Hello again and another happy Monday to you! This week Horror or Not flirts with the taxonomy of Peter Jackson's The Frighteners. This may be my favorite film of the Peter Jackson cannon. It's one of those movies that I will throw in on a rainy Saturday afternoon; a comfort food type movie. While the film centers on a physic trying to solve a string of ghostly murders in a small town, there is no denying the fact that The Frighteners could also be described as a skillfully constructed black comedy. It could reside comfortably in either section of the video store, but I am interested to know how you would classify The Frighteners. Horror or Comedy? *Warning: Spoilers After The Jump*
We have a plot revolving around the disembodied spirit of a serial killer masquerading as Death and picking off residents one by one. The opening scene where the ghost chases the girl through the walls and floors of the house, despite some slightly dated effects, provides some very effective scares. I also think the murder scenes themselves, for the most part, are fairly disturbing. I know it freaks me out to think that some invisible force could reach inside my chest and stop my heart; since I've been steadily paying Burger King to do that for me anyway. There is also that creepy "express bus to hell" sequence at the end that has always gotten under my skin. Thematically, the film makes a great statement about death and the afterlife which is a horror standard as old as the genre itself.
On the other hand, The Frighteners is incredibly humorous. The fact that Michael J. Fox's character uses his ability to converse with the dead as a hussle to make an easy living is hysterical. There is a good measure of slapstick coupled with the jokes at the expense of death (again black comedy). When you watch the ghost of John Astin hump a mummy in a museum because he likes it "when they lie still like that," it's hard to discount the comedy argument. Also, consider those involved with the film. We have Peter Jackson, who's never made a horror film that didn't produce a few chuckles. The rotting corpse diner party scene from Dead Alive? The entire concept behind Bad Taste? Come on! Also, this film features a terrific score by Danny Elfman whose music often has a twinge of gothic silliness to set the stage for campy graveyard fun. Finally, the marketing for this film completely played up the wackiness of Fox's ghostly pals while the scarier elements seeming secondary. It was almost as if they were pushing The Frighteners as the Casper for adults; a possible explanation for why the film bombed at the box office.
I think I would call The Frighteners a comedy before a horror film. It works either way, as almost all of the films we cover will, but I think more of the comedic punches land than the horror ones. I think apparitions who kill are among the scariest of horror concepts because, outside of calling in that famous tan-clad foursome, what can you do to stop a ghost? But even that is treated with a level or irreverence when you find out that the whole motivation of the killer is to get into the record books for the most victims. Also the obsessive-compulsive detective played by Jeffrey Combs is so insane that you cannot help but laugh. My two cents are on the table, but enough of that...what do you guys think?