Horror movies are notorious for many reasons other than the fact that people seem to enjoy a good scare now and then. For many first-time directors [see: Sam Raimi, John Carpenter], horror is attractive because fans are willing to buy into low-budget movies if they’re suitably original and/or smart, and/or fun. In the case of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, two of the three apply.
Somewhere between Raimi and Joss Whedon, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is a movie that has genuine with and more than a little gore – both components being sought after by horror aficionados. The film is a kind of origin story, telling of how Jack’s family was killed by a forest troll – leaving him prone to bouts of explosive anger.
Jack [Trevor Matthews] is a plumber who’s competent but not brilliant at his job and is taking a night course in chemistry to please his annoyingly strident girlfriend, Eve [Birds of Prey star Rachel Skarsten]. The problems begin when the class’ teacher, Professor Gordon Crowley [Robert Englund] asks him to fix the plumbing in his creepy old house at the top of an ominous hill. A weird smoke drifts into the home and possesses Crowley and before long, he’s ingested a demon’s heart – and not by choice!
One of the things that make Jack Brooks fun is the way it plays against convention. For example, in most genre movies, the audience wants the hero to get together with the girl. Here, we want him to bounce the squeaky shrew into the next town! Another is the kind of broad comedy we get from Englund’s Crowley. He doesn’t usually get to do this kind of shtick and he does it very well.
Most of the effects are practical – with the exception of enhancing the weird smoke that gets Crowley, the computer was used only to paint out wires and stunt mats. The result is some extremely fun “mutants;” one of the best Cyclops since Harryhausen [only here, it’s a man in a rubber suit], and some hentai-like tentacles. Of course, there’s also a big rubber demon that is more funny than scary [since it’s pretty much immobile], but the mix definitely gives Jack Brooks the kind of horror/comedy play that has elevated Raimi and Whedon to stardom.
Director and co-writer Jon Knautz keeps the pacing up and isn’t afraid to go for delicious moments of pure camp as well some genuine chills. First-time actor [and co-producer] Trevor Matthews seems to be having a lot of fun as the calmness-challenged Jack, who finally finds a way to put his temper to good use, while Skarsten is fine as the shrill, obnoxious Eve. The script is pretty tight, there are some clever uses of characters like the star student, Janice [Stefanie Drummond] but, is it just me, or are there a lot of star students named Janice?
As one might expect from an Anchor Bay DVD, there a lot of features here, too: Audio commentary by Knautz, Matthews, Producer Patrick white and Composer Ryan shore; Behind the Scenes – a fifty-minute making of featurette; Creating the Monsters; Creating the Music; World Premiere: Sitges, Spain; Five Deleted Scenes; Storyboard Comparisons; Conceptual Art Gallery; On Set Still Gallery and the Theatrical Trailer.
Grade: Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer – B
Grade: Features – A
Final Grade: B+