Daily Archives: October 18, 2014

Best Films of Halloween #14 The Frighteners

Give it up, Frank! Death ain’t no way to make a living!

Even a New Ager like me who believes in psychic powers, I will admit most of them are charlatans and con artists. However the story of a real psychic who makes his living off of being a charlatan psychic is, as far as I know, original…yes I’ve seen quite a few stories about charlatans developing powers but never the other way around. (Of course having Michael J. Fox as a misanthropic asshole was also a new idea.)

And the supporting cast is simply hilarious. Jack Busey as the villain is possibly one of the few actors on this planet who can look crazier than his father Gary.  R. Lee Emery as a ghostly version of his usual hardnosed drill sergeant.  And the ever underappreciated Jeffrey Combs as a mentally unstable FBI agent who is obsessed with the paranormal (yeah that may make you think Fox Mulder, but this guy makes Mulder’s most bizarre habits look mundane and rational.

Battles with the Grim Reaper himself, other worldly serial killers, psycho Feds, and a crazy lady with a very big gun. Mystery as to who is good and bad. Tension throughout most of the movie. And a good dose of humor. This movie is unknown most likely because it had a very poor showing at the box office when it first came out. This probably had something to do with the fact that the studio tried to hype the movie by pointing out that it was produced by Robert Zemeckis (whom we had all forgotten even back in the 1990’s) and completely ignored the director Peter Jackson (I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I seem to remember him going on to do something else, the name just has a certain ring to it). Again, not the greatest film ever made but it is far too underappreciated than its quality actually merits. (If nothing else this is what gave Jackson a huge amount of experience in dealing with CGI, without which we wouldn’t have our favorite Hobbits).

Here we see not the typical fear of death that is so common of horror films (although it is here) but more the fear of life. You have ghost by the bushel who are afraid to move on with their “life” (I use the term loosely), a hero so focused on what has gone wrong with his life that he is unable to move on, and a trio of villains who all seem to be radically antithetical to living life. In both your life, and afterlife, it is shown that not moving on, living life, but rather holding on to the past (in Fox’s character focusing on his wife’s death, with the killers their focus is on breaking records set by others) to the point that it is a paralytic even worse than the fear that the characters tend to inspire in others.

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Greatest Halloween Films #15 Sleepy Hollow

“Is he dead?” “That’s the problem he was dead to begin with.”

Believe it or not this is the last time Tim Burton will be making an appearance on this list. (Don’t worry, we still have better movies coming up, I just don’t think anything Burton has done makes it into the top 10—feel free to disagree with me). Burton and Depp take a new direction on the classic story and make it a more action/adventure with a touch of murder mystery. With the usual Tim Burton weirdness. But it works. You spend most of the moving in a whodunit mode while equally being entertained by the outlandish behavior and contraptions of Icabod Crane, a wannabe CSI investigator long before there was anything that resembled forensics. This is actually one of Depp’s more heroic characters. He’s not a perpetually drunk pirate, a mass murderer, or a lunatic of any kind. A deeply troubled man, yes, but one who does have a sense of right and wrong, and one who while filled with numerous fears can push past them and do what he needs to when he has to. And this is a good thing because it stands in direct opposition to just about everyone else in the film who, while not so public in their displays of fear, are paralyzed to the point of absolute inaction by their fear of death and dishonor. And, personally, one of the things I love about Tim Burton horror films, is that no matter how much blood and gore he shows it’s always in that bizarre unnatural red that allows for just enough distance so that it doesn’t actually become revolting. One of the great things about this film is that it pays homage to the other famous version of this story…the Disney version. There is a point in Burton’s film that plays off the above clip in almost exact detail (down to the frogs croaking Icabod’s name) and it is a nice reminder that this is not the only version of this tale. (Honestly I was quite remiss in not listing the original Disney story of Sleepy Hollow in my list of honorable mentions, it should have been). The great thing about this scene was that it had the fake horseman cross the river (making it known early on to the audience to not expect such an easy save) and still kept the iconic image of the flaming jack-o’-lantern. And then there’s the horseman. Even though he wasn’t in the film much, by putting Christopher Walken as the actor to play the Hessian when he still had a head allowed for a much creepier vibe about the monster even when you couldn’t see Walken’s trademark bizarre gaze.   All in all a good action film. A good adventure. A good murder mystery. And one of the better horror films ever made.

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