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Old 10-07-2004, 03:27 AM
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Frighteners, The: Signature Collection

Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: November 28, 2000

Released by: Universal
Release date: November 24, 1998
MSRP $49.98 (OOP)
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: N/A

The Frighteners was released into movie theaters in 1996. Sadly, it was a box office failure, proving to be a loss for Universal Studios (more on this later). Even though the movie was a box office failure, Universal Studios still allowed Peter Jackson to create a special edition laserdisc box set, jam-packed with extras. It wasn't until after two standard laserdisc releases that the box set finally got released. Third time's a charm I guess...

1. Frighteners (Widescreen / Dolby Surround) - December 17, 1996
2. Frighteners (Widescreen / DTS Surround) - January 28, 1998
3. Frighteners: Signature Collection (Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround) - November 24, 1998

With the Signature Collection LD set, fans received the ultimate edition of The Frighteners, which went on to become extremely rare and sought after by many laserdisc collectors around the world, often selling for as high as $500.00 on Ebay shortly after its release. It was released at a time when laserdisc production was starting to dry up, and Pioneer printed only a very small batch of boxes (500-1000). When fans became aware of how wonderful this set was everyone began snatching it up, hence the high prices people now pay on Ebay for the few that are willing to part with it. Even today with so many people claiming laserdisc is dead the set still sells in the $150-$200 range on Ebay. Why? Well, mainly because Universal hasn't released this superb special edition onto DVD, and it's unclear if they ever will. Even if they do, do you really think the 4 1/2 hour documentary will make it onto the DVD? Look what they did to the Jaws: Special Edition DVD - they took the 2 hour documentary from the previous laserdisc box set and trimmed it down to an hour for the DVD. If a Speilberg movie - one that obviously made the studio lots of money - gets its documentary cut down to an hour, does The Frighteners - one that lost money for the studio - have any chance of being released onto DVD with all of the laserdisc supplements? Maybe, maybe not. Take a look at Army of Darkness, another movie that Universal lost money on. DVD fans did get an "ultimate edition" of Army of Darkness. Why? ANCHOR BAY! Fortunately, Anchor Bay has been able to license various movies from Universal to release on DVD. I pray that someday they can get their hands on The Frighteners and give it the proper DVD release that so many desire. Sadly, Anchor Bay doesn't have any plans to do so at the moment. I know this because I've bugged them about it enough times.

So why the review of this rare LD box set on HorrorDVDS.com? To tease DVD fans? To remind them that us LD owners still have lots that you don't? *evil grin* No, my hope is to stir up some interest in this set, which a lot of people aren't even aware exists! Fans need to let Universal know that you want this released on DVD in its entirety. If that means sending it to Anchor Bay for proper release then so be it! Sending Anchor Bay an email or two probably wouldn't hurt either. See the bottom of the review for petition links and contact information for each company.

Without further delay, lets take a close look at The Frighteners: Signature Collection laserdisc box set.

The Story

inline Image Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox) is a private psychic detective in a small Northern California town. Years ago he had a near death experience when he lost his wife in a car accident. Since that time he's been able to see the spirits of dead people roaming the land. Instead of using his powers for good, he recruits a few dead ghosts - Cyrus (Chi McBride), Stuart (Jim Fyfe), and the now retired Judge ghost (John Astin) - to haunt peoples houses so he can make a living. Frank's latest act of fraud is on Ray (Peter Dobson) and Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado). When Frank goes to the house to rid it of ghosts something strange happens - on Ray's forehead he sees the number 37. It freaks him out a bit but he dismisses it as a prank by Cyrus and Stuart.

inline Image Frank's scam works until local reporter Magda Rhys-Jones (Elizabeth Hawthorne) exposes him for the fraud he is. After confronting Magda on the article she printed on him, Frank bumps into Ray Lynskey, who has died and is now a ghost. Together they attend Ray's funeral, after which Frank meets up with Lucy, who hopes Frank may have a message from Ray. Lucy and Frank agree to go out to dinner together so that Lucy can communicate with Ray. At dinner Frank excuses himself to use the restroom, where he sees another man with a number etched into his forehead. Just like with Ray, the man soon dies and Frank was the last person around him prior to his death. This time however, Frank sees what kills the man in the rest room - the Grim Reaper. FBI agent Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs) arrives to investigate; he immediate suspects Frank as the source of all these mysterious deaths.

inline Image With a crazy FBI agent and local police after him, Frank, his ghost pals, and Lucy have to confront the Grim Reaper and see if they can possibly stop it. Little does the group realize what they'll have to go through - especially Frank - when confronting the Grim Reaper and someone else who has been aiding it in the killings.

