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.
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.
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
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!"
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.
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
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
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....
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.