Frighteners, The: Ultimate Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Dec 27, 2022
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Frighteners, The: Ultimate Edition (4K UHD Review)

Director

Peter Jackson

Release Date(s)

1996 (December 2, 2022)

Studio(s)

Wingnut Films/Universal Pictures (Turbine)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: A+
  • Overall Grade: A+

Review

[Editor's Note: All of the discs in this release are Region Free.]

If you were a horror comedy fan in the 1990s, there was a number of titles to choose from, including favorites like Tales from the Hood, Innocent Blood, and Bride of Chucky. Acting as producer, Robert Zemeckis had a hand in a few as well, most notably Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, and most especially Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners. Jackson had proven himself to be a resourceful filmmaker with range after directing several splatter films before co-directing the mockumentary Forgotten Silver, and gaining widespread indie attention with Heavenly Creatures. The latter film gained an army of admirers, most especially Michael J. Fox and Danny Elfman, both of whom wanted to work with Jackson on his next project.

The Frighteners purportedly began its life as a potential Tales from the Crypt film prior to Demon Knight. Peter Jackson’s and Fran Walsh’s treatment was to be directed by Robert Zemeckis, but after Jackson and Walsh finished Heavenly Creatures and turned the treatment into a full screenplay, Zemeckis opted instead to produce the film with Universal’s backing. With a much bigger budget than he had ever had up to this point, Jackson and his crew shot the film in New Zealand with the proviso that they would make it appear like the US for broader appeal. It was produced with a PG-13 rating in mind, but the MPAA refused to give the film anything less than an R rating, citing that it was too intense for PG-13. As a result, The Frighteners died a terrible death at the box office. Besides the rating shutting out a large portion of a potential audience, the popularity of Independence Day, which had been released two weeks prior, meant that it was still making a killing at the box office, crushing films like The Frighteners in its wake.

Teenage Tim Salmons was a huge fan of The Frighteners when it was released, especially on home video where it was consumed vigorously. Revisiting it years later, it’s clear that Peter Jackson was destined for mainstream stardom, but also that you were either on board with what The Frighteners had to offer, or you weren’t. Most critics at time seemed to be in on the joke, so to speak, because looking at it today, one forgets how over the top it is tonally. It really goes for the throat with a twisted playfulness and a gleam in its eye, yet never forgets that it has to service a story, even if characters are broad or underwritten. It’s all window dressing to hang a supernatural tale of death and redemption on, complete with Jackson’s patented perverse sense of humor.

You have the always solid and likable Michael J. Fox in the lead as a man living in the past with the unique gift of being able to see and hear spirits after the traumatic death of his wife. You also have Trini Alvarado, not just as a believable love interest, but also as a woman who survives a potentially unfulfilling and loveless marriage to an overtly horrible person. Then there’s Jeffrey Combs, whose scene-stealing performance as a psychotic FBI officer who has survived a number of torturous undercover cases is equivalent to, or perhaps even exceeds, his madcap performance in Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. Chi McBride, Jim Fyfe, and John Astin are a trio of ghosts helping Frank (Fox) with his less than savory exorcist business, while Dee Wallace and Jake Busey are a twisted and murderous Bonnie and Clyde.

As he would do later with The Lord of the Rings films, as well as his remake of King Kong, Peter Jackson was pushing the medium with The Frighteners in a way that few filmmakers at the time were, especially when it pertains to genre. It’s a roller coaster ride of a movie, satisfying a wide enough audience, which has allowed it to live on in the years since its disastrous debut. It certainly has broader appeal than Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, and Braindead AKA Dead Alive, all of which your average soccer mom wouldn’t be caught dead with.

