The Frighteners

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"Death ain't no way to make a livin'!"
The Judge

A brilliant 1996 horror/comedy film from Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and King Kong (2005).

Michael J. Fox is Frank Bannister, a fraudulent freelance exorcist who's not quite as fraudulent as he appears. Having acquired the ability to see and communicate with the dead after a tragic car accident that killed his wife years ago, Frank sends his three ghostly accomplices -- white n' nerdy Stuart, black swinger Cyrus and cowboy corpse The Judge -- to wreak paranormal havoc at the homes of wealthy clients-to-be. These people call Frank, he shows up to perform a phony exorcism, then leaves with the cash. He's the world's greatest con man...until dozens of perfectly healthy people in his hometown of Fairwater, Maine start dropping dead from cardiac arrest -- the very same people who suddenly acquired numbered tattoos on their foreheads that only Frank can see.

Soon after one of these victims, Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson), becomes a ghost and begs Frank to help him find his way toward The Light, Frank and his undead buddies discover the cause of the phenomenon: A malicious spirit in the form of The Grim Reaper (scythe and all) has gone on a mad killing spree, literally squeezing the life from his victims' hearts. And not only that, it appears he has the ability to even kill ghosts by forcing them to move on to the next world. Frank and Dr. Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado), Ray's widow, hatch a radical plan to put an end to the murders, but along the way, they must deal with Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs), a maniacal FBI agent (basically a cross between Mulder and Hitler) who believes that Frank is psychically killing the murder victims, and will go to Hell and back to see him brought to justice.

Tropes used in The Frighteners include:

"They don't call me the Hanging Judge for nothing!"

  • Inspector Javert: Dammers.
  • I See Dead People: Frank, and when all is said and done, Lucy has gained this ability as well.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Lampshaded and lamented by Cyrus, who is stuck in horrible clothes he wouldn't be caught dead in. But after being killed by the "Grim Reaper" and going to Heaven, he gets some nifty new threads.
  • Jerk Jock: Ray.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray. He might be a vain, chauvinistic, obnoxious boor, but it's shown several times that he does actually care about Lucy even if he does likely care about himself more.
  • Karmic Death: Dammers, who had been hounding Frank throughout the film, gets blasted in the gut with Patricia's shotgun. Several takes of his death were made, including one in which his head is blown off.
    • Bartlett and Patricia meet a gruesome "end" when they take the express bus to Hell.
  • Knight Templar: Dammers, especially towards Frank.
  • Large Ham: Most of the cast gets their moment to shine.
  • Monster Protection Racket: How Frank makes a living as a con artist with the help of his three ghost buddies.
  • Mood Whiplash: To so great an extent that it comes off like two movies spliced together. There's a clear point in the movie where the whole thing shifts to a darker tone.
  • Multitasked Conversation
  • Mundane Utility: Frank uses his power to make a living as a con man.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning
  • Near-Death Clairvoyance: Frank got his powers from a nearly lethal car accident.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Apparently in Heaven, Stu's a regular Chick Magnet.
  • Not Quite Dead: Frank's plan to confront the ghostly reaper involves deliberate flatlining in order to fight as a ghost. Both times, he's thankfully able to revive before it becomes permanent.
  • Not-So-Phony Psychic: Frank uses his abilities to perfrom fake exorcisms.
  • Obstructive Zealot: Dammers will stop at nothing to antagonize Frank at every step of the way.
  • Occult Detective: Dammers and, to a lesser extent, Frank himself.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Bartlett.
  • Only Sane Man: Frank, who unfortunately has the poor luck of being unable to prove it to clear himself of the murders.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: These ghosts are about as traditional as they get.
  • Peek a Bogey Man: Stuart, Cyrus, and The Judge.
  • Police Are Useless: Against ghosts. Much to Sheriff Perry's exasperation, this leads to them needing the no less useless but completely unhinged liaison form the FBI to step in.
  • Psychic Powers: Frank gains them as a result of his tragic accident, though Dammers seems convinced that Frank also has the ability to stop people's hearts with his mind.
  • Psycho for Hire: Dammers once worked as a undercover agent.
  • Punny Name: Milton Dammers, as in John Milton, of Paradise Lost fame.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Perry. Though obviously befuddled by dealing with a serial killer he can't fight, he knows Frank is a good man who knows his stuff, often allows Frank to do what he must, and is highly resistant to Dammers' attempts to pile everything on him.
  • The Reveal:
    • The Grim Reaper is the ghost of legendary serial killer Johnny Bartlett.
    • The souls of good people can still go to Heaven even if they're "killed" by Bartlett.
  • Scare Chord
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Happens temporarily to the Big Bad.
  • Sinister Scythe: To match the Grim Reaper getup.
  • Those Two Guys: Cyrus and Stuart.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: After his wife's death, Frank was found wandering around in the woods with no memory of what happened.
  • What Could Have Been: The movie was originally going to be a Tales from the Crypt feature, but producers thought the script was strong enough to stand on its own.
    • A whole character, the gatekeeper, was deleted from the movie. He was supposed to be a 6 foot cherub and function as a sidekick to R. Lee Ermey, but all remnants of him was removed completely from the movie, when it was realised that his character, besides being superfluous, didn't really make a lick of sense, within the universe of the movie.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We see Cyrus and Stuart in the afterlife, but we never see the Judge after the museum or Rusty the Dog after his intro. They had scenes later, in the cemetary, and the end originally featured the Judges upper-body riding Rusty and heading west, into the sunset, but they were deleted from the movie.
  • Who You Gonna Call?: Frank Bannister, "freelance exorcist"!
  • Worm Sign