I’m surprised I haven’t seen this one hyped up on the internet too much. You know how internet people love to be the one who discovered some small time independent movie, so they overdo it in praising the ones they like. At the same time they love their horror mixed with wackiness. Even today, if they read that Bruce Campbell is appearing in a movie, their first thought is that it will be a great movie. And they have seriously considered naming their first child Shaunofthedead. Also they enjoy the hyperbole. And I honestly don’t think it’s because they know they could get quoted on the DVD, I think it’s just their personality to say everything is the BEST. THING. EVER. (or more often worst, but that’s a different topic.)
Despite all that I haven’t heard much about JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER, and only knew of it because of the cover story in Fangoria that I didn’t read. From the wacky title and the guy-you’ve-never-heard-of-painted-up-to-look-awesome-like-it’s-BIG-TROUBLE-IN-LITTLE-CHINA-or-something cover this seems like a movie I shouldn’t bother watching, but on a whim I did. I think it’s because I remembered a couple funny looking monster pictures in that Fangoria article. Didn’t read it, but I looked at the pictures.
I promise, this is not one of those overboard reviews. I’m not gonna claim this is some new cult classic or that the director will go on to huge things or the old “dude, I want collectable action figure dolls of these characters!” But I will tell you that I did enjoy this movie quote a bit and thought it was well put together.
The title character is a twenty-something plumber. Not a funny plumber with his ass crack showing but just a guy working his way through college night classes. He kind of reminds me of young Jim Van Bebber, although not as heavy metal and without nunchakas. The movie would not work if he was some dumb ass, but Trevor Matthews (also co-writer and producer) gives a likable performance, not trying too hard to be tough or funny.
Jack is introduced while talking to his therapist about how he’s doing well with his anger management problem and hasn’t had any blowups lately. When the therapist asks about the bandages on his hand he tries to play down the story of the fight that caused it, but as he’s recounting the story he completely flips the fuck out, curses the therapist out and storms off (not for the last time in the movie). For me I think the scene was kind of teetering on the edge, it was kind of working great and kind of not quite working. I wasn’t sure if I liked this character. But when just before leaving he recommended the egg rolls from the place where he got in the fight he won me over.
So he’s an angry young man, and we know why: a prologue shows us that the rest of his family was eaten by some sort of wildman monster while they were camping. This scene is the first sign that the movie is gonna be pretty good. The monster is apparently called a “forest troll” but he looks more like some kind of hairy savage, and the way he leaps out of the bushes and eats those people like he’s in a pie-eating contest you know the movie means business.
Robert Englund plays the eccentric teacher of Jack’s night time science class. This could be like a million horror movie cameos the poor guy has done since hanging up the Freddy glove. He had cameos in both of the neo-retro slasher movies I always use as examples of bad horror movies hyped up as classics by my internet colleagues. In this one he actually gets a major role where he gets to do a real performance. When Jack comes over to his house to help him with a plumbing problem they accidentally unleash the evil forces of a demonic heart buried next to some of the pipes. England becomes possessed, eats a dead (but still beating) heart, stumbles into class, pukes on the chalkboard and smears it around with his elbow.
The story is simple and the movie’s only about 80 minutes, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. And the best news is that it’s not as comedy-oriented as the name and cover might indicate. It knows it’s goofy but figures it might as well play it straight anyway. The action scenes are clear and often involve people being punched across rooms or being dragged at high speeds by tentacles. If none of this matters to you I hope I can at least appeal to your need for monsters. This has a couple real cool monsters done with traditional rubber effects. The forest troll is my favorite, but I also have to hand it to the creature Englund turns into, a huge, fat cross between Jabba the Hutt, something from THE THING, and that stop motion marionette of Freddy from part 3. The head absolutely looks like a cartoon, but has a weird resemblance of Englund’s actual facial features.
I noticed they say “sore-y” alot instead of “sorry,” so they must be Canadians, but they seem fairly hip. Not as hip as Cronenberg but hipper than Degrassi Junior High.
JACK BROOKS is a surprisingly enjoyable one that leaves you open to the idea of further Jack Brooks adventures.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.