RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 21 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Horror Violence, Language and brief Sexuality/Nudity

Directed by: Victor Garcia

Written by: William Massa

Starring: Amanda Righetti, Cerina Vincent, Erik Palladino, Tom Riley, Andrew Lee Potts, Jeffrey Combs & Steven Pacey

1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL is a guilty pleasure of mine. I have nostalgia for that remake because it scared the hell out of 12-year-old me and its style is over-the-top spooky fun. Eight years after the HOUSE remake banked at the box office, a direct-to-DVD sequel was released in a half-hearted attempt to cash in from Warner Premiere (all while TRICK ‘R TREAT languished away on a shelf because life isn’t fair). RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL had a neat gimmick for its HD DVD release (remember when that was a thing?) that involved the viewer choosing their own adventure with the film. Fortunately, I don’t have an HD DVD player, so I’m just reviewing the standard DVD release. I don’t think that selecting these characters’ fates would help matters much, because this sequel is garbage.

Ariel Wolfe’s (Amanda Righetti) life seems to be going just swell, until she hears the news of her sister Sara’s suicide. Sara Wolfe was one of the two survivors of the first HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, so she had a lot of spirit-related PTSD and Ariel was sick of hearing about the supernatural shenanigans. As if her sibling’s recent suicide wasn’t bad enough, art-stealing criminals kidnap Ariel and reveal that they’re on a quest to retrieve a mysterious idol that’s hidden in Hill House. Soon enough, Ariel, her best friend Paul (Tom Riley), the gangsters, and a hapless archeology professor (Steven Pacey) are running for their lives from the evil Dr. Vannacutt (Jeffrey Combs) and his ghostly nutjobs.

From reading that summary of the plot, you might have realized the biggest problem that RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL encounters right from the get-go. RETURN’s plot is stupid, like really stupid. The sequel’s script is so stupid that it knocks the original film down a peg by providing a deeper origin behind Dr. Vannacutt’s madness. Wasn’t it so much creepier when there was a sadistic doctor running a huge insane asylum that was full of crazy ghosts? Instead, we now get a lackluster explanation (cursed idol) behind Hill House’s central antagonist and its undead residents…making them instantly less scary as a result.

Jeffrey Combs is back in the role of Dr. Vannacutt, though his brief on-screen appearances indicate that he was probably only on set for a couple of days. At the very least, Combs’s villain is fun to watch, though his character is even more cartoony and exaggerated in this second outing. You could add LOONEY TUNES sound effects into his kill scenes and they would fit right into the gory absurdity. Speaking of kills, RETURN packs in a couple of fun deaths. These two scenes involve Combs’s Vannacutt hamming it up and I recommend that you just watch those kills on YouTube, because there isn’t much else of value to this film. The other kills are laughably inept, ala bed sheets ripping a guy apart and unbelievably cheesy CGI flames turning another guy into a PlayStation 1 video game character.

I’m not naïve enough to honestly ask if RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was made to further this franchise along or if it was purely made to cash in on horror fan nostalgia. It’s worth mentioning that there was a third HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL flick planned before this second installment received terrible reception and lackluster sales. It feels as if director Vincent Garcia (who’s also responsible for other direct-to-video horror dreck like MIRRORS 2 and HELLRAISER: REVELATIONS) was trying to replicate the atmosphere, setting, and tone of the first film, but on a shoestring budget that didn’t allow him much freedom to do that. Most of the Hill House scenes consist of confrontations in the lobby, confrontations in a hallway that’s been redressed three different ways, and three other rooms…in this supposedly massive crazy house.

It certainly doesn’t help that none of the cast members, besides the mostly mute Combs (who receives two lines of dialogue in the entire film), put in noteworthy performances. Everyone’s acting reaches varying degrees of badness. The worst actor of the bunch is Erik Palladino as a scumbag art dealer villain, who mostly smirks and slicks his hair back. The most annoying performance belongs to Steven Pacey as the over-the-top teacher Dr. Richard Hammer. Meanwhile, Amanda Righetti seems a bit too apathetic towards certain terrible situations and Tom Riley looks like he just walked out of a CW prime time drama (that’s not a compliment). Overall, this was a bad cast who put in bad performances, but I can’t fully blame them because they were working from a bad script.

