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''The Frighteners'' has plenty of scare but no blood

Director Peter Jackson uses lots of special effects

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No seas of blood. No hills of guts.

Peter Jackson went out of his way to make The Frighteners a goreless PG-13, but the ratings board found the film so popcorn-flying scary, it gave it an R anyway. The problem? The effects really are special. ”My natural tendency is to want to deliver the goods,” says the director who made clay figurines creepy in 1994’s Heavenly Creatures and turned an overbearing mom into a house-size zombie for 1992’s Dead Alive. ”To suspend people’s disbelief, you want a lot of effects.”

A lot. The Frighteners‘ central villain, the Grim Reaper, is a scythe-wielding ghost, an otherworldly computer graphic (CG) that can ripple floors. In all, the film uses 570 CG shots (more than Independence Day), and rather than get his magic at George Lucas’ shop or James Cameron’s, Jackson did it himself, in New Zealand, making the first CG movie produced entirely outside Hollywood. ”He’s a guy in a little filmmaking commune in Wellington,” says star Michael J. Fox, ”inventing as he goes along.”

Jackson always worked in-house. As a boy, he turned his mother’s fur hat into a Super-8 monster after seeing King Kong. Next came cardboard spaceships and latex puppets. When Terminator 2 introduced morphing, Jackson and partner Fran Walsh wrote the effect into Heavenly Creatures. ”I didn’t want to be left behind,” he says. ”We’ve always been a do-it-yourself country.”

It took 35 machines and 50 people to produce The Frighteners‘ shots — for more than $17,000 per, about one quarter the prices Jackson was quoted by U.S. effects houses. When Universal Studios brass finally screened footage, they advanced the movie’s release from Halloween (Jackson’s 35th birthday) to a prime summer slot. And they signed up the director for his next challenge: a remake of King Kong, due in 1998. Mothers, hold on to your hats.

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