Missing Reels: “The Frighteners” (1996)

Missing Reels examines overlooked, unappreciated or unfairly maligned movies. Sometimes these films haven’t been seen by anyone, and sometimes they’ve been seen by everyone… who loathed them. Sometimes they’ve simply been forgotten. But in any case, Missing Reels argues that they deserve to be seen and admired by more people.

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When most moviegoers hear the name Peter Jackson, they think of a sprawling fantasy adventure like he delivered with “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. However, Jackson got his start with low budget works, first with the independently made horror comedy “Bad Taste” (1987) and then with the deeply profane Muppets send-up “Meet the Feebles” (1989). While popular in New Zealand, these were mainly cult films for international audiences who had to purposefully seek out these quirky and raunchy examples of genre by the then-little known Kiwi auteur. His first real brush with international acclaim came with “Dead Alive” in 1992 (also known as “Braindead”), which was a gory zombie flick that included some of the most gruesome, outlandish and hilarious effects seen on film since Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2.” Gorehounds and horror fiends had found a new sensation with Jackson and reveled in the madness he was bringing to their screens and VHS rental stores.

The filmmaker really broke out internationally with “Heavenly Creatures,” his poetic tale of magical realism that centered on the dangerous romance between two (ultimately) murderous teen girls played by a young Kate Winslet and a young Melanie Lynskey. The film garnered acclaim outside of the genre crowd and proved that Jackson was a versatile filmmaker capable not just of incredible sequences (usually involving gore) but also of truly understanding the emotional depths of his characters.

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Ha-Ha-Horror: Why Horror and Comedy Go Together So Well

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Laughing and screaming are not so different, when you think about it. Both are involuntary reactions to outside stimulus that betray the true emotion of a person. Yet when people talk about horror films, they rarely talk about the crucial element that comedy plays in crafting a successful scary movie. And while not every horror movie uses (or needs) comedy in its storytelling, especially those films that are more interested in cultivating an atmosphere of dread and doom, those that do tend to be crowd pleasers that deliver a more complete experience for the audience.

There’s always been a certain wicked sense of humor in horror, whether it’s the clever wordplay of Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft, the ironic morality tales of comics like “Tales from the Crypt,” or even Stephen King’s moments of levity in his gruesome tales of the macabre. And while many point to “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” as the watershed moment where comedy and horror collided, there are earlier examples in films like “Bride of Frankenstein” that have truly funny moments embedded within them. With the rise of a more cultivated viewership, filmmakers have gone on to inject more comedy into their horror fare. Part of this is a recognition of tired tropes and clichés, but part of it serves a real purpose in telling a scary story.

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