Honestly, I really like 1999’s HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, so there was a bit of mild excitement as I approached this direct-to-video follow-up. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was expecting to hopefully have a bit of campy fun. Even that marginal bar for success was too high for RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL’s reach. This direct-to-video sequel is terrible. The film’s only redeeming qualities come in an occasionally glimpsed Jeffrey Combs and a couple of admittedly neat kills. It’s a pity that everything else about RETURN is utter garbage. Don’t waste your valuable time on this one.

Grade: D-

WOULD YOU RATHER (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

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Directed by: David Guy Levy

Written by: Steffen Schlachtenhaufen

Starring: Brittany Snow, Jeffrey Combs, Jonny Coyne, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Logan Miller, Sasha Grey, June Squibb & Robin Lord Taylor

SAW and HOSTEL gave birth to a fad in mid-2000’s horror: Torture Porn! That name pretty much encompasses everything you’d expect within that subgenre. It’s as descriptive and self-explanatory as it can possibly be. Words can’t describe the amount of hatred that many horror fans began to feel towards the massive influx of cheap torture-porn flicks. While certain movies in this subgenre were executed in ways that felt fresh and original (the first three SAW films, HOSTEL 1 & 2, and a variety of extreme French flicks), there were far more poor excuses for horror films that were shamelessly pumped out to make a quick buck. The premise of WOULD YOU RATHER sounds like it’s yet another one of these cheap torture-porn movies, but that’s surprisingly not the case. Instead of being all about blood and guts, WOULD YOU RATHER is a devilishly clever little film that relies more on constant suspense of what’s going to happen next as opposed to shocking gore gags.

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Iris is a young woman stuck in a rut. She can’t seem to maintain a steady job, her parents are dead, and she’s been saddled with taking care of her sick brother. Iris’s situation is looking even more dire as she simply can’t afford her younger brother’s upcoming medical treatments. Like a miracle, the wealthy Shepard Lambrick walks into her doctor’s office and has a proposal for Iris. Every year, Lambrick hosts an elegant dinner party, after which, a game is played. The winner of this game walks out rich and all of their problems are solved. Taking what seems to be the only possible option available, Iris goes to Lambrick’s dinner only to discover that his party game has a nasty twist. The game is deadly version of “Would You Rather” in which electric shocks, icepicks and various other weapons are used on the players. You can guess where things go from there.

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Instead of treating its plot with a deadly straight-face and focusing on long shots of gore, WOULD YOU RATHER takes a classier approach to its disturbing premise. We get a nice slow build up that lets us care for Iris (played well by Brittany Snow) before the horrifying reveal of the game. The players all have their introductory moments that allow us to predict who might die and how. The film never goes into full-blown torture porn territory either as there’s a dark sense of humor and a few nasty twists around every corner. Director David Guy Levy takes a less-is-more approach in terms of what violence we see on-screen. There are moments where you’ll find yourself cringing not because you see a grisly bit of gore, but rather because there’s something horrible happening off-screen and we can only imagine what it looks like. That being said, we still get occasional moments of on-screen violence. Seeing as a lot of the blood is left to our imaginations, these unexpected shots become more effective as a result.

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Jeffrey Combs is clearly having a blast as Shepard Lambrick and plays his aristocratic psycho with a snarky sense of humor. You might find yourself laughing at just how much of a jerk this guy is to his already doomed victims. Equally enjoyable is Jonny Coyne (one of the more underrated actors working today) as the benevolent butler Bevins who helps administer a few of the players’ more violent choices. The only real bad performance of the film comes in Sasha Grey (yes, that Sasha Grey) trying to pull off a Southern accent that comes and goes depending on the scene. The film also runs a tad too long with one side-plot that goes nowhere and makes you wonder what was the point of even including it (taking up about 10 minutes of total screen time).

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WOULD YOU RATHER is a darkly enjoyable little horror flick that serves as a clever alternative to other gory films featuring a similar premise. This movie is elevated by most of the performances, especially that of Jeffrey Combs, and a less-is-more approach. The dark sense of humor also helps out the material considerably. If this sounds like you’re kind of film, then I’d highly recommend that you give it a look.

Grade: B

FORTRESS (1993)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and Language, and for Sexuality

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Directed by: Stuart Gordon

Written by: Troy Neighbors, Steven Feinberg, David Venable & Terry Curtis Fox

Starring: Christopher Lambert, Kurtwood Smith, Loryn Locklin, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Jeffrey Combs, Tom Towles & Clifton Collins Jr.