The Frighteners was shot by cinematographers John Blick and Alun Bollinger on 35 mm film (Super 35) using Arriflex 35 IIC and BL-III cameras, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Turbine’s Ultra HD debut of the film comes sourced from their new 4K restoration from the original camera negative of both versions, which have been graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are available) with the final approval of Peter Jackson. As many are likely already aware, the computer-generated effects in The Frighteners were rushed during the film’s production when the film’s release date was moved from October to July, meaning that the teams behind them had even less time to complete them. Although they certainly looked good for their time, the texturing and softness of those effects don’t necessarily hold up to modern scrutiny. Going into this new 4K presentation, it was the most apprehensive aspect. Thankfully, fears were grounded as this is not only a stellar presentation of the film, indeed the best that it’s ever looked on home video, but the effects blend surprisingly better than I was expecting. The rest of the presentation is richly-textured with crystal clear images in both day and nighttime sequences. The new HDR grades offer far more subtleties and detail in the image, especially the nuances of the costumes and facial textures, as well as shadows. Blacks are deep with perfect contrast, never sacrificing detail or deepening to the point of crush. The film doesn’t offer a wide spectrum of color, but the variety of green and blue hues, as well as occasional flashes of red and brown, are often lush in appearance. Flesh tones are natural and the film is has a more consistent palette than previous releases. The Director’s Cut footage also blends more seamlessly. Grain is minimal and tightly-woven, giving the overall presentation an organic appearance that’s also stable and clean with a very high bitrate that hovers constantly between 80 and 100 Mbps. Though Arrow Video is also due to release the film in 4K Ultra HD sometime in the near future, this presentation will be incredibly hard to top (though I wouldn’t be surprised if Turbine shares their presentation with Arrow, as they have done so for other releases in the past).*

*According to Turbine, this transfer was a joint project between them and Universal Pictures Germany, and is therefore subject to a 4 year holdback, meaning that other companies cannot use it. What that means for Arrow Video is that if they were to release the film on 4K Ultra HD in the next 4 years, they've have to either acquire another transfer or do their own.

Audio is included for the Director’s Cut in English and German Dolby Atmos (7.1 Dolby TrueHD compatible), as well as English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. Oddly, the Theatrical Cut carries the DTS audio channels only. It’s the only real drawback audio-wise as the Atmos track on the Director’s Cut is outstanding. Like the film’s content, it’s very aggressive with frequent activity all around, especially in the height channels. Numerous speaker-to-speaker moments and instances of low end give action-oriented scenes massive support. Dialogue exchanges are clear and precise and Danny Elfman’s excellent score completes the sonic tableau. It’s a demo-worthy track. Subtitle options are also included in English, English SDH, German, and German SDH.

Turbine’s 6-Disc Region Free Ultimate Edition of The Frighteners contains Ultra HD and 1080p Blu-ray discs dedicated to the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts, as well as two other Blu-rays: one containing the Director’s Cut in open matte with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (filling the screen completely), and the other dedicated to the film’s main extras. It should be noted that all of the menus on all of these discs are in German, but if you’re familiar enough with navigating DVDs and Blu-rays, you shouldn’t have much of a problem. Each disc contains the following:

DISCS ONE & TWO (UHD & BD – DIRECTOR’S CUT)

  • Audio Commentary with Peter Jackson
  • US Trailer (HD – 2:08)
  • German Trailer (HD – 2:08)

DISCS THREE & FOUR (UHD & BD – THEATRICAL CUT)

  • US Trailer (HD – 2:08)
  • German Trailer (HD – 2:08)

DISC FIVE (BD – DIRECTOR’S CUT OPEN MATTE)

  • Audio Commentary with Peter Jackson
  • US Trailer (HD – 2:08)
  • German Trailer (HD – 2:08)

DISC SIX (BD – EXTRAS)

  • Introduction by Peter Jackson (SD – 1:57)
  • The Making of The Frighteners (SD – 269:22)
  • No Way to Make a Living: A Look Back at The Frighteners (HD – 94:51)

