The Frightening (2002)
Film Review by Zakary McGaha
What you need to know going in: there’s a new kid at a weird high school, people start dying, and there are ghosts…sort of.
The Frightening, directed by David DeCoteau, is a mixed bag, to put it delicately. Still, it has a swath of charm that makes it memorable. With this whole “Films That Fell Through the Cracks” series, we want to focus on movies that aren’t viewed as classics by anyone’s standards, but, at the end of the day, prove a point most genre fans are well aware of: not every movie needs to be a fucking classic.
Some movies are mediocre when viewed separately, but if you add them all together, they create a genre of trash that imprints itself on your soul. The Frightening certainly fits in this category.
I was unfamiliar with David DeCoteau before stumbling upon The Frightening, but it has since come to my attention that he has a pretty strong cult following. His ‘Brotherhood’ films, which I haven’t seen, are said to contain a strong homoerotic pulse. The Frightening has the same pulse; it definitely fits into the sub-genre of homoerotic horror films, along with the infamous Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (I seriously love that one, by the way; always have).
Learning of this homoerotic through line in his work after watching the movie confirmed my suspicions about DeCoteau. He has a distinctive style and isn’t just one of the many directors of straight-to-video horror flicks who work on things without consistent vision. You’re probably thinking, “Come on, you’re just saying that to make yourself seem more observant.”
To that, I would say: No, once you watch The Frightening, you’ll realize it has that certain type of charm that indicates the people working behind the scenes had a passion for the genre they found themselves in.
Still, though, I can see why people wouldn’t like this flick. It fails miserably in a couple areas. First off, the deaths, save for one in which a cowboy-looking fella gets his face melted, are lame. They’re all laughable and fun, but tiresome at the same time.
Basically, a group of elite-ish type teens is running around dressed like burglars with the sole purpose of offing the “different” kids at the high school (there’s more to it than this, but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory). Needless to say, all of these kills come off as clumsy and stupid. Nothing scary to see here, folks! Just bumbling preppies trying to be FBI-like assassins.
Secondly, the dialogue is horrible, but this is to be expected in a lot of low budget horror. It wasn’t so bad that I felt compelled to write down notes of horrible word exchanges, however I’m unable to decide at this moment if it all adds to the film’s charm or detracts from it.
The last area of concern is the half-formed explanation or “mythology”, perhaps. It was fun in a Twilight Zone way, but it could have been handled better. It’s never a good sign when a character has to spend a long time explaining the “why” of supernatural occurrences.
Despite those things, The Frightening deserves a 3/5. It’s got problems, sure, but that it was a labor of love is apparent. It’s a gleefully bad genre film that’s never boring, continually hilarious…and its singular cool kill is pretty wicked. Not necessarily ultra-gory, but wicked.
If you’re like me, you’re a sucker for anything that mixes “school” culture and horror. This film delivers on that, although it could’ve been better. This is no Heathers, certainly, but it’s pretty good if you want to catch a brain-numbing flick before bedtime.
Zakary McGaha is a dog lover, film buff, and horror hound living in Tennessee. His horror-comedy novella Locker Arms is available from Kensington Gore Publishing. Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast is forthcoming from JournalStone/Bizarro Pulp Press.
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