The Frighteners (1996)

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After an architect, Frank Bannister, is in a deadly car crash, that supposedly killed his wife, he finds himself with psychic ability to see and communicate with ghosts and see past/future events. He at first uses this new psychic gift to run a scam, where he works with two ghosts, his “Ectoplasmic Associates” (Cyrus and Stuart), who go in a house, do their best to scare the living and then leave on cue when Bannister arrives to then make money for getting rid of the “unwelcome guests”.

When Frank begins to see numbers appearing on people’s foreheads, who then mysteriously die of un explainable heart attacks, he becomes the main murder suspect because he was always the last person to see them alive.

He starts on the journey to unravel the mystery of the killings and find the killer(s), with the help of a young widow of one of the victims of this rampage of death, who happens to be a doctor. They become romantically involved as they investigate to find the truth, using his psychic abilities & good sleuthing. Once the truth is found out, it takes all their courage, daring and wits to try to stop the evil doers; along with some help, coming from their ghostly friends.

This film gives some interesting theories about psychic ability, characteristics of ghosts and how much damage an evil entity can do. In reality, most ghosts or spirits can’t hurt the living, though in some cases they have done so through possessing the living, pushing, scaring the living or choking them. However, while demonic entities have been reported to cause a lot of damage to the unlucky soul they possess, they don’t generally go around killing others in a killing spree.

This evil entity has the ability to invisibly reach into the chest of his victim and literally stop the heart from beating, which in reality hasn’t ever been documented. But it makes a good horror story. Ghost/spirits, evil or not, can’t reach into a body and stop the heart, though they can scare the living and have, on occasion, taken over a person’s body for a time.

The visual effect of the evil entity traveling under the house’s carpet, coming up through the wall, so you can see his usually invisible form and pushing up the wallpaper are really scary, though in reality, most ghosts are seen going through the walls, as apparitions, wispy forms or vapor mists, as they don’t have a physical body that could show a form under a rug, a bathroom wall or wall paper.

In reality, Ghosts/Spirits are felt by the living as a cold, unseen presence, that can give off hostile, even evil or peaceful vibes that can affect the living’s emotions and can make a lot of scary noise and move items around; sometimes violently.

All the ghosts/spirits seen by Frank are glowing apparitions that look just like they did when they were alive, as some apparitions have done before the living. (IN – Willard Library)

The only way to do battle with the evil entity in this story, was for Frank to become temporarily dead by medical means, so he could be effective as a spirit entity himself. In reality, evil spirits have been taken care of by the process of spiritual exorcism, as practiced by the Catholic Church and other faiths who believe in demonic presences. Other Ghosts have been made to or talked into leaving their haunts by a psychic medium or parapsychologist or by prayers of the people being haunted. The movie has the theory that one doesn’t have to go to the other world and can stay with the living, but will slowly lose ectoplasm and will eventually dissolve into nothing. There is no evidence to support the ectoplasm part, but many ghosts investigated by various para-psychologists and mediums, don’t want to go to the other side; for a whole variety of reasons.

The widow’s late husband, Ray, was the first one that Frank sees with a number on his head, after Frank accidentally runs over Ray’s front lawn, breaking stuff. Ray’s ghost was in denial and doesn’t take his own death too well. Some ghosts don’t know they are dead or don’t accept the fact, as they aren’t done living and have unfinished business, which is the case with Ray.

Another ghost portrayed in the movie is Drill Sergeant Hiles, who feels his duty is to keep the other ghosts in their graves, and he harasses Frank when he comes through the cemetery, though he does take a ghostly machine gun to the bad entity. He is a mere shell of his living personality, a restless ghost, reliving what was important to him, his ability to lead, manage, and protect; trying to find peace, though not able to let go, for whatever reason.

Throughout the story, other ghosts briefly step in to help Frank with his fight with the evil entity. In reality, ghosts have been known to help the living in various ways.

Frank has psychic abilities that other known mediums have as well. He can hear and see various apparitions and feel an evil presence. When Frank goes out to dinner with Ray’s widow, Ray comes along too, unseen by the wife, but seen clearly by Frank. Frank is able to ask Ray, at the request of Ray’s wife, where he put the savings she had given him. Often, mediums can ask ghosts questions that the living want answered, though the answers aren’t always as clear as Ray’s. (PA – General Wayne Inn)

Just by going into the various rooms of the deserted mental hospital, Frank is able to relive and see what had happened; how the people were killed by this evil killer and his accomplice, his 16 year old girlfriend. Sometimes, mediums can psychically see events that happened in various places and rooms just by going in there. (CA – Alcatraz)

The movie is quite scary, thanks to the special effects, creepy music by Danny Elfman, a basically good script, great action sequences and the acting of Jake Busey, who has a good time being the evil entity.

Michael J. Fox does a great job and is very believable. Trini Alvarado & Fox have great chemistry and work well together.

Favorite Scenes: The opening scenes take place in the girlfriend’s creepy old house. The evil entity chases his old girlfriend around the house, seen as a big lump under the floor, under the wallpaper, etc, breaking dishes, furniture, lamps and causing havoc as the chase proceeds. He finally catches his old girlfriend by the throat and tries to choke her. He stops when the equally creepy, slightly unhinged mother of the girl shoots at the lump on the stairs, releasing the girl from his grasp. This opening sets the tone for the whole movie. The scenes when Michael & cohorts take on the evil entity are scary and exciting. Also, the final action scenes in the old mental hospital are involving, scary, and finally uplifting.

Least Favorite Scenes: The weakest parts of the script, which could’ve used a rewrite, were the scenes between the inspector and Michael J. Fox. Thankfully, these scenes weren’t a major hindrance to the enjoyment of the rest of the film.