JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER

JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER

Jack (Trevor Matthews) is a plumber in his early 20s. By his own concession, he has major anger management issues. The reason for these is finely detailed in an early flashback wherein we see a young Jack witness the murder of his parents at the hands of a hungry woodlands troll.

As an adult, Jack divides his time between work, shouting sessions with his counsellor and evening classes with his girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten).

One evening after class his tutor Crowley (Robert Englund) asks Jack to pop round his home and check out his pipes. Jack duly does so and discovers there is a blockage in the draining system. He sets about fixing the problem but inadvertently causes more leaks - leading to a burst pip in Crowley's garden, which disturbs something beneath the soil.

Following Jack's apologetic departure, Crowley ventures into the garden to investigate further. He ends the night getting knocked out by a sinister gas emitting from the ground. When he wakes the next morning, Crowley has the urge to dig a hole in his garden. He unearths a large crate buried there.

Lugging the crate into his home, Crowley opens it and retrieves a human skeleton alongside a curious black heart, still beating. Within seconds the clumsy oaf has allowed the heart to leap into his mouth and it muscles it's way down his throat.

That evening Crowley attends class as usual but is far from normal. He freaks his students out with his unkempt appearance and a constant barrage of binge-eating, belching and vomiting. Worse still, when he returns home he discovers a strange tentacle growing out of his side. He attempts to shrug this off by hacking away at it with a pair of scissors.

Meanwhile elderly hardware clerk Howard (David Fox) tells Jack how Crowley's house has a bad history. He tells of how he grew up there himself, and witnessed his own uncle swallow a demon's black heart that had been recovered from the jungle. Howard confesses to slaying his uncle and burying him in a crate in the garden but believes the place is still cursed by the heart's presence. Jack refuses to believe such nonsense.

But Jack's eyes are well and truly opened the next time he attends class and witnesses Crowley's full transformation. Finally, amid his screaming classmates, Jack realises his destiny as a monster killer and sets about kicking some serious arse.

If you've seen the articles in Fangoria and the like, you'd be forgiven for thinking JACK BROOKS is a horribly cheesy rubber monster comedy aimed at spotty 12 year olds. The title, and the stills so far used in magazines, are doing this unexpected pearl few favours.

The look of the film (blue lighting; foam latex creatures) has that very definite visual style associated with such movies as BRAIN DAMAGE and SOCIETY. The characters and the arrangement of the screenplay (building on character quirks in amusing sub-plots, before letting rip with the action in the final half hour) is also more in tune with classic 80s horrors such as RE-ANIMATOR.

Even Ryan Shore's excellent, clever score offers a welcome traditional orchestral array of emotions virtually unheard in Stateside genre cinema in the last 20 years. There's no nu-metal nonsense or Industrial dirges on this low-budget US horror film, thank Goodness.

The pitch of the film is very much in tune with classic Stuart Gordon and Frank Henenlotter fare, laying on the black humour thick but never forgetting to keep the horror intense and the pace electric. The line between comedy and horror is a fine one to straddle and not many can claim to having successfully negotiated it. But JACK BROOKS does a good job of keeping the humour subtly wry, allowing for a few laugh-out-loud moments (Englund's turn as the increasingly mutated Crowley; the vitriolic counselling sessions). And when the horror comes, it's exciting and satisfyingly straight-faced.

The FX are reminiscent of RE-ANIMATOR at times, but also brought Lamberto Bava's DEMONS to mind. The monsters have that moist, rubber model look to them - cheesy, but never crappy. And the gore, while never excessive, is in the vein of both DEMONS and STREET TRASH. Just watch it, and hopefully you'll see what I'm trying to say. THE EVIL DEAD is another low budget US 80s classic that BROOKS draws obvious links too, if not so much stylistically but thematically: Brooks' character is essentially an Ash for the next generation.

