Saturday, September 27, 2008
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER (2007) d. Jon Knautz
Reviewed by Rick Trottier
When you were a little kid, the monster under the bed or the creature hiding in the closet was a terrifying reminder of all the beasties that could be lurking just within the shadows at anytime or anyplace. Whether it was a bare and lifeless skeleton of a tree that harbored spooks or other sinister spirits, or the dank and lightless corners of a musty and threatening cellar, monsters could be found almost anywhere, even in movie theaters. The problem with putting monsters up on the Big Screen is that the monsters created by the febrile crevices of a fertile mind are always scarier than monsters in a motion picture. When movie monsters are made to look more disgusting than scary and are part of a horror-comedy that isn’t funny and isn’t particularly frightening, you’ve got a problem on your hands. JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is a “scary” monster film that is supposed to bring forth a few laughs, but sadly it fails on almost every count that a movie critic could consider.
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is the story of Jack Brooks, an angry young man who lost his family during his childhood under grisly and ghoulish circumstances, leaving Jack orphaned and full of unfettered fury. Now a young man, Jack is searching for answers but instead finds himself fending off troubles at his job, difficulties with relationships and dealing with a science night class that seems boring and pointless. Life takes an interesting turn though when Jack’s science teacher, Professor Crowley, is possessed by a demon, whose sole interest is in spreading its demonic power as far as it can and ingesting whatever nourishment that can be had from those within tentacle grasp. Jack is forced to focus his rage on demon-spawn that need a good thumping so that he can save his class mates from all kinds of fates of a most gruesome nature.
When I first watched the venerable CHILDREN SHOULDN”T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (1972), I realized that one of its many cardinal sins was that it had almost nothing going for on over the first 65-75% of the film and it was only during the last moments of the falling action that a passable stretch of the film ensued. Since that time, I have held up CHILDREN SHOULDN”T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS as an example of a flick that had a good idea for its final act, but most of the rest of the movie was cobbled together in such a way so that the story and the characters were boring, miserably irritating or both. JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is an updating of that unpleasant experience. Despite having a final 20 minutes that delivered some action, some gore, a few “thrills” and a smidgeon of story potential, it isn’t worth sitting through the first 60+ minutes to get to a denouement that was only mediocre, and let us remember that initial two-thirds was a laborious chore. JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER started off with a reasonably good segment where we see young Jack scarred for life by a run-in with a monster, but shortly after that the film slides down a greasy slope of somnambulistic synergy into insipid, meaningless dialogue delivered by vapid and infuriating characters coupled with a story that had absolutely no momentum. Worse still, we kept looping back to return to places where no amount of forward progress on the story could be achieved. Every time we revisited John’s or Eve’s or Dr. Silverstein’s characters and rehashed failed dialogue and storytelling, the real terror began as I began to realize that precious minutes were being lost and the plot was still stuck in the LaBrea Tar Pits. Even when the tale sidestepped to slightly more interesting story lines like that of Professor Crowley played by Robert Englund or Howard played by David Fox, inertia continued to dominate and the narrative crept along like a sloth fallen from its tree. I enjoy a patiently paced film and am often teased about my penchant for movies that are “atmospheric” and not “active”, but I felt like a Paleolithic hunter waiting for the glaciers to recede so I could stalk the great Woolly Mammoth across the still frozen tundras of the North. No one has that much patience, and mine steadily eroded as this snoozer of a flick inched its way forward.
To add insult to injury, JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER was steeped in unpleasantness both human and fluid. With the exception of Professor Crowley and possibly Howard, the characters were uniformly onerous, irksome and obnoxious. One should not feel like they are bearing up under the weight of a 15-ton block of stone when watching characters interface during a motion picture, but by the halfway point, I identified with the builders of the Easter Island statues and knew what it must have been like to lug those monoliths over expansive ground. Why is it that modern characters must be so consistently dreadful? When I think back to films like THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), Vincent Price’s character was no Boy Scout, but he had a menacing charm and an intellectual charisma that made him both compelling and appealing. If film characters reflect the nature of our current society and give viewers someone to identify with, our nation is in a sorrier state than ever. To go along with that, why is it that film makers today equate scary imagery with loads of viscous fluids that is not blood? By itself, blood is not particularly chilling, but when it has been freed from an artery by teeth or a knife, it connotes a certain amount of shock and revulsion. Seeing green, brown or color-indeterminate liquids erupt from the bodies of monsters, or ichor squirt from appendages or slime spread so thick it could have been laid down with a mop isn’t creepy, it is just another example of how the “geek show” has taken hold of the motion picture industry. If that is really what people want to see on film today, then such profile information continues to provide damning evidence that American Society is totally screwed up. If you like spewing, spurting or spraying, there is plenty to be had in the last 30 minutes of JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER. I found that it accompanied the early story well, for runny discharge rocketing forth from some orifice becomes just as dull as a poorly crafted story after a while.
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is not without its positive qualities. Ryan Shore’s film score was very impressive, probably too much so for this movie. Such a good score should probably be accompanying an epic like BEN-HUR or some other heroic tale. The special effects of some of the monsters and some of the action sequences were well done too. While the puppetry/costuming of the demon/troll at the end had a ludicrous element to it, it is clear that a great deal of effort went into its creation. What is astounding about JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is its extras menu, which may be one of the deepest I’ve come across in a long time. In addition to an audio commentary track featuring the director, producer Patrick White, the title character actor Trevor Matthews (who is also a producer) and composer Ryan Shore, there are another nine features to be enjoyed. There is a 50 minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette followed by a 15 minute “Creating the Monsters” short feature. Next is the very engaging 13 minute “Creating the Music” segment, which may be the best of the bunch. There is a 3 minute “World Premiere: Sitges, Spain” mini-feature which is pretty unusual. There are five Deleted Scenes of lengths varying from 30 seconds to 6 ½ minutes. There are six Storyboard Comparisons also of varying lengths and complexity. The 15 slides in the Conceptual Art Gallery are pretty interesting and there is a 45 slide On-Set Still Gallery which is also worthwhile. Finally, there is the trailer. After the disappointment of the film, the overstuffed bonus features of JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER helped to soften the blow.
When I looked at the attractive poster art on the outside of JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER, I briefly hoped that this film would hearken back to times when movies like ARMY OF DARKNESS or AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON brightened marquees, and when horror-comedies were both funny and scary. I hoped that it wouldn’t be typical of so many failed efforts that are foisted on the movie-going public today. I hoped that I would be able to praise it, for I very much like what Anchor Bay does and want to support their efforts, but I came away very disenchanted. JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER may appeal to a segment of the viewing population who have little or nothing to compare it with and know not of the fine horror-comedy forerunners that have brilliantly braved the way, like Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959) or Jack Hill’s SPIDER BABY (1968). For those of us who know better, JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER is a drink from the tainted wells of today that leaves a bitter tang upon the tongue that no amount of gargling with lye can dispel.