inline Image The Frighteners has a fair share of faults, but I was very surprised to find out that it was a box office failure. Here's a movie that has a mix of horror and comedy that WORKS SUCCESSFULLY overall! By that I mean at times it's scary and at times it's funny...ALA Evil Dead 2. The good: strong acting performance by the main cast, beautiful special effects and makeup, good directing, strong character development for most of the cast, and an overall good story. The bad: some of the supporting cast are native actors from New Zealand (where this was filmed) - their attempts at American accents are horrible, plot holes, some characters begin to have good development but are then dropped suddenly (this isn't as bad in this Director's Cut, however), and the story, while very enjoyable, may be a bit too long for some. I should point out that there are 12 extra minutes of footage inserted back into this Director's Cut laserdisc, but I found most of those scenes to be very enjoyable, and some actually help strengthen the story. The problem is that there are so many characters in the story and so many different subplots to deal with, that some may have trouble following it all. Personally I love the Director's Cut and think it really helps solidify the film, leaving only a few small problems remaining (minor plot holes, character drops).

inline Image Michael J. Fox does a great job playing Frank Bannister, the tortured psychic who must live with the guilt of losing his wife. Frank is someone you have trouble hating, but also have trouble sympathizing with. All of the ghosts are very enjoyable and provide some great comic relief at times, which is definitely a nice touch. Of course we can't forget the great Jeffrey Combs who plays the crazy FBI agent Milton Dammers - he's absolutely perfect for the part and he plays it to perfection. Another nice touch is R. Lee Ermey as Hiles the ghost Sergeant of the cemetery ghosts. For those that don't know R. Lee Ermey was the Sergeant in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, in which he gives one of the best performances of a Drill Sergeant ever. Yes, I'm purposely leaving out some other wonderful performances from a few other main characters in order to not give anything away.

inline Image The movie isn't all that scary, but Peter Jackson does add some nice CGI gore thanks to that R rating. But what really matters is that this is a fun, enjoyable movie with a good mix of humor and horror. Most Peter Jackson fans would expect this, and the only thing they may be left wanting more of here is GORE. If you haven't seen The Frighteners definitely give it a try - most horror fans will enjoy this one.

Image Quality

Pioneer/Universal present The Frighteners in a widescreen transfer in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image is a bit too bright, but that's easily corrected by a quick adjustment on the TV. Some analog video noise, such as white specks, does appear during playback - you may or may not notice this depending on your laserdisc player and TV. Some players and TV have better noise reductions systems than others. As an FYI, my laserdisc player is a Pioneer CLD-D704 - one of the better models released - but my TV has no comb filter. There are minor print blemishes that appear a handful of times - white lines and a few specks of dirt. Overall image is crisp and clear with nice, strong colors. Given this movie is only a few years old this would certainly be expected. While the blemishes mentioned are minor I'm still surprised they were there. Still, this is a great transfer overall and I'm going to rate it with a B+.


The Frighteners is presented with its first ever Dolby Digital 5.1 track on laserdisc. Previous releases had Dolby Surround and DTS. While this DD5.1 track doesn't compete to the DTS track, which I have heard in the past, it still does fairly well on its own. The movie has lots of great action for surround and LFE usage - all of which is very evident on this laserdisc. If I didn't own the DTS laserdisc I'd probably rate this an A or A+, but given the DTS laserdisc is so much more powerful and natural sounding that you end up hearing so much MORE, I'm going to rate this an A-.

Supplemental Material

This Frighteners box set is labeled as a "Signature Collection" edition, which is a sure sign that it's packed full of extras - definitely an understatement here. To start, we're blessed with the first commentary ever from Peter Jackson (I certainly wouldn't expect it to be the last, however). The commentary is incredible, and there are very few gaps of silence. Peter in very insightful on the commentary, which makes it fun to listen to. He's a very down-to-earth person that comes across as being honest, giving you his true thoughts at all times - whether good or bad. It's becomes so obvious that he's a true horror fan, praising such actors as Jeffrey Combs for his work in Re-Animator, and a true movie buff, recording the commentary in his own home and talking about his VERY OWN LASERIDSC PLAYER. He discusses a wide range of topics from his thoughts on the story, the writing process, special effects, actors performance, pointing out cameos, and his thoughts as to why the movie didn't do well in the box office - being bumped from a Halloween release to Summer and getting an R rating instead of PG-13. One thing that was amazing to me is nearly all the information he discusses on the commentary is generally NOT in the documentary. Normally when you have documentaries and commentaries as extras there tends to be a lot of duplicate information covered in each. That's not the case here - the few times Peter does discuss things that are in the documentary he makes mention of it.

During the commentary Peter also points out the numerous deleted scenes that have been incorporated back into the movie, making this the "Director's Cut", or rather the "Director's Fun Cut" - Peter explains in the commentary that the theatrical cut should be considered the official Director's Cut, since that was his approved cut. I wanted to include screenshots to many of these deleted scenes in this review, so in order to save space I'm going to include the screenshots here with the actual list. Keep in mind this isn't every deleted scene incorporated back into the movie, but it's most of the major ones.

