Time: 122 mins.
SYNOPSIS: A psychic private detective who consorts with deceased souls becomes engaged in a mystery as members of the town community begin dying mysteriously.
BOTTOM LINE: After watching the visually haunting HEAVENLY CREATURES, I became an instant fan of director Peter Jackson. THE FRIGHTENERS, which is his second studio film, is also a visual delight, however, the convoluted story is not nearly as gripping as his major cinematic debut. It's clear that Jackson is a wonderfully original storyteller, this film just needs a little more focus, as the story and tone are sort of all over the place. This overblown ghost thriller has some great action and darkly comic moments, all handled brilliantly by Michael J. Fox. He plays Frank Bannister, a fraudulent paranormal investigator, who really can see ghosts, but who uses his talent to make a quick buck.
When Death steps up activity in Fairweather, Frank becomes the prime suspect since he seems to know who's going to die before they depart from the planet. It becomes a race against time to solve the mystery of who's behind these murders before the Grim Reaper comes calling for him. With outstanding special effects and a pace that won't quit, this film is more enjoyable than it should be. The wacky and dark performances by Combs and Stone are more uncomfortable to watch than they are scary and really drag the film down. Thankfully, Fox, Astin and Alvarado are good enough to counter the effect. The main idea of the plot is fairly clever and fun, Jackson just over-reaches, trying to make a simple story seem more complicated than it is...or needs to be. An A+ for effort and originality, C for execution.