FORTRESS is a futuristic prison thriller from Stuart Gordon. If you know who Stuart Gordon is, then that statement should pretty much tell you all that you need to know about this film. If you aren’t aware of this cult filmmaker’s existence, I should tell you that Gordon has directed a number of B-flicks that range from delightful (RE-ANIMATOR) to pretty bad (CASTLE FREAK). FORTRESS finds someone giving Gordon a slightly bigger budget (8 million) than he was probably used to and him using it to craft a crazy B-flick that’s best enjoyed with beer and pizza. It should be noted that this film was a big success at the box office upon its initial release in 1993 (even inspiring a direct-to-video sequel), but it has since faded into obscurity. That’s both kind of a shame and wholly understandable. This is borders on so-bad-it’s-good territory throughout, but there’s something hugely watchable about it in a really stupid way.

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In the dystopian world of 2017 (dun dun dunnn), America has turned into a Totalitarianist state with a strict population control law. This futuristic law rules that there is to be only one child per woman and that’s it. When former black beret John Brennick and his wife try to buck the system and head for Canada, they’re caught and sentenced to 31 years in a maximum security prison. This computerized penitentiary is owned by the corrupt MenTel Coporation, run by the evil computer system Zed, and ruled over by the tyrannical warden Poe. John Brennick soon becomes fed up with this harsh prison life and puts together a plan, with the help of his cellmates, to rescue his still-pregnant wife from warden Poe and escape the confines of the heavily guarded underground prison.

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You should kind of know what you’re in for when Christopher Lambert is headlining a film. Though I only know him as Rayden from MORTAL KOMBAT (a childhood favorite of mine that has not aged well), Lambert was a raspy-voiced B-movie star of his time. In this film, he’s devouring the scenery and kicking ass like it’s going out of style. Loryn Locklin (who has a grand total of five titles in her filmography) stars as Lambert’s character’s wife and pretty much plays a damsel in distress who uses her feminine charm to aid the rescue mission. Lambert’s cellmates are comprised of a young Clifton Collins Jr., a Tom Towles who basically looks exactly the same as he does now, and Jeffrey Combs as a geeky hacker wearing ultra-thick glasses. Kurtwood Smith is delightfully over-the-top as Poe who milks the insane villain clichés for everything that they’re worth. The dialogue these performers are spewing out show that this was very much a 90’s sci-fi action flick. Two of my favorite lines are Jeffrey Combs saying “Right on, man!” when discovering a crucial point of the escape plan and Poe yelling at Zed that “you’ll be lucky if you end up as a speak and spell after this!” This film is kind of hilarious, whether or not it was intended to be that way from the start.

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Aside from bad acting, a silly script, and cheap effects that have not aged well, FORTRESS is as ambitious a film as much as it is a cheesy one. There are lots of ideas at play including: monitoring dreams, over surveillance, futuristic computer run buildings, half-men half-machines, and population control. It’s almost like 1984 had three-way with 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and HANDMAID’S TALE and this is what they pumped out. What’s really entertaining (albeit unintentionally so) is when FORTRESS tries to be very futuristic…but on a budget. It should also be noted that this film will please horror fans looking for an over-the-top gory flick, because the prisoners are all outfitted with devices called “Intestinators” that can explode at the slightest nod of the computer. As you can probably imagine, this leads to plenty of exploding people and giant gaping wholes in certain prisoners.

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FORTRESS is a big dumb B-flick that’s loaded with clichés, corny effects, over-acting, and high concepts that happen to be executed in very silly ways. You know what, it’s damn entertaining…even if it’s for the “wrong” reasons. I very much enjoyed kicking back and watching this silly, silly movie. It’s not great or particularly good, but I’d imagine this flick would go over well in a room of drunk friends with lots of pizza. It’s that kind of movie. If you’re up for that sort of thing, then by all means, give it a watch.

Grade: C+

My 10 Favorite Cinematic Villains

List by Derrick Carter

There are tons and tons of great villains in film. In fact, this year alone I can already think of ten off the top of my head that stood out. What makes an awesome bad guy? Is it something that plays to our personal preferences, like many different qualities in cinema? Are there always universal themes in each great bad guy that are just so damned believable and (sometimes) relatable that we almost fall in love with watching their evil deeds? When is it okay to root for the villain, be terrified of them or a little of both? I decided since All Hallows Eve is only a few hours away, I would ponder over my 10 personal favorite baddies.