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Next up is the 4 1/2 HOUR documentary! How do you summarize a 4 1/2 HOUR documentary? Well, it is broken down into a few dozen chapters that go over specific aspects of the films. The specific aspects discussed are: Ghost Stories, Script Development, Storyboarding, Michael J. Fox and Trini Alvarado, Rehearsing, Lyttelton as Fairwater, Introduction to WETA, Scene 28, Ghost Effects, Motion Control and Bluescreen, The Jackson Boys: Peter's cameo & Billy Jackson, Stunts, On the Set, The Reaper, Rustler, The Gatekeeper, Jeffrey Combs, Minatures, Dee Wallace Stone and Jake Busey, Trini's Bruises, Slime Face and Blobman, Wallpaperman and Carpetman, Acceleration, The Worm, - The Gatekeeper, The Judge & Other Deleted Stories -, Music, Bloopers, Ratings and Final Thoughts. This documentary is practically a course in filmmaking. Any aspiring filmmakers out there or anyone out just enjoys the process of movie making is going to love this documentary. Peter Jackson undoubtedly put a lot of time and effort into it, and it definitely shows. Every part of the movie - from actors to special effects to deleted scenes to unused concepts - are discussed in such details by Peter Jackson and/or members of the cast and crew. The documentary has so much behind-the-scenes footage it's unbelievable. You really get a feel for how Peter Jackson works as a director.

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Even at a running time of 4 1/2 hours, the documentary moves at a great pace, though if you're not interested in filmmaking you'll definitely find many parts a bit boring. Personally, the only part I found somewhat boring were the storyboards. However, Peter Jackson implemented the storyboards on this laserdisc in a very unique way. Normally, storyboards are stored on laserdisc 1 frame at a time. You have to press a button on your remote control to step through every storyboard. I've always hated that and I generally always skip storyboards because of it. On The Frighteners: Signature Collection Peter Jackson has the storyboards play through continuously, with a 2 second delay between each storyboard (no remote control needed - sit back and enjoy). Not only that, but there is music playing in the background and Peter Jackson makes various comments throughout much of the storyboard displays. This really made it a lot more interesting, but there's 45 minutes of storyboards so I still found myself getting a bit bored towards the end. This is definitely a step up from the standard method however, and I hope more studios begin using this method. As a side note, something that does keep the storyboards a bit interesting is that they included various scenes that were never implemented in the movie. Peter Jackson generally points them out too, which is great.

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Some other highlights of the documentary are the various interviews with stars Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Jim Fyfe, Jake Busey and more. My personal favorite part was in the bloopers section when Michael J. Fox starts calling Judge - the older ghost - "Doc" (from Back to the Future). I found that hilarious, as I'm a big Back to the Future fan.

There are so many aspects to the documentary that I can't discuss due to my attempt at trying to keep this review at a reasonable length. I did mention all the aspects covered in the documentary however, and I also pointed out some of my favorite parts. If you're a Peter Jackson fan you'll love it because he wrote, produced and directed this documentary. It's his baby and it shows. He's proud of the movie he made and rightfully so.

This is my favorite special edition ever released, and that includes DVD releases. The documentary and the commentary are wonderful - packed to the brim with information fans will eat up. You feel as if Peter Jackson is holding your hand and giving you a personal tour of his memories and knowledge on the making of The Frighteners. This is my highest rating for any sort of supplemental material I've ever reviewed - A+. I was tempted to go with A++ but I thought that would be a bit ridiculous. This is a set that shouldn't be missed by any fan, and it's sad that Universal hasn't released it onto DVD for the masses to enjoy.

Final Thoughts

A very enjoyable movie delivered in, what I believe to be, the best special edition ever produced. Simply put: this laserdisc set is a MUST OWN for any Peter Jackson fan. Hours of enjoyable await you with this set! The audio/video quality is exceptional and the extras are tremendously enjoyable. If you haven't seen this movie give it a try. I think most horror fans are going to love this one, unless you require excessive amounts of gore to enjoy a movie.


Movie - A-
Image Quality - B+
Sound - A-
Supplements - A+

Technical Info.
  • Running time - 2 hours 3 minutes
  • Color
  • Not Rated
  • 4 Discs, 8 Sides | Side 3 CAV
  • Movie - 41 Chapter Stops | Documentary - 30 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • Director's Cut including approximately 12 minutes of additional never-before-seen footage
  • Feature commentary with director Peter Jackson
  • The Making of The Frighteners, an original full-length (4 1/2 hours) documentary on the making of the film directed by Peter Jackson and featuring interviews with Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Dee Wallace Stone, Jake Busey, Jim Fyfe and Chi McBride. Including:
    • Rehearsing
    • Storyboarding
    • Miniatures
    • Extensive exploration of the special effects motion control and bluescreens
    • Deleted scenes
    • Bloopers
    • Theatrical trailer

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