All of the extras are ported over from the film’s previous releases, with one new addition. The audio commentary on the Director’s Cut features Peter Jackson, which was recorded for the 1998 Universal Signature Collection LaserDisc. As he states at outset, it’s his first ever, but you wouldn’t know it as he takes to it like a duck to water, frequently producing information and trivia about the film, much of it that can’t be found in the other extras. It’s also just wonderful to hear him speak, making it a great track. Included from the original Director’s Cut DVD release is an introduction by Peter Jackson, which plays before the excellent four-and-a-half-hour LaserDisc documentary The Making of The Frighteners, presented here intact with the Storyboarding chapter back in its proper place. This is a mammoth making-of documentary that was made by Peter Jackson in 1998 and features interviews with the vast majority of the cast and crew, going into extreme detail about the film. It’s broken up into twenty-seven chapters that can also be selected separately: Script Development, Storyboarding, Michael J. Fox & Trini Alvarado, Jim Fyfe, Chi McBride, John Astin, Rehearsing, Lyttelton as Fairwater, Introduction to WETA, Scene 28, Ghost Effects, Motion Control & Bluescreen, The Jackson Boys, Stunts, On the Set, The Reaper, Rustler, Jeffrey Combs, Miniatures, Dee Wallace Stone & Jake Busey, Trini’s Bruises, Slimeface & Blobman, Wallpaperman & Portraitman, Acceleration, The Worm, The Gatekeeper, The Judge, & Other Deleted Scenes, Music, Bloopers, and Ratings & Final Thoughts.

New to this release is Christian Genzel’s documentary No Way to Make a Living: A Look Back at The Frighteners. Though all of the interviews have been conducted via Skype or Zoom, the style of this piece is very much like (if not almost identical) to the work of Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, which helps smooth out and hide some of the video sources’ lesser qualities. Nevertheless, it’s an excellent look back at the production, and a great companion piece to the main documentary. It offers interviews with actors Dee Wallace, Jake Busey, cinematographer John Blick, editor Jamie Selkirk, visual effects supervisors Richard Taylor, Wes Takahashi, and production designer Grant Major. It should also be noted that both of these documentaries have subtitle options in German and English. The open matte version of the film features the same presentation, but with the 2.35:1 masking removed. It’s an interesting addition, often leaving a lot of head room at the top of the frame, but it also affects the extreme close-ups, changing some of the dynamics to a degree. The original framing is still preferable, but it’s nice to have its inclusion, for fun more than anything.

All six discs sit inside a Digipak with its own slipcase featuring new artwork by Ronan Wolf Chuat. Alongside it are two posters, one featuring the original theatrical artwork and the other featuring the new artwork; a replica of Frank Bannister’s business card; and six large art cards featuring three reproductions of lobby cards, a cast and crew photo, artwork from the “Rest in Pieces” t-shirt worn by Peter Jackson during his cameo in the film, artwork from the VHS cover of Murders, Madmen & Psychopaths as seen in the film, and trivia about the film in German on the back of three of the cards. The largest addition is a 196-page booklet entitled The Fairwater Gazette: The World of Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners, which is a massive archive about the film featuring a re-creation of the front page of the newspaper seen in the film on the back cover. Inside (written entirely in German) is an extended look at the making of the film by Christoph N. Kellerbach; a set of discarded poster concepts; various posters from around the world; stills from the film; behind-the-scenes photos; interviews conducted by Christian Genzel with Dee Wallace, Grant Major, Jake Busey, Jamie Selkirk, John Blick, Peter Dobson, Richard Taylor, and Wes Takahashi; notes about the German audio dubbing sessions; notes on the open matte version; restoration details; and a set of production credits. All of this content sits in a book box available in two covers, one with the original theatrical artwork and the other featuring the new artwork.

This 4K Ultra HD of The Frighteners is an amazing release. The only real flaw is the lack of Dolby Atmos on the Theatrical Cut, but it’s an otherwise perfect presentation with an all-encompassing set of bonus materials and swag. For fans, this is very highly recommended.

The Frighteners (4K UHD)

- Tim Salmons

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