Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners is the pitch-perfect combination of dark humor, intense horror, and state-of-the-art special effects. An unfortunate flop in theaters, this spooktacular Michael J. Fox starring flick has grown into a genuine cult classic. Now German label Turbine Medien has delivered fans the long-awaited 4K release, and they didn’t skimp on the set. This 6-Disc Ultimate Edition gives you 4K and Blu-ray discs of both cuts, a new Open Matte version of the Director's Cut, and an extra disc of new and archival bonus features on top of a bunch of nifty swag items and a 196-page book! This is one hell of a set and it's exclusive to Turbine. Highly Recommended
The town of Fairwater has seen its share of death in its sad history, but nothing like this! As a string of mysterious heart attacks ravages the otherwise healthy town. Paranormal investigator Frank Banister (Michael J. Fox) grifts his way paycheck to paycheck offering condolences to the bereaved. Only Frank is actually for real, he can see and speak with ghosts like Judge (John Astin), Cyrus (Chi McBride), and Stuart (Jim Fyfe), only he uses their unique haunting abilities to his advantage. But after “clearing” the home of Ray Linsky (Peter Dobson) and his wife Lucy (Trini Alvarado) for a quick few bucks, Frank finds himself on the trail of the dark evil figure that has been preying upon the town, and he’s the only man - living or dead - that can stop it.
When most people see the name Peter Jackson today they naturally think of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or King Kong. Most folks don’t know or are aware of his early works like the alien invasion epic Bad Taste, the hilarious puppet comedy Meet the Feebles, or the legendary zombie flick Dead Alive (aka Braindead in the rest of the world). Peter Jackson and his wife Fran Walsh wrote 1996’s The Frighteners in an early bridge into the mainstream. Produced by Robert Zemeckis, the film combined dark humor, absurd screwball comedy, and terrifying horror, combined with state-of-the-art visual effects. It’s the perfect blend of high-concept entertainment that no one went to see in the theaters. My Dad and I did, I don’t know where the hell you all were.
Part of why this film flopped in theaters I feel was the clunky marketing. This was a hard sell for audiences and the brief trailers didn’t set it up well or do the film any justice. My Dad and I didn’t even see the trailer, we’d gone to the theaters for some other flick I can’t remember for my 14th birthday, we saw the creepy ghostly poster and decided to see this instead, and we had a blast! But sadly there were maybe five or six other people in the theater opening night. Independence Day was still rampaging theater screens so this film had to struggle to find an audience when it should have been released around Halloween instead of the dead heat of summer.
Thankfully a film that fails in theaters doesn’t always die, it’s often resurrected for a new life on home video and that’s where The Frighteners thrived. Word of mouth is a hell of a thing and now this forgotten gem is a true cult classic. Best of all we get to enjoy the solid and entertaining Theatrical Cut, but the true star is the longer and far better Director’s Cut that adds more horror, more comedy, and helps resolve a lot of the plot points that were otherwise a tad clunky as seen in theaters.
Michael J. Fox is terrific as the spiritually afflicted con man. He brings tremendous energy to the film with humor, heart, and sells the terror of the plot. Trini Alvarado stands out as the inquisitive doctor who helps Frank piece the mystery together. But that’s to say nothing of the great turns from the rest of the cast including Dee Wallace, Chi McBride, Jake Busey, and Jim Fyfe, along with scene-stealing appearances from Jeffrey Combs, R. Lee Ermey, and a show-stopping turn from John Astin as the ghostly Judge!
Then you have the film’s state-of-the-art visual effects. Bringing together the perfect blend of practical makeup effects with then cutting-edge CGI, the film is a visual marvel complete with Peter Jackson’s playfulness behind the camera. I still remember sitting in the theater and being blown away by the opening as an evil spirit chases and attacks Dee Wallace through her home. It’s the perfect setup by selling the horror elements as well as the impressive visual effects. Then we get the ghastly ghosts who come to life (so to speak) thanks to some incredible makeup work from Rick Baker, and creature and miniature effects by Richard Taylor who would reteam with Jackson for The Lord of the Rings films. Tap in a jauntily creepy score by Danny Elfman and you have a feast for the eyes and ears!
