A 1996 horror/comedy film from Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) and King Kong (2005).Michael J. Fox is Frank Bannister, a fraudulent freelance exorcist who's not quite as fraudulent as he appears. Having acquired the ability to see and communicate with the dead after a tragic car accident that killed his wife years ago, Frank sends his three ghostly accomplices—white n' nerdy Stuart (Jim Fyfe), black swinger Cyrus (Chi McBride) and cowboy corpse The Judge (John Astin)—to wreak paranormal havoc in the homes of wealthy clients-to-be. These people call Frank, he shows up to perform a phony exorcism, then leaves with the cash. He's the world's greatest con man...until dozens of perfectly healthy people in his hometown of Fairwater, California start dropping dead from cardiac arrest—the very same people who suddenly acquired numbered tattoos on their foreheads that only Frank can see.Soon after one of these victims, Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson), becomes a ghost and pleads Frank to help him find his way toward The Light, Frank and his undead buddies discover the cause of the phenomenon: A malicious spirit in the form of The Grim Reaper (scythe and all) has gone on a mad killing spree, literally squeezing the life from his victims' hearts. And not only that, it appears he has the ability to even kill ghosts by forcing them to move on to the next world. Frank and Dr. Lucy Lynskey (Trini Alvarado), Ray's widow, hatch a radical plan to put an end to the murders, but along the way, they must deal with Milton Dammers (Jeffrey Combs), a maniacal FBI agent (basically a cross between Mulder and Hitler) who believes that Frank is psychically killing the murder victims, and will go to Hell and back to see him brought to justice.John Astin is the adoptive father of Sean Astin, who would go on to play Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings. According to Sean, it was John who persuaded him to take the role because he (John) had enjoyed working with Jackson so much.
Arbitrary Skepticism: The rich lady who is Frank's second attempted on-screen con. Despite having witnessed, firsthand and not ten minutes before, things flying through the air (including her children) with no explanation, she immediately disbelieves the moment she sees a newspaper headline calling Frank a fraud.
Asshole Victim: Magda Rees-Jones, the editor-in-chief of the Fairwater Gazette who seems to have it out for Frank. If she hadn't been so eager to believe the absolute worst of him (and to get shrill and aggressive about it), she might have survived. Well, at least a little longer. Her desire to be a bitch is such that even as she realizes she's dead and is ascending to the next plane, all she wants to do is scream at him.
Magda: (to Frank, as she's pulled into the light) Is this how you get your kicks? Bannister, did it feel good killing your wife? You're a MUUUUURRRRDDDEEEERRRRRR!!!!
Big Bad Ensemble: There's The Grim Reaper (later revealed to be Johnny Bartlett) and his Dragon, Patricia, and Agent Dammers, who don't really work alongside each other but equally play a frustrating part in Frank and Lucy's lives.
Body Horror: Happens to ghosts the longer they stay on the physical plane. Ray had only been dead a day or so before his skin started to decay. The Judge has been a ghost so long, his ghostly body is literally falling apart and he's gone slightly insane; it's generally played for laughs.
Brick Joke: Cyrus complains about not being able to get new clothes or a cigar. In Heaven, he's seen with a cigar and a new suit.
California Doubling: Inverted. While set in California, it was filmed in the port town of Lyttelton, New Zealand, a suburb of Christchurch. Frank, Lucy and Ray (as a ghost) dine at the Sign of the Takehe, a nearby manor house that, in real life, had been converted into a restaurant.
Drives Like Crazy: Frank, when he tries to save a newspaper editor from becoming the ghostly reaper's next victim, which only makes him look crazy to the editor who already hated him for his reputation as a fraud.
He does pretty badly every time he drives. He takes his eyes off the road to paw at his business cards and nearly hits a funeral procession, and when he chases the Grim Reaper, he drives so badly that even the Judge (who is already dead) looks freaked out. And of course, he had a fight with his wife while driving that ended with a crash and him getting Psychic Powers (although it was Bartlett and Patty who killed his wife).
Frank Bannister's very first scene is walking into someone's funeral and advertising his business.
Milton Dammers' first scene showcases most of his eccentricities (difficulties around women, mostly), as well as his staunch belief that Frank is a murderer.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Johnny Bartlett and Patricia, surprisingly. Johnny even goes to save her when her soul is pulled out of her body by Frank near the end. Doesn't make either any less twisted or insane, though.
Evil Slinks: The Reaper, even once revealed to be Johnny, is humanoid most of the time, but can go all gooey and seep through cracks and crevasses.
Flatline Plotline: Frank enlists Lucy in entering the ghost world with the aid of drugs and cryogenics to stop his heart.
Foreshadowing: The hospital massacre mentioned in the first part of the film brings up that Johnny Bartlett counted the victims he and Patricia killed.
Freeze-Frame Bonus: The cereal Frank is eating when discussing Stuart and Cyrus' grievances is, appropriately enough, Boo-Berry.
You briefly get a glimpse at the Grim Reaper's face when he charges through Frank's car. Attentive viewers will also notice that the eyes resemble the true identity of the Reaper: Johnny Bartlett.
Heroic BSOD: Frank goes through a major example of this halfway through the movie, to the point where he momentarily stops believing in his abilities (which makes them stop working). In his backstory, it's revealed he went through this after his wife died, with the end result of gaining his abilities in the first place.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Ray. He might be a vain, chauvinistic and obnoxious boor, but it's shown several times that he does actually care about Lucy even if he does likely care about himself more.
Frank himself, given that he's a con man and he bullies the ghosts who help him out with his business. The director's cut makes him out to be more of a jerk, a notable example being that he drives into the middle of a funeral procession so he can get to his next house call quicker. The Judge even calls him out on it.
Karmic Death: Dammers, who had been hounding Frank throughout the film, gets his headblown off by Patricia. The best part of it is his ghost instantly appears, head sticking out of the stump of the corpse's neck with a very surprised expression on his face.
Bartlett and Patricia meet a gruesome "end" when they take the express bus to Hell.
Mood Whiplash: To so great an extent that it comes off like two movies spliced together. There's a clear point in the movie where the whole thing shifts to a darker tone, but rolls with it into pitch-black humor.
Plot Hole: The first scene of the film where Patricia is being harmed by a ghost clashes a little with what we see later on regarding her relationship with them: she and the ghost work with, and love, each other. The Director's Cut of the film explains this by revealing that Bartlett and Patricia would play roleplay games like this shortly before making love.
Police Are Useless: Against ghosts. Much to Sheriff Perry's exasperation, this leads to them needing the no-less-useless-but-completely-unhinged liaison form the FBI to step in.
Psychic Powers: Frank gains them as a result of his tragic accident, though Dammers seems convinced that Frank also has the ability to stop people's hearts with his mind.
Psycho for Hire: Dammers once worked as a undercover agent. The director's cut delves a little more into this.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Sheriff Perry. Though obviously befuddled by dealing with a serial killer he can't fight, he knows Frank is a good man who knows his stuff, often allows Frank to do what he must and is highly resistant to Dammers' attempts to pile everything on him.
Trauma-Induced Amnesia: After his wife's death, Frank was found wandering around in the woods with no memory of what happened.
What Happened to the Mouse?: We see Cyrus and Stuart in the afterlife, but we never see the Judge after the museum or Rusty the Dog after his intro. They had scenes later in the cemetery, and the end originally featured the Judge's upper-body riding Rusty and heading west into the sunset, but they were deleted from the movie.
What the Hell, Hero?: In the director's cut, The Judge gives Frank one of these after Frank cuts into a funeral procession.
I thought you had some character, son! Right now, you're not showing me a whole lot!