The Bad Movie Report

Jack Frost

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It doesn't take a genius to notice that, for the most part, my reviews are of movies that are not, shall we say, of recent vintage. Past the first two reviews, for Bordello of Blood and From Dusk 'Till Dawn, respectively, I've hewn pretty much to the 50's through 70's... the last review, Eliminators, struck closest to Our Modern Age. There is a reason for this: I don't have much patience with the modern Bad Movie. We'll get into why later. Suffice to say that, one day late last year, as I browsed through my local video rental spot, I saw upon the shelf not only today's subject, but also Leprechaun 4: In Space, and became firmly convinced of the Decline of Western Civilization.

I have since seen about 20 minutes of Leprechaun 4 on HBO (20 minutes of any Leprechaun movie is my limit*), which did not serve to elevate my expectations of imminent doom. But I am pleased to report that, although cut from largely the same cloth, Jack Frost is not a totally odious experience.

The first indication that you might be in for an enjoyable ride is the credit sequence: all credits are inscribed on the side of Christmas tree ornaments. This is well-done, but slower than your standard credit scroll, so the time is filled by an off-camera uncle telling his equally off-camera brat niece (who sounds like Gilda Radner doing her little girl character... God, I miss her) a "happy scary story" about a cannibalistic killer named Jack Frost, who was caught by a brave sheriff, and who is going to be executed that very night. The niece is thoroughly traumatized, and serves her right.

Jack (Scott MacDonald) is to be executed at midnight, and is being transported via the "State Executional Transfer Vehicle", as it proclaimed by large letters on the side. That's right, apparently Death Row is outsourcing its executions. The van travels through the small town of Snowmonton, the "Snow Man Capitol of the World", which, oddly enough, is the very town in which Frost was captured. It is also, oddly enough, the road on which a truck carrying a vat of experimental acid is traveling. The two vehicles collide, Jack escapes, and ODDLY ENOUGH, gets doused with the acid.

"Gimme some sugar, baby!"Trouble is, this experimental acid, while totally dissolving the bush league Hannibal Lector, also binds his DNA to the surrounding snow, allowing Jack to be resurrected as a, yes, you guessed it, PSYCHO SNOWMAN, capable of melting himself into water to creep under doorways and then re-freezing himself into a variety of forms (such as when the local teen hottie finds herself in a bathtub full of Jack Frost, which then solidifies around her). Since he made the mandatory threat of vengeance to his arresting sheriff (Chris Allport), Jack then goes about killing everybody but the sheriff.

"Go ahead... make my hair appointment!"Events are complicated by the arrival of two "FBI agents", Manners (Stephen Mandell) and Stone (Rob LaBelle), who are actually CIA or some damned thing, and who know what is really going on. Trouble is, the town is now snowed in, Manners' private army can't get in, Jack is seemingly indestructible, and the scientific Stone is taking the requisite "We must study him!" tack. Using blow dryers, the townsfolk force Jack into a blast furnace, which only turns him to steam, which then condenses back into a snowman. It isn't until Jack's kryptonite ...anti-freeze... is found that the surviving townsfolk can relax (and there were apparently, only twelve or so to start with). The end.

Sound simplistic? Sound like a dozen other films you've seen recently? Are you surprised? I don't begrudge the time I spent watching Jack Frost ... it was much better than I expected it to be... but it has all the elements which I think mark the deterioration of the American Horror Movie, to wit:

Killer Witticisms. The bad guy must crack wise after each murder. Traceable, I think, back to Freddy - at least Jason and Michael Myers kept their damned mouths shut. The Leprechaun flicks, of course, thrive on this. Sadly, Jack must be given a failing grade on the quality of his quips, which mainly run to the tenor of "Don't eat the yellow snow!"

The best argument for central heating I've ever seen. Goofy Deaths. Again, we can trace this lineage back to the Nightmare flicks, but at least they tried to make the deaths somewhat horrifying, if outré. In Jack Frost, when an older woman remarks, apropos of nothing, that she always dreamed of "being the angel on top of the Christmas tree," we can lay odds that she will perish in some tree-related fashion. Goofy deaths seem to be the entire reason for the existence of the Leprechaun movies.


People are Idiots. I can forgive the whole transferring a prisoner to another place entirely to execute him concept - anyway, I hope that "State Executional Transfer Vehicle" is writer/director Michael Cooney's way of saying, "I had to set up the movie somehow." However, later, when the teen hottie and her boyfriend decide the perfect place to screw is the sheriff's house (and neither of them is related to the sheriff in any way, manner or form), all right-thinking Americans must go... "Huh? Wha-?" Just as I am still saying.

"Leave it to a dago to bring an axe to a snowball fight." Artificially Extended Suspense - If the sheriff must snatch a key ring from a growing puddle of Jack Frost, it will take him up to a full minute to screw up the courage to do so. Considering that, immediately afterward, the sheriff must use this same set of keys to release a guy from a jail cell before Jack can get him... well, the first sequence is superfluous; the second is more genuinely suspenseful, and that one could have been reasonably extended.

You actually don't see much Artificially Extended Suspense in the sort of movies I commonly review ...lately, that has been the territory of Big Budget Films, most notably Spielberg's Jurassic Park flicks, which have sequences drawn out beyond all reason (or patience, in my case).

No, Wait! He's Not Really Dead! Can't blame Freddy for this one - I'm afraid we have to blame John Carpenter and Halloween for the Chumbawamba bad guy ("I get knocked down, but I get up again"). It's like a folk remedy, really: all villains have to killed three times for the movie to end. And I also have terribly little patience with this hoary old chestnut: the closing shot to set up the sequel. Can we please.... please.... just have one friggin' movie where, when it's over, it's over? Just ONE! DO YOU HEAR ME, ROLAND EMMERICH????!!!!!

Or am I the only one that thinks when something is so commonplace, it is commonly parodied on comedy shows (so much so it isn't even funny anymore), it should be abandoned?

"These CIA guys are great, but an hour later, I'm hungry again!Jack Frost, looks pretty good, but it's strictly from poverty.... the hottie and beau shacking up at the sheriff's (rather than someplace more reasonable) was more a budget decision than anything else, I'd wager. Jack himself shows his sculpted styrofoam origins a little too much, and much of the "Gruesome" make-up is simply blood tossed around (I had no idea that facial lacerations were fatal), although the melting of the human Jack and the anti-freeze-damaged snowman were pretty cool. And for a town located "in the center of the snow bowl", there is a surprising lack of snow in most scenes....

Even with falling into all these traps, Jack Frost is, as I've said, much better than I expected. This is due largely to Cooney's humor. A lot of scenes have an unexpected visual or spoken tag, a device used to much better effect in Fred Dekker's excellent (and recommended) Night of the Creeps. Cooney uses the device sparingly enough, and where it's needed, so he gets an extra half-Tor for his trouble. Chris Allport makes a good, likable, not-too-heroic hero. And if you look carefully in the end credits, you'll see little quotes that give you a glimpse into the making of Jack Frost: "It's page sixty and not a single morph!" "All credit cards supplied by the director" and the very telling "Maybe it'll snow tomorrow."

I seem to recall seeing an interview with Michael Keaton in the last few months, saying he was making a movie called Jack Frost, about one of those soulless business types who has a car crash and wakes up as a snowman, doubtless to learn some sort of lesson. Keaton's next comment, "...and then he kills an entire town!" indicates he knows of the existence of this Jack Frost.

Lawsuit, anyone?



At least it wasn't Leprechaun.

- June 28, 1998