more people die, special FBI agent Dammers (JEFFREY COMBS) shows up and he, Bannister and Lucy attempt to discover who or what is behind the deaths and how to stop them.
WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Maybe. Fox has long since dropped off as a box office star (from the "Back to the Future" trilogy), but the special effects might draw some in.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For terror/violence.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • MICHAEL J. FOX plays the psychic conman who says he does that just "to make a buck," but it's never explained why. He does, however, try to save a great many of the people he sees targeted for death, so in that way we'll nudge him over into the good role model category.
  • TRINI ALVARADO plays a new doctor in town, whose husband has just died (one wouldn't be able to guess this if they were out getting popcorn during his funeral). She helps out Bannister and comes out just as a middle of the road role model.
  • JAKE BUSEY and DEE WALLACE-STONE play the lovers/killers and obviously are bad role models.
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    The movie never seems to make up its mind if it wants to be a horror movie or a comedy and that's what undermines the production. I really wanted to like this movie. I've always enjoyed Fox, and the premise seemed promising enough. But it just never seems to fire on all cylinders. While it has a sometimes amusing first half, the ending turns into just another serial killer free for all and loses the earlier fun. Other than Fox who gives an okay performance, the other actors chew up the scenery, especially Combs as the weirdly neurotic FBI agent. We give this just a 5 out of 10.
    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    Though not a "real" horror film, this one's got enough scary stuff in it to keep the younger kids awake at night (and looking for things stretching out at them through the walls). The bad part, however, is all of the violence that occurs to both the living and the dead. There are many references and flashbacks to a mass murder spree. In particular, the movie revolves around people dying from mysterious heart attacks and we soon learn that it's a serial killer from beyond the grave who's offing the people when not helped by his now middle-aged psychotic girlfriend. The whole second half of the movie is about "death" trying to kill people by plunging his hand elbow deep into their chests and then turns into the mad serial killer on the loose plot. Older kids might see this as a fun special effects movie, but younger kids should probably stay away from this one.

    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • Bannister and Lucy have wine with dinner.
  • A flashback shows Bannister drinking a beer.
  • Bannister and Lucy have wine with a picnic dinner.
  • BLOOD/ GORE
  • During the opening sequence, Patricia cuts her hand and there's a little bit of blood.
  • There's 1950's film footage of the aftermath of Johnny's hospital killing spree where twelve people were killed and although it's in black and white, people are still seen dead and/or bleeding.
  • Several of Bannister's ghost friends are seen and are in various stages of decay from just some blood, to peeling skin, to bones sticking, out to just plain bones.
  • The ghost of Ray falls into his own casket during his funeral and sees his dead body (nothing out of the ordinary gross -- but some kids are grossed out by dead bodies).
  • There's a quick view of Bannister's dead wife with the number 13 carved into her forehead.
  • One of "Death's" victims is a little bruised and bloody.
  • Bannister's ghost is thrown down into a grave where he comes face to face with a decomposed corpse with worms crawling in its face.
  • Patricia's dead mother is seen on her bed, a bloody victim of a knife attack.
  • Several bloody victims are seen during a flashback of Johnny's murder spree.
  • The FBI agent's head is blown off in a bloody mess by a shotgun blast.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Obviously, the killers have bad attitudes: Johnny and Patricia want to set the "record" for killing the most people.
  • Frank purposefully drives over Ray's lawn ornaments moments after running over his fence.
  • Ray doesn't respect his wife Lucy. In one scene he stops her from expressing her views. In another, after he's dead, Lucy finds out that he blew all of her savings on a bad investment. Also, as a ghost he calls her "bitch."
  • FRIGHTENING/TENSE SCENES
  • The opening sequence has many frightening aspects to it. During a raging thunderstorm, Patricia, a middle-aged woman, is being haunted by something that moves along the back sides of walls and floors and occasionally stretches out through them as it tries to get to her. She runs and screams and the thing chases her up the stairs and finally grabs her, but the woman's elderly mother shoots the thing to bits with a shotgun.
  • Another sequence (not as scary as the first) occurs in the Lynskey home where their bed levitates and then a Raggedy Andy doll comes to life and Ray beats it with a pillow. Plates fly around in the kitchen and scary music accompanies all of this.
