25 Fun Facts About “The Frighteners”

Long before he was forever synonymous with Middle Earth and big budget fantasy, Peter Jackson (much like Sam Raimi) had a reputation for campy but fun horror.

With films like Bad Taste and Meet the Feebles, Jackson was a leading voice in indie horror.  So a few years before he went all in with Tolkien, he co-wrote and directed one last horror comedy, that many have described as Ghostbusters meets Beetlejuice.

The Frighteners is something of a cult hit.  And while it wasn’t fully appreciated upon release, many fans have stumbled upon it since.  So in honor of its 25th anniversary today, we thought it would be fitting and fun to look at 25 fun facts about The Frighteners!

1. Peter Jackson and co-writer Fran Walsh (who is also his real life spouse) initially wrote the script as a treatment, and sent to it Hollywood, where it got the attention of Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis.

2. Originally meant as an episode of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt, but producer Zemeckis felt that it worked better as a feature length movies.

Frighteners 2
As much fun as it was for it to be its own movie, it also would have been fun to see the Crypt keeper introduce the story with his warped sense of humor…

3. Given his previous working relationship with Michael J. Fox on the Back to the Future trilogy, Robert Zemeckis sent him the script, and he was the first and only actor they offered the part to.

4. The character of Hiles was written as a parody of the Drill Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, with Peter Jackson assuming they would get a local actor from New Zealand to play the role. However, they approached R. Lee Ermey himself and he accepted.

5. Jeffrey Combs was cast as FBI Agent Dammers because Jackson was a huge fan of his from The Re-Animator. Combs himself helped come up with his character’s designed, included the “Hitler style” hairdo.

6. In a rare move, Universal granted Zemeckis and Jackson completed creative control and final cut privilege of the movie itself.

7. While filming, Michael J. Fox accidentally called Judge “Doc” (as in Doc Brown from Back to the Future) during some takes.

Frighteners 8
There’s sort of a resemblance…?

8. Despite taking place in the U.S., the entire movie was shot in New Zealand (mostly around Wellington), as that’s where director Peter Jackson was from.

9. Jackson himself cameos as the man with all the piercings that Frank bumps into on the street.

10. Shooting lasted 6 months, a much longer schedule than is usually approved by a studio.

11. Part of the reason for the extended shooting schedule was that every scene with ghosts had to be shot both on set, and then again on blue screen to achieve the effects.

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They look pretty damn good for 1996!

12. He and Fran Walsh’s infant son also cameoed as the baby in the bouncer that the ghosts make levitate in one scene.

13. Michael J. Fox broke his foot performing one stunt and production had to be shut down for a week. However, Peter Jackson stated that a silver lining was it gave him more time to improve the script.

14. Many of the crew also had cameos during Bartlett’s trial scene.

15. There were several more scenes of John Astin’s character Judge that were shot, but they didn’t have the money to complete the many effects required, so many of the scenes were cut.

16. Danny Elfman offered to compose the film’s score without even knowing what it was about, purely because he was such a fan of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures.

17. Robert Zemeckis and Peter Jackson wanted the film released in October for Halloween, but Universal insisted on a big summer release. This was partially blamed for its poor box office performance.

18. While it barely recouped its production budget at the box office, many critics praised the movie (and Jackson’s directing) for being creative and full of energy.

Frighteners 17
It’s definitely a strange movie that probably didn’t appeal to general audiences.

19. Jackson said that he learned a lot about marketing from this movie and how to better promote projects later on.

20. The film wasn’t released in Tasmania, Australia due to the Port Arthur Massacre which had occurred there earlier in 1996, which seemed too similar to the Johnny Bartlett storyline.

21. Wound up being Michael J. Fox’s last leading role in a movie. Shooting in New Zealand made him miss his family too much, so when it wrapped, he took the lead in Spin City, because it allowed him to stay local.

22. The numerous visual effects were done by Weta Workshop, who would go on to work with Jackson on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, receiving Oscars and huge critical acclaim.

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While the CGI got a lot better in Lord of the Rings (due to a larger budget), it’s really impressive what they pulled off given the budget they had.

23. Peter Jackson fought with the MPAA and removed several graphic shots in an effort to get it a “PG-13” rating, but it still received an “R”.

24 .The Frighteners was nominated for several Saturn Awards, including Best Director, Best Actor, Supporting Actor, and Horror Movie. But unfortunately it faced steep competition from Independence Day, Star Trek: First Contact, and Scream.

25. An extended cut was released in 2006 as a double sided disc with Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake (also produced by Universal).

Which of these did you already know?  Which ones surprised you?  Let us know in the comments!

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