The best thing about all these references to 80s horror films though is that none of it feels contrived. You know how so many horror films this decade have professed to be a throwback to 70s grindhouse movies? And then when you watch them they're nothing of the sort - save for possibly a plot device cribbed from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE and a couple of retro songs thrown on the soundtrack? Well, JACK BROOKS doesn't fall into this trap. There's no 80s pop songs on offer (although Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea" is used expertly on two occasions), no mullets or "Relax" T-shirts, or anything for that matter to hint that filmmakers want this to be seen as a cool retro flick.

It feels far more sincere, not half as smug or deceitful as the likes of CABIN FEVER or THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. This is all the more clever for not forcing it's cool or trying to be, well, clever. It's an unashamed celebration of the films it's makers grew up enjoying - not an homage, just a monsters-run-amok film that through influence winds up recalling so many great small films from the late 1980s. Ultimately, it boils down to being an assortment of foam latex beasts biting large chunks out of their victims while Jack vents his fury by chasing them with his axe. It's simple as that: what's not to like?

Performances are similarly agreeable. Each cast member delivers an unpretentious portrayal of their likeable characters, with the obvious shining stars being Matthews as the amusingly uncool antihero and Englund in his finest role since his first stint as Freddy. A special mention is also reserved for James A Woods as irritating classmate John, a genial source of credible comic relief.

Although this never borders on outright brilliance, it is a consistently enjoyable romp that moves along at a brisk pace and builds towards a finale that will leave you smiling. It's an honest labour of love from director Jon Knautz and writer John Ainslie. If this had come out in the late 1980s it would be heralded as a bona fide cult flick now. As it stands, it will be interesting to see how it fares in 2008 alongside the current deluge of sombre French gorefests and stylishly subtle Spanish ghost stories.

Hopefully JACK BROOKS will prove popular enough to warrant a sequel. If it does, it would be great to see what Ainslie, Knautz and Matthews have in store for Brooks now that his background has been established. I imagine with a bigger budget they'd up the gore ante too as, although this has it's fair share of the red stuff, it does feel a little constrained by a desire to meet an R-rating.

The film looks great on this Momentum disc, in a very sharp and bright 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Colours are subdued intentionally and work extremely well in conjunction with the fine details on offer.

The English 5.1 audio is an even and eventful affair. Optional English Hard of Hearing subtitles are a welcome inclusion.

The animated main menu includes a static scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 12 chapters.

Extras are plentiful.

An audio commentary is first on the agenda, provided by Knautz, Matthews, composer Shore and co-producer Patrick White. It's an amiable chat with much laughter and some interesting reveals regarding the film's low budget limitations. Shore is kept in the loop by Knautz, who frequently drags him into the conversation by picking up on certain pieces of music. Rightly so, as his score is integral to the fun the film delivers.

A behind-the-scenes featurette is a very meaty proposition, weighing in at 50 minutes in length. Filmed on set and location at the time of the movie's shoot, this offers a wealth of making-of footage as well as onscreen comments from all of the main protagonists.

"Creating The Monsters" is a 15-minute featurette with FX artist David Scott.

"World Premiere Featurette" is self-explanatory. This sees Knautz and Matthews filming their arrival at the Sitges festival in Spain on October 5th 2007. As you'd expect, the mood is light and excited. This featurette is 3 minutes in length.

"Creating The Music" is 13 more minutes with the talented Shore.

5 deleted scenes follow, in non-anamorphic timecoded widescreen. These can be watched individually or as a 16-minute whole by selecting the "Play All" option.

10 minutes of storyboard comparisons are next, offering 6 scenes from the film with storyboards appearing the bottom right-hand corner of the screen.

"Teen Massacre" is an early short film from Knautz, presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1. It's silly and brutal in equal measures, not to mention very cheap. Again, Matthews takes the lead role. At 15 minutes in length, it even comes equipped with it's own optional audio commentary track from the boys.

There's also a 4-minute featurette taking a look at the making of "Teen Massacre".

On top of all that, the disc opens with trailers for DANTE 01, SUPERHERO MOVIE and TEETH.

JACK BROOKS: MONSTER SLAYER is highly recommended for those who miss the lunatic days of late 80s horror films. This disc is a superb way to experience it.

Review by Stuart Willis


 
Released by Momentum Pictures
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review
Back