Now, I must get this out-of-the-way. This is ALL OPINION. I’m not claiming these are the best bad guys out there, far from it. You probably already know fantastic antagonists that range from Heath Ledger’s Joker to Hopkins’ Hannibal to the well-known classics. I’m just counting down my favorite bad guys and listing the reasons why I love to hate them so much or just plain enjoy watching them. Without further ado…

10. Ratigan

10. RATIGAN (from THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE)

Nothing kicks off a villains list better than an animated rat from Disney. GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE is a take on Sherlock Holmes with mice, rats, and other talking animals filling in as characters. It’s actually a really solid movie and one I plan on reviewing in the future. However, the best part of the film is the nefarious Ratigan! Voiced by the always-great Vincent Price, Ratigan is a sort of Moriarty figure with a tail. He tries to act civilized and uses his pet cat (how’s that for a unique weapon?) to cover his vicious side, which does come out in the film’s intense finale. Want another justification of why he’s on this list? Did I mention he sings too? Good luck trying to get his two ultra-catchy tunes out of your head.

9. Drexl Spivey

9. DREXL SPIVEY (from TRUE ROMANCE)

Gary Oldman can do bad so good! Leave it to this chameleon to turn a laughable stereotype into something out of a nightmare. Drexl Spivey is a pimp and also a “wigger.” Whereas this sounds funny and possibly comedic, it’s not at all. Drexl is the best part of TRUE ROMANCE and he’s only in for a short time of the film. After he’s gone, the story goes down a couple of notches. The stand-out scene is in an intense conversation with Christian Slater. Having already seen Drexl go friggin’ crazy on two people and brutally murder them up to this point, it makes the tension that much scarier. Also this isn’t the last time you’ll be seeing Oldman on this list.

8. Aaron The Moor

8. AARON THE MOOR (from TITUS)

Shakespeare writes fantastic villains who delight in their evil ways. It was a tough choice between Aaron The Moor and Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Seeing as Richard isn’t exactly as chilling as Aaron is, this choice was decided on that factor. Aaron (played by Harry Lennix in this version) is purely and simply bad-to-the-bone. He absolutely loves corrupting those around him and has no real friends to speak of. Even his so-called accomplices vicariously become his victims by the play/film’s end. Adding a slightly comical tone to the role too is how Aaron will occasionally turn to the camera and directly address the viewer, thus letting them in on how much fun he’s having committing horrible sins. It should say enough that his only dying regret is that he didn’t do more evil.

7. Dino Velvet

7. DINO VELVET, EDDIE POOLE, & MACHINE (from 8MM)

Another underrated flick has a three-way-tie between some of the nastiest deviants you’ll come across on-screen. 8MM is a thriller about a detective (played by an unusually good Nicolas Cage) trying to prove a supposed snuff film is authentic. We’d have a pretty boring and underwhelming movie if said snuff film was a fake, so Cage does indeed come across the creators (and a surviving star) of the small reel of murder footage. Eddie Poole (a scummy James Gandolfini) proves to get the most satisfying comeuppance of the trio. Dino Velvet (an awesome Peter Stormare) is the flamboyant “director” who has chilling pieces of dialogue. It’s the bondage-masked Machine who delivers one of the bleakest explanations of why there are evil people in the world in a haunting scene near the end. 8MM contains a three-for-one delivery of memorable baddies.

6. Dr Josef

6. DR. JOSEF MENGELE (from THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL)

Let’s face it. It’s really not that difficult to make anyone hate a Nazi. All you have to do is throw the swastika on their shoulder and you’ve got yourself instant bad guy. In this fantastic 1978 thriller, a group of war criminals are trying to clone a new Hitler (it’s not remotely as silly as it sounds). As if that wasn’t interesting enough already, the leader of the group is played by the one and only Gregory Peck (that’s right, Atticus Finch). Peck pretty much plays the Fuhrer without actually being called the Fuhrer. Adopting a flawless German accent, a vicious temper, and a nasty talent for deforming people with science, Peck gives what I’d argue is the most creative Nazi ever shown on-screen (I’m counting zombies, Fiennes, and Hans Landau). If you haven’t seen this flick, then strap yourself in and give it a watch. This is another one that’s definitely getting a review from me down the line.

