Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
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Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer

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In recent years there has been an explosion in the independent horror film world. More new directors and writers are testing the waters of their new crafts by creating one sort of slasher flick after another. The result is a major dilution of the genre. A good film of this type is getting exceeding difficult to find. The genre has been degraded to one scene of naked girls, stage blood and all the plastic guts you can gather. It really doesn’t take all that much to make one of these flicks. All you need are some beautiful young ladies willing to remove their cloths and some special effects make up artists and you have the movie more than half done. In this time of economic uncertainty anyone who has invested in fake blood is making a sure and steady profit. Every so often a horror film comes along that is like a ray of sunlight through the clouds. It illuminates the landscape bringing hope. Such a film is ‘Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer’ by film maker Jon Knautz. It is true that it is not a great film. It will never be on any top ten lists but there is an important point to keep in mind here; they cast and crew tried to be different. This is a return to the well loved comedy horror films of the late eighties and early nineties. The movie works in the most vital way required, it is fun to watch. While most horror films are unfortunately unintentionally funny in all the wrong places this one is meant to make you laugh and you will. It has some side jokes about some of the touchy feely response to emotions that has taken over the culture lately but mostly this is a enjoyable flight of fancy. It is sometimes raunchy and deserves its ‘R’ rating. The fact is I had some doubts with the title that it would be just another sophomoric horror flick but within minutes of watching it I found myself laughing out loud. Then I realized it was distributed by Starz Anchor Bay. They have a variety of genres in their release catalogue and all of their horror flicks have been above average. Now they have added this movie to their family and all fans of the genre can have something to get and enjoy.

Looking at the credits for this film’s script it appears that it was done by committee. Four people are listed as supplying the story and another two for the actual script. In many cases this is a very bad sign. Here the resulting story seems more like it was developed by the people sitting around throwing ideas around until some stuck. The result is not as finely honed as it might have been but that is entirely part of its charm. It is not so structured that the audience will get bored. It is free wheeling and humorous. The script was done by John Ainslie and Jon Knautz. Ainslie is new to screenplays; this is his first one. Kuautz, who also directed has a few other scripts to his name. Previously he had four short film screenplays to his credit in the thriller and horror genre. This worked a lot in his favor here. The screenplay is like little vignettes tied together by the central theme. Instead of rushing into a full blown feature film Knautz built a foundation in his writing that shows by how well this one translates to the screen. While there is some work Knautz and Ainslie need more work on is some of the scenes between the action; day to day life of the main character tends to slow the pace a bit too much. What they do get right is the comedy. It is seamlessly infused into the horror aspect of the story so that is becomes more than a workable parody of the mess that this genre has become. A lot of the story reminded me of the new classic of comedy horror ‘Shaun of the Dead’. Like that film the characters are drawn in such a way that the audience can empathize even when they are not particularly likeable. This is a feat that is worthy of praise to these screenwriters.

As a new director Knautz does an outstanding job. All too often someone taking on a comedy horror flick tries too hard to fulfill the requirements of both genres and do a lackluster job with both. Here Kuautz shows great promise as he sets a firm course directly into the waters of the dark comedy. It just happens to have elements of horror to set the stage but make no mistake this is intended to be funny. In order to accomplish this formidable task he takes a major stride backward. Most horror directors lean heavily on computer effects to tell the story. While CGI is has become more realistic and relatively inexpensive it can and has been overused lately. Many of us grew up in a world before these amazing computerized effects. Back then the effects supervisor and his team had to use their imaginations within the restrictive environment of what could be actually built and manipulated for the shooting. Kuautz has chosen to use only practical effects for this film. Some of the young audience members may find this corny and cheap but this harkens back to a simpler age and is extremely refreshing to see again. It gives the movie the look and feel of the old EC horror comics we used to hide from our parents and read under the covers at night. He never takes his film too seriously adding the right touch to carry the story.

When he was just a boy Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) was on a fateful camping trip with his family. He loved those times together with his father Charles (John Ross), mother Gene (Victoria Fodor) and little sister, Cindy (Ariel Waller). This particular trip seemed like any other until a monster attacks and rips his entire family into bit size pieces. Jack manages to get away but grows up to be a troubled man. As an adult he works as a plumber and has a girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten) but he has an anger management problem. He goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Silverman (Daniel Kash) to try to curb is outbursts and also attempts to enrich his life by taking science classes at night. His teacher is Prof. Crowley (Robert Englund) who tends to bore Jack to tears. After class one evening the professor asks Jack to come out to his cabin to look at his plumbing. Jack agrees but once he gets there is is far from a normal job. It seems that long ago a boy had to kill his father after he was possessed by some ancient evil spirit. Jack bungles the work and releases a gas cloud that turns the professor into a hideous monster. Now it is up to Jack to hunt the professor creature down and dispatch it.

This is an above average flick that is well worth getting and enjoying. Anchor Bay does a fantastic job in bringing it to DVD. It has a clear and brilliant anamorphic 1.78:1 video accompanied with a robust Dolby 5.1 audio. It also has a great selection of extras that include a commentary track by Kuautz and several of the film’s producers. There are several behind the scenes featurettes that cover everything from the special effects to the music. Get this one and have a lot of fun.

Posted 09/22/08

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