  • Many of Bannister's ghost friends are seen, but they don't behave in any frightening ways. Their various stages of decomposition, however, may be unsettling to some kids.
  • "Death" pushes itself out through a bathroom mirror and grabs its next victim, plunging its hand into the guy's chest. This kills him and the "white light" comes down and the man is carried away. Scary music fills the scene.
  • At a museum party where all hell's broken loose, the thousand-year-old remains of a woman start walking toward the cops. They shoot at her (and we see that it's Bannister's ghost friends who are moving her).
  • Bannister knocks out the next victim, throws her over his shoulder and carries her out to his car where the police fire their guns at his escaping car. Death then flies by trying to get her, his Scythe ripping through the roof of the car and nearly cutting Bannister's throat. The car wrecks, Bannister has flashbacks to when his wife died in a similar car wreck, and then "Death" comes along and kills the woman.
  • Bannister's two ghost friends fight with "Death" to keep him from killing Lucy. One of them is crushed and his "soul" is taken by "Death." The FBI agent prepares to shoot Bannister but Lucy sprays a fire extinguisher on him. Bannister then kicks the agent and grabs his gun.
  • "Death" is shot to pieces by Bannister until there's nothing left but a gooey face that talks and turns out to be Johnny Bartlett.
  • The whole last sequence in Patricia's home (where Johnny comes out of a painting after Lucy) and then into an old dilapidated hospital where Patricia tries to kill Lucy and Bannister is very suspenseful and spooky. In addition, in the hospital, Bannister experiences flashbacks as this is where Johnny's twelve person murder spree took place years before.
  • Johnny and Patricia are sucked down into a fiery hell complete with tentacles that grab and pierce their ghostly bodies.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Shotgun: Patricia's mother shoots "death," and saves her daughter.
  • Handgun: Filled with holy water and used by Bannister to "purge" the home.
  • Ghost pistols: Fired by the Judge ghost and one hits another ghost causing "blood" to fly from his "body."
  • Machine guns: Fired by the ghost of a marine drill sergeant around his cemetery.
  • Handguns: First pulled on Bannister by police at a museum party and then fired at him, nearly hitting others and damaging property.
  • Ghost pistols: Fired by the Judge ghost at "death" as it goes for another victim.
  • Scythe: Used by Death to kill or threaten both the living and the dead.
  • Machine gun: Used by the FBI agent to abduct Lucy (and keep her from saving Bannister).
  • Machine guns: Used by Bannister to shoot "Death."
  • Knife/Shotgun: Used by Patricia to try and kill Lucy, and then both Lucy and Bannister.
  • Shotgun: Used in flashbacks by Johnny as he kills many people in the hospital.
  • Uzi: Used by the FBI agent to shoot Bannister in the arm.
  • Shotgun: Fired by Patricia which beheads the FBI agent.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Bannister is a bad driver and runs over curbs and knocks down people's fences.
  • Phrases: "Stupid moron," "Bastard," "Bitch," "Idiot," "Pissed off," "Scumbag," "You little maggot," and "Loser."
  • JUMP SCENES
  • The FBI agent jumps out and grabs Lucy in the climatic hospital scene.
  • There are other scary moments, but nothing where things jump out to scare characters or us.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • There's a lot of music that will scare kids quite a bit (especially the younger ones). It's the typical horror movie chords with the occasional soulful moaning/chanting thrown in.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • 15 "s" words, 12 damns, 11 "ass" words, 11 hells, 2 SOB's, 1 crap and 6 uses of "God damn," 5 of "Jesus," 4 of "Oh my God," 3 of "For Christ's sake," 2 of "For God's sake," and 1 use of "God," as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • Innuendo: "They don't call me the hanging judge for nothing," says the Judge ghost as he spots a female Egyptian mummy.
  • The judge jumps into and knocks over her sarcophagus and his ghostly butt is seen rising up and down through its lid. He comes out and then says, "I like it when they lie still like that."
  • SMOKING
  • One of the ghosts mentions how he'd love a cigar, but Bannister says he wouldn't be able to smoke it if he had one anyway (since he's a ghost).
