Jack Brooks: Monster SlayerReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/31/08 02:59:00
SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: Someday, I'd like to run a controlled experiment with a movie like "Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer". Group A, the control group, sees it more or less cold. Group B sees with the filmmakers in attendance, talking about how they love horror movies, especially from the eighties, so this was a labor of love, working with Robert Englund was awesome, and talks up how they did as much as they could with practical effects rather than CGI. Group C also sees it with the filmmakers in attendance, but they talk about how they really want to make classier stuff, but a kitschy horror movie is a relatively cheap way to make a film that will likely get some sort of distribution on video in part because of a B-movie star with name recognition. Oh, and they used CGI for everything, but because of their budget it wound up just looking like crappy-ass puppets. All three see the same movie, but which group do you think rates it highest and lowest?We can guess at the answer based on human nature. The point of this thought experiment is not that Jack Brooks, Monster Slayer is a bad movie and the people who say they like it are horror fanatics who want to like it because the filmmakers have sold it as coming from like-minded fans, and they're being taken for a ride. That's not the case at all - Jack Brooks isn't a bad movie, and I don't think there's anything less than genuine about the enthusiasm that went into it. It's that even more than most films, what the audience gets from the likes of this is what they bring to it.
What's the film itself bring? Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews), who as a kid saw his family killed by some sort of bigfoot troll. Now he's got major anger management issues - the kind that make his shrink (Daniel Kash) reluctant to see him - and a girlfriend, Eve (Rachel Skarsten) that really doesn't seem compatible with a low tolerance for aggravation. He and she are taking night classes at the local high school, including a science class taught by Professor Crowley (Robert Englund). One night Jack goes out to Crowley's secluded home to do some work on the pipes, which are filled with something nasty - something nasty which soon possesses Crowley.
Jack Brooks is a blue-collar monster movie; it's set and shot in a small town that looks well-lived in, and most of the action does appear to be accomplished with in-camera practical effects rather than digital imagery. Director Jon Knautz (one of four co-writers, including star Matthews) handles the action scenes pretty well, with the characters scrapping rather than seeming part of a slick, choreographed fight. A couple scenes have a lot of laughs, such as the one where the hardware store owner slips into ominous exposition mode. Jack himself is kind of blunt and crude, but will probably get the job done when push comes to shove. There's something very enjoyable about its lack of pretension; it's just a guy fighting this monster because monsters need fighting and there's no-one better than him for the job.
Unfortunately, the movie and character are not rough around the edges, but often just plain rough. There's really not much to Jack other than gruffness punctuated by violent outbursts, although Trevor Matthews does manage to do a pretty good job ingratiating the character with the audience anyway. Skarsten maybe makes her character too bitchy, and not really having a nice girl to balance her out except on the periphery doesn't turn out to be as refreshingly anti-cliché as the filmmakers may have hoped.
And then there's Robert Englund. On the one hand, there is something inherently fun about having the man behind Freddy Krueger play an exaggeratedly gregarious absent-minded professor at the start and then do a lot of gross slapstick later. Indeed, there's something about Englund's skinny but rubbery face that suggests he might be quite good at it. Unfortunately, I don't think director Jon Knautz is the guy to bring it out of him: It's a silly, scenery-chewing performance that would likely have made the audience cringe if we weren't familiar with his more sinister roles. What laughter comes is likely more from the idea of Englund in a goofy part, rather than the reality of it.In some ways, that's "Jack Brooks" in a nutshell - it's got a lot of good intentions, affection for the genre, and even a fair amount of talent, but all that doesn't quite add up to anything outstanding. It's a decent homage, kind of fun for fans, but doesn't bring a whole lot of its own to the table.
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