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Jeffrey Combs in The Frighteners is the Weirdest, Best Thing

Peter Jackson's The Frighteners is a modern horror classic featuring an unhinged performance by Jeffrey Combs as Milton Dammers. Let us appreciate the MVP role. 

By Tara Bennett

Back in 1996 before director Peter Jackson became "The Lord of the Rings' Peter Jackson," he made a scrappy horror/comedy/thriller, The Frighteners. Michael J. Fox stars as a Frank Bannister, a widower who has grown nihilistic in his grief, and uses his newly gained ability to see ghosts as a way to grift money out of the unsuspecting.

It's a dark and weird movie featuring over-the-top ghost performances that hold their own playing against a much darker Fox performance. As that's a wealth of charisma already filling the screen, it takes a memorable antagonist to make an impression, which actor Jeffrey Combs does as the deeply disturbing FBI Agent Milton Dammers. Standing out in this film full of great actors is a true feat, but Combs channels his creepy persona with zest. 

RELATED: Don’t Sleep On Peter Jackson's The Frighteners This Horror Season

Who is actor Jeffrey Combs?


If you're a horror or sci-fi fan, Jeffrey Comb's face is likely a familiar one to you. Before The Frighteners, Combs was best known for his big portrayal of Herbert West in Re-Animator (1985) and its two sequels. The un-cut version of the film put the film and Combs on the horror radar of many, including Peter Jackson. When the director saw the actor's unhinged and borderline psychotic take on West, he knew that Combs could bring that same unsettling energy to Milton Dammers in his non-traditional horror film. 

Combs is also a very familiar face for Star Trek fans as he played nine different roles across Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise and most recently, a voice-role in Star Trek: Lower Decks. Other non Trek voice roles include Victor Falco/Rat King in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ratchet in Transformers: Prime and Scarecrow in The New Batman Adventures.

Who is FBI Agent Milton Dammers in The Frighteners?

Due to the blending of the paranormal realms with normal human existence in The Frighteners, there are essentially two main antagonists in the movie. In the ghost realm, it's serial killer Johnny Bartlett (Jake Busey) who doesn't let death stop his murderous inclinations, and in the mortal coil, there's FBI Agent Milton Dammers. 

Twisted due to his years of working undercover infiltrating cultists movements, Dammers isn't working with a full deck anymore. He's certain that Frank Bannister is behind the deaths that are actually the work of Bartlett's Grim Reaper ghost. Yet, he fixates on chasing Frank, which hinders the actual discovery of Bartlett's afterlife activities. 

Why Dammers is the guy you love to hate

The better the conflict, the better the story. And FBI Agent Milton Dammers — the self-confessed "a-hole with an Uzi" — relishes making Frank's already frazzled life more complicated. Is it out of jealousy? There's definitely shades of that. But it's more likely that Dammer's years of mutilation and torture at the hands of the cult groups that he infiltrated has skewed his morality, clarity and ability to actually investigate without bias. 

RELATED: Chosen One of the Day: Patty from The Frighteners and her cool af green dress

Combs also adds layers of curiosity to Dammers. He's got that deathly pale, greasy look that immediately makes you want to walk to the opposite side of the street he's on. He absolutely crumbles when any woman yells at him, which makes him a walking case study you do, and don't, want to know out more about. And then he's just a hot mess of ritualistic scarification, evil tattoos and brands that he says created a path from pain to mental acuity (that is actually just wishful thinking). 

In the end, Combs turns Dammers into a tragic figure that in another actor's hands could have been entirely throwaway. Instead, he ends up being the victim of his own job dedication which gets him dead in the end. He's stuck in the afterlife watching Frank and Lucy (Trini Alvarado) continue to live and thrive, envious even after death. Yet, we're still thinking about him almost 30-years later. 

For Halloween, see the weirdness of Dammers for yourself by streaming The Frighteners on Peacock right now.