James A. Woods
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Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2007)
3rd Oct 08
Jack Brooks has anger management issues. Jack Brooks deals with his anger management issues by slaying monsters.
Great feature debuts in the horror genre can often lead to bigger and better things. Look at Peter Jackson. Look at Sam Raimi. In Tobe Hooper's case, post-Leatherface success simply wasn't meant to be. Canadian director Jon Knautz is still a relatively young guy. Having learned his trade making short horror films, he then formed an alliance with producer/actor Trevor Matthews to hack and slice his way into full-length territory with Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, which I unfortunately missed at this year's Frightfest due to my feeling somewhat exhausted. Having finally caught up with this little gem only last night, I couldn't help but feel like I was sitting in a packed theatre in Leicester Square, laughing my ass off with hundreds of other like-minded people.
Jack Brooks has anger management problems. When he was a young lad, he watched his parents being ripped apart by a troll-type monster in the woods. Having blacked this memory out as an adult, he works as a plumber and tries to curb his short temper by attending Prof. Crowley's (Robert Englund) night class in science with his nagging girlfriend, Eve. When he visits Prof Crowley's house to mend his dodgy pipes, he inadvertently awakens a presence buried in the back yard, and a noxious gas is released which possesses the good doctor into a black eyed stumbling fool, who begins digging in the garden. Upon finding a large crate, he exhumes and opens it (in a scene reminiscent of Creepshow’s ‘The Crate’ segment), discovering the remains of a human being, and a beating black heart which enthusiastically jumps down his throat. This is when things get really interesting.
Slowly transforming into an otherworldly monster, the expanding Prof stuffs his face with any meat he can find, clearly having trouble in communicating with normal folk, which makes him a laughing stock when he continues to teach his science class (it was around this point that I started laughing uncontrollably). After he feasts on his terrified dog, the Prof somehow manages to make it to the college for another night of unorthodox tuition (with added vomitus), which is when he fully transforms into an even more grotesque (but quite funny looking) Jabba-style monster, complete with fat, roaming tentacles which chase and grab most of his fleeing students, in preparation to be turned into rabid mutants. It's up to a certain ill-tempered plumber to save the day. And kick some serious mutant ass.
Clearly inspired, above all else it seems, by The Evil Dead series, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer nevertheless retains enough originality and drive to stand well on its own as a modern day monster movie. It grabs you by the balls from the get-go, before introducing a great set of characters; Trevor Matthews as Jack is a totally likeable hero, his temper tantrums becoming increasingly erratic and entertaining, while his sheer physicality fits the demands of the role perfectly. David Fox excels in the role of Howard, the slumberous octogenarian hardware shop attendant - surely one of the real highlights of the movie. While he has only two scenes, he provides the back story about the black heart buried in the garden, and how he had to kill his uncle when he got to the dog-feasting stage all them years ago. He really does the whole "You don't want to go messin' around that old place..." line to absolute perfection, and I still smile when I think about his bones creaking when he gets out of that chair. The award for slapstick comedy however goes to horror legend Robert Englund as Prof Crowley. His delivery and comic timing had me laughing out loud, particularly in those classroom scenes; you really can't fail to be impressed at how much physical endurance the 60-year-old icon put himself through for the role. Kudos to Freddie.
The rest of the cast can't really be faulted, and the same goes for the monsters themselves. Special effects maestro David Scott and his team crafted a series of prosthetic creatures, constructed using only traditional foam latex techniques at director Jon Knautz's request. The detail and movement capabilities are knockout stuff, each creature in the movie having very much its own identity, ranging from the mutant students to the 'Prof monster', which, quite frankly, looks a bit ridiculous. But it's all great fun, and I for one would much prefer to see a silly but very real monster over a CGI one any day. Also look out for a light-hearted variation on that fire extinguisher scene from Irreversible, when Jack pummels a mutant’s head to pieces, a tad less disturbing than its French counterpart.
One of the most endearing qualities of Jack Brooks is that it is clearly made with genuine love and enthusiasm for the horror genre, the general tone reminding me a little of Slither. With a deliciously snappy B-movie running time of 85 minutes, it knows exactly what it is, never taking itself too seriously, a bit like its main influence, The Evil Dead. We’re more than accustomed to genre movies which although made with real heart, fall short of the mark on so many levels, but this one has certain elements in place, from witty dialogue and great performances, to excellent production values, which make it stand out as a real, 100% proof monster treat.
The DVD comes with a plethora of extras, including a 40 minute 'Making of', commentary, plus loads of other goodies. Buy this DVD now.