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10/23/08

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Robert Englund, forever to be known as Freddy Krueger, spends a lot of time these days cameoing in low-budget horror films. (Two of which I've already reviewed: 2001 Maniacs and Hatchet) He was a obviously a huge influence on a lot of today's horror filmmakers, so they want to pay tribute by giving him a small part. The problem is, most of the time his role never equals much more than a, "hey, look it's Robert Englund... oh, he's dead." Here in Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer he finally gets a role to sink his teeth into, and the film is much better off for his ability to carry a horror film.

I probably would have eventually heard about this film, but I knew about it a few months ago thanks to a favorable review from one of my favorite blogs The Jaded Viewer. So I was looking forward to it when made its DVD premiere this month. Right away I was impressed by its production values. The film opens in jungle somewhere, with a huge cycloptic lizard man killing off a bunch of native villagers. The village and the people populating it looked completely unathentic, you could tell they'd set up this fake jungle somewhere completely un-jungle like. But the monster is what impressed me, in full daylight it looked very lifelike. We cut to Jack Brooks sitting in a hut, sharpening a machete, readying himself for battle.

The film then takes us back to Jack's childhood, where he's having a nice camping trip with his family, when suddenly some sort of hairy werewolf/sasquatch thing jumps out of the trees and eats his sister, mom and dad. Again the monster is well done and quite creepy. Young Jack runs off, the only survivor, a cool way to start the film. At this point I started to imagine this awesome movie that lay ahead. Jack Brooks, with a life long grudge against monsters, laying waste to all kinds of wicked looking monsters, brought effectively to life by these filmmmakers. Then I waited and waited and waited for something, anything cool to happen, and it took almost too long to remain a satisfying film.

We're introduced to Jack as an adult, and predictably he's a bit messed up, seeing how his family was slaughtered in front of him. Now he has a huge anger problem, the slightest thing will set him off and he'll end up knocking somebody out. A plumber by day, he attends night school, with his all-to-wrong-for-him girlfriend. That's where we meet Robert Englund, he's an eccentric science teacher. After class he invites Jack by to look at his pipes, where he accidentally un-buries a rotting-box of pure evil. Which eventually takes over Englund's body and changes him into a huge tentacled beast, who brain-fucks people into zombies. This doesn't happen until we're about an hour into the film, but the monster is such a deliciously nasty treat for the eyeballs, that it nearly makes up for the wait.

It takes far too long for this film to get going. Thankfully most of the acting is decent and the screenplay is fairly interesting and consistently funny, so it kept me going while I was waiting for the monsters to reappear. But this isn't what I was expecting from a film called
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer - I was expecting monsters and slaying, not an intimate portrayal of Jack Brooks' anger issues. A lesser film, I might have lost patience with and fast-forwarded to the end. It's a testament to first time feature director Jack Knautz that he keeps the film moving without a whole lot of monsters. He gets a great performance out of Englund and it's fun to watch him turn from the unassuming professor into a soul-sucking demon. They wring quite a few laughs out of him stumbling about, becoming increasingly grotesque and even eating his own dog.

Hopefully the film proves to be a money-maker. Because I'd love to see a sequel, provided it has the same director, where Jack Brooks really gets to lay into a whole variety of monsters. He's the closest thing we've seen to Ash from The Evil Dead in the twenty years since those film, and believe me, a whole horde of films have tried. Trevor Matthews plays Jack Brooks with a ton of energy, constantly tossing himself about with no concern for injury, he has a true knack for physical acting. He doesn't quite have the charisma of a young Bruce Campbell, the one-liners don't fly off his tongue with a golden touch, but he's not a slouch either. Give him a few more movies and he might prove himself a cult hero.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
is an almost film, it's almost awesomely cheesy, almost perfectly crafted. It's very nicely photographed and edited, most of the acting is good for a low-budget horror film, with the in-camera creature effects being a huge plus. If they'd spruced up the first 45 minutes with another monster or two, something for Brooks to warm up to the final baddie with, instead of him jumping right into it, while also making it more entertaining for the viewer, it would have been nearly a perfect horror-comedy. But as it is, it's a great try. I look forward to whatever Trevor Matthews and Jon Knautz get up to next. - Grade: B

2 Responses to Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer:

  1. I'm watching JB:MS this weekend. I've heard nothing but positive things about it. Great review. It makes me want to see the film more now.

  1. I still can't get over the scene where Robert England just eats chicken wings in front of the class. This isn't your mom's Freddy Kreuger. Hopefully they'll make a sequel.

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