As the omnipresent eye of the audience hovers above the dark mansion in the woods, a storm is brewing-both outside and within. passing through an attic window, the camera drops down past the rats, and through the hole in the floor as screams rush up out of the speakers. Eventually our view settles on a woman rushing through a house as the carpet and the walls themselves reach out to take hold of her. Suddenly, an elderly woman appears in her bedroom door wielding a long-barreled shotgun and, while backlit by a clash of lightning, blasts the possessed floor covering right between the indistinct eye-sockets, causing the spirit housed within to rush out towards the us, blanketing our eye in darkness, as the ghostly titles materialize into view. Here we are again, ladies and gentlesirs, rollicking through another night with another typical Peter Jackson film family.
While working on the script for Heavenly Creatures (which if you haven't seen it, stop reading this and go do so now-- --we'll wait), Jackson and partner Fran Walsh met with Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit), and pitched the idea of a con-man using ghosts to swindle customers. The original idea was to have it be a segment directed by Zemeckis in a Tales from the Crypt movie, but after reading the first draft and seeing an early preview of Heavenly Creatures , he felt that it would be better if the Kiwi headed up the project. The result is a movie that at times is damn scary, at others cartoonish, and as a whole-pretty good.
Focusing on the previously mentioned psychic con-man Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), his merry band of spooks (played by Chi Mcbride, Jim Fyfe, and John Astin), and their run-in with the supernatural serial bully known as "The Reaper". Along the way, Bannister tussles with an "eccentric" FBI agent brilliantly played by Jeffrey Combs (Bride of the Reanimator, The 4400), finds love with a widow (Trini Alvarado), and shares a few tender moments with his kooky neighbors (Dee Wallace, R. Lee Emry).
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Somebody needs to get Peter Jackson to write a family sit-com.
On to the movie itself: The special effects, AMAZING ten years ago, are still intriguing, but dated (Funny: 80's movies, with their practical muppetry, strobe lights, and hand-drawn animated lightning, ended up aging much better than the early CG powerhouses like Stargate). Of special note is The Reaper and his WICKED scythe. Why they didn't make a holiday toy out of that, I'll never know. Imagine, kids running around with a big, sharp implement of grim decapitating destruction. Laughs for the whole family!
The story has an internal logic, but is basically there to move you from plot point to plot point. A word about the director's cut: While it makes more sense than the theatrical, it also seriously drags in parts, especially early-on, when they're setting up the relationship between Bannister and friends. So while this film is completely recommended for the Cavalcade, grab the shorter theatrical cut to keep things moving along.