Before Peter Jackson became synonymous with The Lord Of The Rings, he'd garnered a cult following for a modest clutch of low-budget comedy horror flicks. The Frighteners was the first time he'd had a decent budget to play with, so he cast Michael J Fox as a cynical ghostbuster opposite a slew of CG ghosties. The end result showed off a "unique sensibility", which would hint at things to come.
Rather than presenting the studio version of how the film was made, Jackson headed the behind-the-scenes shoot himself and the footage is spread across a whopping three discs. Of course the headline news is an extra 14 minutes of footage in a Director' Cut on disc one. Inevitably a few more gory bits are thrown in, but there are also a few deliriously funny moments, eg a raw supermarket chicken is possessed by demonic forces and breaks free of the fridge. Jackson points out all the additions in an entertaining, nuts-and-bolts commentary.
"It was clearly the work of a really degeneratively ill person," says Fox in a featurette on casting. Even so, after seeing Jackson's last film (Heavenly Creatures), Fox jumped at the opportunity to play Frank Bannister. It was Back To The Future helmer Robert Zemeckis who passed him the script and, as you'll discover on disc two, he was integral to getting the film greenlit. Jackson recalls a lunch meeting with "Bob" in a featurette on script development, which came about after he submitted a mere two-page synopsis.
It becomes clear that the process of development was an ongoing thing. Video footage finds the actors rehearsing in Jackson's living room and throwing in their own ideas while a featurette on stunts sees Fox break his ankle, halting production for two weeks - during this time, Jackson made further revisions to the script. Elsewhere 25 minutes of fly-on-the-wall footage follows cast and crew from the studio and out on location where the director is constantly coming up with new spins on the action. He admits in a featurette on storyboarding that the climactic scenes were filmed almost off-the-cuff.
Scaring Up Ghosts
Naturally there's an up-close look at CG and practical effects as cameras venture inside the WETA workshop. Key scenes, like the opening shots of Wallpaperman and a half-human face getting splatted on a tombstone, are thoroughly deconstructed. Jackson and the actors explain that the most difficult aspect is physically interacting with spectres that aren't really there. In all, there were over 500 effects shots, including Scene 28 - an ensemble of ghosts that served as a demo reel to satisfy nervous Hollywood execs.
On disc three Jackson guides us through a 17-minute reel of deleted scenes. He explains that subplots involving The Gatekeeper and The Judge had to be cut because, while they were funny, they "didn't make a lot of sense". For brilliant comic relief check out a generous 16-minute blooper reel where Michael J Fox repeatedly embarrasses himself by shouting the name "Doc!" during his frantic scenes with The Judge - obviously reliving moments from Back To The Future!
Composer Danny Elfman explains his creative process in a 25-minute look at scoring. "If anyone understands the delicate balance between comedy and drama, it's Danny," says Jackson. Lastly, cast and crew reflect on their battle with the MPAA ratings board in a Final Thoughts featurette. All bases are covered with a range of insights from cast and crew, copious behind-the-scenes footage and a healthy dose of humour. This bumper DVD pack for The Frighteners will definitely send chills up the spine for dedicated fans.