  • One of the ghosts smokes a cigar in heaven.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • There are several funeral scenes shown (if kids are particularly sensitive to them).
  • We learn that Lucy's husband, Ray, has died from a heart attack.
  • We learn that Bannister's wife died in a car wreck (later we learn it was at the hand of the ghost serial killer).
  • Patricia tells Lucy that her father committed suicide after the murder spree so many years ago (when Patricia was found guilty of being an accomplice).
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Ghosts and whether they're real and/or can come back from the dead to attack or kill you.
  • Death in general. There are many deaths, several funerals, and Bannister is dead twice in the movie.
  • In one scene, Bannister prepares to shoot himself in the head so that he can battle "Death" in the hereafter.
  • VIOLENCE
  • The opening scene has many frightening aspects to it. A middle-aged woman is being haunted by something that moves along the back sides of walls and floors and occasionally stretches out through them as it tries to get to her. She runs and screams and the thing finally does get her, but the woman's elderly mother shoots the thing to bits with a shotgun.
  • There's 1950's film footage of the aftermath of Johnny's hospital killing spree where twelve people were killed. Later it states that Johnny was executed in the electric chair.
  • There is a haunting in the Lynskey home where much property is destroyed inside the home.
  • The Judge ghost comes out shooting his guns and one shot hits another ghost causing "blood" to fly from his "body."
  • Bannister is nearly run over by a hearse and is flipped up onto its hood.
  • The ghost of a marine drill sergeant punches Bannister to the ground and then fires his machine guns around the cemetery (they, and their bullets, of course, are not real).
  • Threat: Ray's ghost tells Bannister (when he thinks Bannister is after his widow), "I swear to God Bannister, I'll kill you."
  • "Death" pushes itself out through a bathroom mirror and grabs its next victim, plunging its hand into the guy's chest, killing him.
  • There's a quick view of Bannister's dead wife with the number 13 carved into her forehead.
  • There's a long sequence at a museum party where Bannister tries to warn the next victim, but the police arrive and then shoot their guns at Bannister. Meanwhile the Judge ghost arrives and shoots his pistols at "Death" who in turn cuts the judge in half with his Scythe.
  • Bannister knocks out the next victim, throws her over his shoulder and carries her out to his car where the police fire their guns at his escaping car. Death then flies by trying to get her, his scythe ripping through the roof of the car and nearly cutting Bannister's throat. The car wrecks, Bannister has flashbacks to when his wife died in a similar car wreck, and then "Death" comes along and kills the woman.
  • "Death" tears off Ray's ghost's face and his "remains" are then tossed onto Lucy's car (but of course she can't see any of this).
  • Bannister's two ghost friends fight with "Death" to keep him from killing Lucy. One of them is crushed and his "soul" is taken by "Death." The FBI agent prepares to shoot Bannister but Lucy sprays a fire extinguisher on him. Bannister then kicks the agent and grabs his gun.
  • Bannister prepares to shoot himself in the head in order to become a ghost and battle "Death." (Instead Dr. Lucy freezes Bannister in a controlled fashion where she should be able to bring him back from the dead.)
  • "Death" cuts the ghost drill sergeant in half.
  • Bannister shoots "Death" with the drill sergeants' machine guns until there's nothing but a gooey protoplasm face left -- the face of Johnny Bartlett. As Johnny starts to come back together again Bannister hits and wrestles with him.
  • Patricia grabs a large kitchen knife and then comes after Lucy, swinging and stabbing the knife at her. Moments later she starts firing shots at Lucy and then at Lucy and Bannister.
  • Patricia's dead mother is seen on her bed, a bloody victim of a knife attack.
  • The FBI agent bashes Lucy into a hospital wall. She in turn elbows him in the gut and then hits him in the face.
  • The FBI agent shoots Bannister in the arm with an Uzi. Moments later, Bannister is surrounded by Patricia and the agent. He ducks just as Patricia fires her shotgun which blows off the agent's head.
  • Patricia bashes Lucy on the head with the butt of her shotgun and then strangles Bannister to death. She then prepares to do Lucy in with a pick axe, but Bannister's ghost shows up and kills Patricia.



  • Reviewed July 19, 1996

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