Whenever I hear that Peter Jackson is going to do another film, I always have this hope that it will be like The Frighteners. Smaller scale, intimate characters, but just tons of fun. Supposedly the sequel to The Adventures of Tintin is still on deck, but it’s been almost twelve years and I’m starting to doubt that movie will ever actually happen. Until then, The Frighteners stands as one of Jackson’s most wildly inventive and entertaining films. Of course The Lord of the Rings films are amazing, but this is a prime example of an up-and-coming filmmaker eager and ready to show the world what he could accomplish and he blows it out of the water, or rather, the graveyard.
High-Def Digest previously reviewed The Frighteners on HD-DVD:
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Thanks to Germany’s Turbine Medien, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners creeps its way on to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a fully-stacked 6-Disc Ultimate Edition set. You get a BD-100 disc for the 4K Director’s Cut, a BD-100 disc for the 4K Theatrical Cut, a Region Free BD-50 for the 1080p Director’s Cut, a Region Free BD-50 for the Theatrical Cut, a Region Free BD-50 for the new Open Matte version of the Director’s Cut, and a Region Free BD-50 just for bonus features. All of the discs are housed in a paper digipak inside of the larger box and comes with art cards, a reproduction Frank Banister business card, two reproduction posters, and a 196-page book (in German, but I’ve used Google Translate app on my phone and it works pretty well). Each disc loads to an animated main menu with standard navigation options. The menu titles are in German, but they're pretty easy to understand. About the only way this set could be more "complete" is if it came with Danny Elfman's score on CD.
Quick note: All images are sourced from Turbine's new 1080p Blu-ray. I wasn't able to source images or video in time ahead of publication but as soon as I can, I'll try to at least get up a new sample video.
After resting for over a decade on a decent Blu-ray release that unfortunately suffered from some a bit of edge enhancement and aliasing effects, Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners finally haunts 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a brand new 4K scan and restoration effort by Turbine and approved by Peter Jackson. It’s my understanding this transfer is going to be exclusive to Turbine so if any other labels offer up their own releases, it won’t be what Turbine brings here. And what we get is pretty glorious! With the added resolution the film looks better than ever. Here’s the transfer info from the booklet:
2022 HDR DOLBY VISION RESTORATION THE FRIGHTENERS has been exclusively restored by Turbine and is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
The original 35mm camera negative was scanned in 4K resolution at Universal Post, Hollywood, USA.
The film was graded and restored in 4K with Dolby Vision at LSP Medien, Uelzen, Germany.
This restoration was approved by Peter Jackson in Wellington, New Zealand.
From the get-go, it’s easy to see the refinements of a new scan. Fine facial features, clothing textures, and the film’s intricate production design are sharper without any crusty edge enhancement, compression artifacts, or DNR. It’s also a stop or two brighter pulling back the blue/green tint allowing for healthier more natural colors to come through. Fine film grain is apparent throughout without any signs of being scrubbed or any DNR. Soft shots persist for a lot of the heavier effects scenes, namely any effect that was almost completely CGI like the Death figure or the rotting dog is still a bit soft, but film grain is maintained so it at least hasn’t been tinkered with there. But for the ghost effects of Stuart, Cyrus, and the other apparitions, you can more clearly make out the impressive makeup effects, especially Rick Backer’s work on John Astin’s Judge. The three-dimensional depth of these ghost characters is also much improved whereas previous releases could look a little flat.
Dolby Vision HDR (and HDR10) go a long way towards helping resolve the film’s black levels and heavy shadows. This is most important during the last half of the film which takes place at night and in a variety of dark creepy locations. As for color timing, this edition is a stop or two brighter than the old Universal disc allowing for brighter cleaner whites and the blue/green tint of that disc has been pulled back giving this new transfer more natural and healthy flesh tones and primaries. Spectral highlights are also nicely handled. Elements are in excellent shape, and the Dictor’s Cut footage blends a little more seamlessly into the Theatrical footage now as well.
