JULY 31, 2008
I’ve been hearing about Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer for a while now, usually comparing it to Evil Dead, due to the blend of humor and horror, and the badass hero. But what the reviews don’t often mention is that the film is also a bit on the slow side, with the monster action mainly kept to the final 30 minutes. Still, it’s definitely worth a look, and I found myself unexpectedly identifying with Jack.
For starters, he’s got a bad temper. My favorite part of the movie has nothing to do with monsters; it’s simply Jack telling his shrink a story about how he got mad at his toaster and beat the holy bejesus out of it. As someone who has destroyed many an inanimate object for no real reason (I recall smashing a remote to pieces a few years ago for failing to pause the film when I hit the pause button), I definitely identified with this story. I only wish there was a scene of Jack playing Halo or something... his response to a total BS Spartan laser kill would be legendary.
Also, he’s a plumber, and when the movie (finally) has him spring into action, he uses his plumber tools instead of more traditional weapons. This reminded me of the character of Drapeman that I invented back when I hung drapes for a living. Drapeman used a curtain rod, a drill, and a spring-loaded device that would shoot drape pins at the enemy. I dressed as him for Halloween one year (best reaction: “Hey, that guy’s a curtain!”). Good times.
But enough TMI stories about me, let’s talk about the movie. Like I said, it takes a while to get to the monster stuff, which is a bit of a bummer. If folks are going to compare it to Evil Dead, then I’m going to expect a nonstop ride. No, the pace of this film is more like Slither, where there’s a long buildup and then a nonstop, ridiculous finale (the finale is actually very similar to Slither’s, as it features a giant blob, formerly one of the film’s characters, devouring people that are attached to its tendrils). And while I was relieved to see that Jack doesn’t spout off one-liners every other second, some of the attempts at comedy don’t quite work. One example is his girlfriend, played by the blonde from Birds of Prey (which just came out on DVD for some reason – that show was on like 5 years ago!). She’s whiny and needy, and basically annoying. Seeing Jack try to keep his cool around her isn’t quite as funny as it’s supposed to be – essentially, we’re laughing because he’s not smacking his girlfriend around? Haha? Plus her character is sort of tossed out of the movie unceremoniously (not even killed), which just makes her feel even more pointless.
Otherwise, this is solid stuff. The makeup effects are astounding for what is obviously a low budget film, and they are shown off quite nicely (as opposed to the sort of quick glimpse shit you get in some other indies). There are a variety of monsters, and while it’s not as gory as you might expect, everything looks top notch. That’s probably due to the fact that they didn’t use any goddamn CGI for the monsters. Every single one of them is a real world creation; be it animatronic, a guy in a rubber/foam suit, or puppet. Rock on!
The cast is also above average. With the exception of Robert Englund (having fun playing a goofy professor who becomes a slapstick-prone zombie thing), they’re all pretty much unknowns, but there isn’t a weak link among them. Trevor Matthews (who also produced) is quite good as the title character, and possesses that inherent charm that makes him fun to watch even when not much is really going on action-wise. You’ll wish the script allowed him to kick some ass earlier in the film. I should note that he and a couple of the other actors have Canadian accents that surface at random (“Get Oat!”), kind of funny.
Strangely, like yesterday’s movie, sodium figures into the plot. It’s introduced as a science experiment (“sodium will react violently to moisture”), which of course becomes important information later on in the plot. It’s a bit shoehorned, but at least it’s not like Horror At Party Beach, where they specifically say that sodium can kill the monsters and then don’t bother doing anything about it for another hour or so.
The DVD is pretty jam-packed, which is good as Anchor Bay has been rather skimpy lately with their smaller titles. There’s a commentary that’s the expected mixture of good natured ribbing among the participants and genuine info, but also a making of that’s damn near as long as the film itself. Plus, a pair of featurettes (one about the makeup/monster creation, another about the score) that are pretty great. There’s also a brief look at the filmmakers attending the screening at the Sitges film festival, some image galleries, and storyboard comparisons. 15 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes are also available, but I would suggest skipping them; they were obviously cut for pace but they all drag on even when watching them on their own. The last one (with Englund going to a bar) is kind of amusing though.
Despite the pacing issues, this one is definitely a winner. On the extras, they admit that the film is intended to be the first of a franchise, so one can’t help but suspect that a sequel will have more monsters, more action, and (hopefully) more laughs, now that we know who Jack is and what he can do. But we’ll only get a sequel should this one find an audience, so definitely get on the bandwagon now.
What say you?