5. Cesar

5. CESAR (from SLEEP TIGHT)

This is a fun entry. Unlike the majority of bad guys on this list, Cesar doesn’t have a body count to his name. This main character in the Jaume Balaguero’s Spanish thriller is a doorman who has made it his goal to cause misery to everyone around him. He cannot feel happiness, so why should anybody else? He mainly sets his sights on a young woman who isn’t cracking under his pressure. When the villain has keys to every apartment in the building and takes to poisoning your make-up, infesting your apartment with roaches, and escalating things from there, its safe to say that you might sleep with one eye open. Don’t worry, because that’s why Cesar keeps a bottle of chloroform handy. The dark sense of humor around this character is off the charts too. One of the best scenes is a conversation with an older apartment dweller who tries to be polite and gets owned in the most emotionally demolishing way possible. Cesar may not be a serial killer or a criminal mastermind, but he’s a dickhead. He also happens to be a dangerous dickhead with keys to your apartment and a whole lot of patience.

4. Leland Gaunt

4. LELAND GAUNT (from NEEDFUL THINGS)

There have been plenty of portrayals of Satan on the big screen, but Max Von Sydow’s performance in this Stephen King adaptation takes the cake. Armed with a slimy sense of humor (he claims he’s from Ohio), an upbeat attitude (offering people good things in return for small favors), and a kindly old grandfather demeanor, you’d never think this shop owner is actually the Devil incarnate. That’s exactly who he is though and he’s quite good at using people to destroy each other. How can you beat a Satan with the balls to say “You can’t win. I’ve got God on my side.” Enough said…

3. Dolores Umbridge

3. DOLORES UMBRIDGE (from the HARRY POTTER series)

Let me tell you why this bitch is on here instead of Voldemort. Not once during the entire HARRY POTTER saga did I ever want to jump through the screen and strangle Voldemort with my bare hands, no matter how many people he killed. The same cannot be said of this sickly sweet witch with a penchant for cats and truly nasty punishments. I think part of the reason I hate her so much is because I had a teacher in Junior High who was pretty much an exact doppelgänger of Umbridge. This educator emotionally battered the entire eighth grade class on a daily basis and acted like a sweet little lady at parent-teacher conference. We’ve all met people like Umbridge and we all hate them for obvious reasons. Props to J.K. Rowling for including such a despicable character in her series. Voldemort is a saint compared to her.

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2. NORMAN STANSFIELD (from LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL)

This pill-popping, gun-totting, certifiable nutjob is my favorite Oldman performance….ever! Stansfield is the best corrupt cop to grace cinema! He’ll make you laugh one minute and piss your pants out of sheer fear in the next. He can switch at the drop of a hat and is evil to his core. At one point, this villain corners a little girl in the restroom and asks her if she appreciates her life. When she answers yes, he calmly responds “Good, because I could never take a life from someone who didn’t appreciate it.” That’s straight-up cold! It’s also highly ironic that the movie featuring a hitman and an assassin-in-training as likable protagonists manages to show someone who’s even more of a lunatic than hired killers. Props to Oldman. This is the role that I’ll remember him for!

1. Milton Dammers

1. MILTON DAMMERS (from THE FRIGHTENERS)

My favorite villain of all-time. Jeffrey Combs absolutely cracks me up through this entire film. In a movie riddled with many threats from different sides (ghosts and serial killers), this drastically misguided FBI agent manages to be the stand-out baddie of the bunch. Sporting a slicked Hitler haircut, nervous mannerisms, and a side of crazy that keeps escalating as the film goes on, Jeffrey Combs is amazing in this role! He also has my favorite villain demise of all-time. His dialogue is absolutely hilarious too! Dammers is a self-described asshole, but he’s such an entertaining one! That’s why Milton Dammers is my favorite villain of all-time!

Have any personal favorite villains of your own that don’t get enough recognition? Leave them in the comments below!

THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Terror/Violence

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Directed by: Peter Jackson

Written by: Peter Jackson & Fran Walsh

Starring: Michael J. Fox, Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Dee Wallace Stone, Jeffrey Combs, Jake Busey, R. Lee Ermey, Chi McBride & Jim Fyfe

THE FRIGHTENERS is not only one of the best horror-comedies to come out of the 90’s, but also a significant stepping stone for Peter Jackson’s career. Between low-budget New Zealand cult films (DEAD-ALIVE, MEET THE FEEBLES) and big budget epics (THE MIDDLE EARTH saga, KING KONG), Jackson carved his way into the mainstream with this humorous ghost story. The effects (a blend of practical and CGI) might seem very over-the-top by today’s standards, but the film holds up as a hugely entertaining flick that’s ripe for the Halloween season!

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Frank Banister is a former architect turned paranormal investigator. Blessed with phenomenal psychic powers, Frank uses a few ghost friends to haunt potential customers and makes bank in “cleansing” of the hauntings. When his small town is besieged by a plague of mysterious deaths, Frank begins seeing a ghostly figure resembling the Grim Reaper and fiery numbers appearing on soon-to-be dead people’s heads. It turns out that a great evil is on a rampage and Frank is the only one who can put a stop to it. Aided by Lucy, a customer/love interest, Frank must solve the mystery of the supernatural force on the loose and also contend with a rogue FBI agent convinced that Frank is behind the deaths.

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The biggest element that truly sells THE FRIGHTENERS as a superior horror comedy is the script. This story is clever, creative, and interesting. The mystery aspect might seem fairly obvious to some viewers, but the film plays out in a fairly suspenseful way. It also manages to incorporate spectacle into the story in a fashion that doesn’t feel forced or unnecessary. Some movies rely on extravagant effects as glue to hold a messy excuse for a story together. FRIGHTENERS uses (at the time) fairly impressive CGI to bring the semi-transparent spirits to life, but also has its share of touching scenes that don’t have any deceased characters present either. When certain protagonists/antagonists require additions to appear on-screen, it offers a legitimate reason to use some (at the time) cutting edge effects often. Even when though a few moments of CGI haven’t aged very well, their cheesy nature lends well to the humor of the film.

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The plot may be awesome on its own, but its made all the more enjoyable by stellar performances. Michael J. Fox is great as Frank. Besides sporting a smartass attitude, Fox adds a layer of humanity to a character who may have been seen as a pure scumbag in any other movie. Here, he’s the unlikely hero and the viewer has every reason to root for him. Trini Alvarado is solid as Lucy. She’s far more than just a bland love interest to be used for a damsel in distress plot device. There’s an independence to her and Frank needs her as much as she needs him to beat the supernatural menace terrorizing the town. Dee Wallace Stone, R. Lee Ermey, and Jake Busey are good in colorful side roles as well. As Frank’s undead friends, John Astin (Gomez from the original ADDAMS FAMILY TV series), Chi McBride and Jim Fyfe are funny as comic relief. The best performance comes from a show-stealing Jeffrey Combs. As the mentally unstable FBI agent Milton Dammers, Combs brings the biggest laughs and makes for (personally) one of the funniest villains to ever grace the silver screen.

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Though it might not be nearly to the excessive level of gore and offensive humor that Jackson’s earlier films were, THE FRIGHTENERS is awesome in the sheer spooky atmosphere maintained by it. The laughs are always prevalent, but there are genuinely creepy moments. The climax (which plays out in a rip-roaring 20 minutes of cat-and-mouse between our protagonists and more than a few threats coming from different angles) is wildly exciting. The execution of this showdown is nothing short of absolutely perfect for a film of this kind. It’s satisfying beyond belief. The only real complaint I can level at this movie comes from that maybe too many things were packed into a mere two-hour running time. Even in the director’s cut, it feels like a few scenes could be missing (you can never have enough Dammers in my opinion). It’s a minor complaint given how well everything plays out and that this film delivers in being a near masterpiece of horror comedy. Think a more intense story told in the BEETLEJUICE universe and you’ve pretty much nailed the vibe of FRIGHTENERS!

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Filled with ghoulish laughs, an ingenious plot, and genuinely spooky atmosphere, THE FRIGHTENERS is an almost perfect blend of horror and comedy. If at all possible, the Director’s Cut is the best way to watch this film. However, the theatrical version doesn’t differ too much. FRIGHTENERS is not only a great flick that holds up nearly two decades later and is perfect for the Halloween season. It also has one of my favorite cinematic baddies: Milton Dammers (in a standout performance by Jeffrey Combs). This is a must-see if you’re at least remotely interested in the film.

Grade: A

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