Now Turbine went and did something interesting and opened the mattes from 2.35:1 to full 16:9 in 1080p for the Director’s Cut. I gotta say it’s pretty interesting to see the film framed this way. Not better or worse, just different. For some shots, it certainly helps you see more of the image, but then for some of the close-ups, the opened framing can sometimes pull away from the intensity of the moment. A shot of Michael J. Fox reacting to a character's death at the museum is a notable moment where seeing less around the frame was more impactful. I still prefer the original framing but the open matte is certainly an interesting and pleasing way to see the film.
Being a German release, German is the default language but it’s easy to flip to English in the main menu or during playback. If German isn’t your language of choice and prefer English, you have some options, you can pick from either the impressive DTS-HD MA 5.1 or solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 track, or you can rock out to the excellent new Dolby Atmos track for the Director’s Cut on 4K and 1080p Blu-ray. The Theatrical Cut only offers up the DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. While there are a few conversational bits that feel mostly front/center focused, the big key action sequences and the entire climax in the old mansion and hospital scenes come to life with this wall-to-wall Atmos mix. When Death is flying around the screen those height channels get plenty of pin-point work. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without any issues. Danny Elfman’s score is fantastic and sits well within the channels and isn’t used to simply fill up the soundscape. LFE is also terrific from gunshots to car crashes to the guttural groans of some undead figures; there’s plenty of rumble in the subs. Levels are spot on without any issue there either. All around the Atmos mix is certainly the showstopper and the best way to go, but if you’re not equipped for it, the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks hold their own, they just don’t quite have the same impact.
Turbine doesn’t rest on delivering a batch of archival materials (as good as they are), but also opts to include the new feature-length documentary: No Way To Make A Living - A Look Back at The Frighteners. This doc features new interviews with a variety of cast and crewmembers including Dee Wallas, Jake Busey, and a number of behind-the-scenes players in editing and visual effects. The interviews were done over skype or video conferencing so they may not be the most interesting visually, but there are still plenty of excellent tidbits to glean how the whole production came together. Also included in the bonus features package is the excellent four and a half hour making-of from the deluxe DVD set that’s a terrific example of how detailed and thorough Jackson liked to be with his extra features before he did all that work for The Lord of the Rings films and those extras. I'm also considering it a bonus feature here as well is the new Open Matte version of the Director's Cut, it's exclusive to this set and stands as a curiosity all its own. And again, you have that booklet to pick through too! There's a lot of great stuff here and an grave stone is left unturned.
Director’s Cut 4K and Blu-ray Discs
Theatrical Cut 4K and Blu-ray Discs
Open Matte Disc
Bonus Features Disc
An all-time favorite film of mine, The Frighteners is still a wildly inventive highly entertaining horror comedy over 25 years later. A flop on release, it grew into a cult classic on home video and with a longer and arguably better Director’s Cut, it still stands as one of Peter Jackson’s best efforts. Sure, there’s that pesky Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings, but this was Jackson at his most hungry and daring as a young filmmaker eager to prove to the world he had the chops to play the game. Michael J. Fox is wonderful in the lead with a cast of colorful cohorts to play off of.
This great fright flick gets to come home with a new 6-Disc 4K Ultimate Edition from Turbine Medien. Scoring an excellent new Dolby Vision transfer with Atmos audio for the Director’s Cut, the film looks amazing and sounds fantastic. On top of that, Turbine pulled together the amazing archival bonus features and produced 90 minutes of new cast and crew interviews. If that wasn’t enough, this deluxe box set includes an impressive 196-page book with new essays and interviews - in German - but I’m slowly getting through it all with my Google Translate app on my phone and there’s some fascinating stuff in there. Add some art cards, and posters and you have one hell of a centerpiece for your collection. Highly Recommended.