A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this horror-comedy includes over-the-top violence, with glowing ghosts (some in various stages of decomposition) dismembered, squished, slashed, mashed, and shot. Abundant gunfire includes a Columbine-style massacre, with multiple fatalities. One shotgun blast blows up a head off. Nightmarish visuals include zombie-like rotting-corpse ghosts and mummies and one closeup of a recently dead, worm-eaten face. Don't-try-this-at-home stuff ranges from reckless driving to drug-induced comas and falls from high places. Swearing is pretty constant. Off-color jokes refer obscurely to sex and hemorrhoids (not at the same time, at least).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
A series of unexplained heart-attack style deaths have the community of Fairwater terrorized. It's a business opportunity, though, for Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), a former architect who, after a traumatic car crash that killed his wife, has psychic mojo to see and interact with ghosts. With help of three rebellious spook cohorts Bannister stages fake hauntings at bereaved households and charges fees to perform phony exorcisms. But Bannister becomes the suspect in the ongoing deaths, especially after an occult-obsessed F.B.I. agent arrives in town and fixates on him. Frank fights to save further victims from the real menace, a robe-wearing serial-killer phantom (and Dementor-lookalike) who's so vicious he can even 'kill' other ghosts.
Is it any good?
Though hailing from the always-impressive director Peter Jackson, THE FRIGHTENERS makes Beetlejuice look like Jane Austen. The script and high-speed direction seem contrived to make sure audiences are too dazzled by wild f/x and boo! stuff to nitpick things, like the heroine recognizing a clue that she couldn't possibly have seen (known to the viewer only via flashback) and similar giant plot holes. How the movie's version of the afterlife really works -- who can see ghosts, grab ghosts, harm ghosts -- isn't terribly well thought out. Well, it usually isn't in such movies, but this time noticeable effort went into distracting your attention.
There are a few scenes, such as havoc at an Egyptian museum exhibit, when the madcap action pace and the macabre seem to hit the right note. Otherwise it's noisy and not quite as much fun as it's supposed to be, with the best moments provided by lead actor Fox, a calm center in all the phantasmagorical whirlwind.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of ghost stories. Ask kids if they like them straight-up scary or funny.
The undead villain in this movie is obsessed with serial killers, dropping the names of several and aspiring to "score" higher body counts. Why are so many people fascinated by serial killers? Do the media glamorize them?
- In theaters: July 19, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: August 18, 1998
- Cast: Michael J. Fox, Peter Dobson, Trini Alvarado
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: Universal Studios Home Entertainment
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: terror/violence
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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