What do you get when Peter Jackson and Michael J. Fox team up for a ghost film? An exciting, over-the-top, ethereal adventure involving stellar horror makeup, cutting-edge (for its time) CGI, zany exorcism scams, and Death itself. 1996's The Frighteners wraps all these elements up into a beautifully spooky buffet for VFX junkies and horror fanatics.
Whimsically amusing and cryptically chilling, The Frighteners is one of the best horror films to come out of the '90s. Even though the box office didn't give it much appreciation at the time, it set the stage for Jackson to bring the fantastical world of The Lord of The Rings to the screen.
The Film Features Horror Icons Jeffrey Combs, Dee Wallace, And John Astin
Familiar actors from other horror films make their way onto the screen to bring some spooky delight to The Frighteners.
Jeffrey Combs, who played H.P. Lovecraft's twisted scientist Herbert West in Re-Animator, portrays jaded FBI agent Milton Dammers. The Howling's Dee Wallace goes from being stalked by werewolves as Karen White to being the psychopathic villain Patricia Ann Bradley. John Astin - dashing Gomez Addams from the original Addams Family series - also makes an appearance as a Wild West ghost, The Judge.
Horror Effects Legend Rick Baker Provided The Makeup And Prosthetics
Conquering the task of mastering makeup and providing prosthetics for The Frighteners was special effects mastermind Rick Baker. Already known for his work on the sets of An American Werewolf in London and Videodrome, Baker was booked to bring Peter Jackson's decrepit ghosts to life.
Rick Baker gave the cast ghoulish special-effects makeovers every morning, but getting them into character was no easy feat. According to John Astin, who played the gnarley Judge, his deceased cowboy makeup took over five hours to apply each time.
There Are Numerous References To Jackson's Previous Film, 'Heavenly Creatures'
Throughout the film, Peter Jackson alludes to his acclaimed psychological thriller Heavenly Creatures. Coming out in 1994 and nominated for a multitude of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, Heavenly Creatures vaulted Jackson into the movie stratosphere. Jackson decided to include that film's lead actors (Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet) in The Frighteners by sprinkling their character cameos around.
Both Lynskey and Winslet make various appearances. Lynskey shows up onscreen as a deputy; Lynskey and Winslet are featured on the covers of a video that is being watched; and the Heavenly Creatures VHS tape can also be seen sitting on top of a TV.
The Massacre In The Film Was Inspired By Charles Starkweather
Jake Busey's rampage as the psychopath Johnny Charles Bartlett was based off of the true crimes of an American serial killer. During December 1957 and January 1958, a midwestern man from Nebraska named Charles Starkweather went on a spree with his young girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. Spanning from Nebraska to Wyoming, Starkweather took the lives of 11 people before being apprehended by police.
Jackson took inspiration from the duo's escapade and crafted not only Johnny Bartlett, but also his crazed, still-living girlfriend, Patricia Bradley.