Last year, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer arrived on DVD amid a boatload of hype. Well, not mainstream hype, but hype among the horror community. I remember the title popping up on a few podcasts that I listen to. All of them did their job — they succeeded in getting me interested in seeing a movie that I had more or less written off, based solely on the title. I mean, it was something I would probably have gotten around too at some point, but now the title was in my head. It would be some months later that I would actually get it, and a few more until I actually watched it. That brings us to the present.
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is a complete throwback to '80s-era horror. The film is totally tongue in cheek, it begins slow and ends strong, features some cheesy dialogue and some over the top performances, and it completely eschews modern filmmaking effects in favor of all practical effects. There are no computer effects used at all, a choice that may be completely stylistic or a result of budgetary constraints. Of course, it could be some combination of the two, but I like to think it is all about the aesthetic.
The movie opens with an unidentified native tribe being attached by a man in a rubber cyclops monster outfit. We follow a couple of warriors from the battleground to their village where some run for their lives, others are worshiping a cyclops idol, and others wait anxiously outside a hut. Inside the hut a man is preparing for war, John Rambo style. The camera cuts closer as the man, whose back to us, slowly turns his head to profile. As soon as we get the profile of an intense figure, the screen goes black and the title comes up.
We soon meet Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews), a plumber with an explosive temper, an annoying girlfriend, and enrollment in a night science class that he really does not want to be at. On top of all that, Jack has the baggage of having had his family killed by a forest troll right in front of him when he was a boy. What can top that? It is certainly enough to give a person issues for his life, including fits of angry rage.
Jack is about to find the perfect release for his pent up aggression. It comes in the form of Professor Crowley (Robert Englund), the science teacher. You see, he just moved into an old house with a history (don't they always), and something there possesses the good professor in a way I will not describe here. It all builds to a violent climax that finds Jack focusing his aggressive tendencies in such a fashion that an entirely new future is opened up before him.
The movie feels very much like the marriage of Evil Dead II and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It has the fun of both films, a little blood, a little gore, a little comedy, and a man who just may be in the process of discovering a bigger purpose.
Direction by Jon Knautz is solid, capturing a good tone and keeping the pace going. You almost forget that the action is almost entirely confined to the third act. He clearly has a love for old school horror; it shows through in the use of practical effects. There is something about non-computer effects that add a lot to a movie like this: they are tangible, you know the actors are actually covered in goo or blood, that everything is actually there.
The writing by John Ainslie, Jon Knautz, Trevor Matthews, and Patrick White tells a complete story that holds together. It is not serious writing and none of it is all that serious, but it works. The tone works, the jokes work, and it is flat out fun.
As for the performances? Completely in line with a cheesy, throwback, low budget horror film. Trevor Matthews is a charismatic lead who could carry a series of Jack Brooks films. Robert Englund is very memorable as the possessed professor, he clearly has a lot of fun diving into the role. Englund truly is horror royalty. As for the supporting cast? Great work from the likes of Rachel Skarsten as Jack's girlfriend, Chad Harber as the annoying classmate, and how about David Fox as the man who knows the story? Fun from to bottom.
Audio/Video. The movie is a low budget affair and it shows. That said, the DVD does look and sound quite good. The colors are sharp and there is a good amount of detail shown. The Dolby 5.1 audio track also does the job, and while it may not be the most dynamic, it does a fine job representing the nice score and nice sound design of the project.
Extras. This release has a wide selection of bonus features.
- Commentary. The track features director Jon Knautz, star Trevor Matthews, and composer Ryan Shore. The track is fun, they clearly had a good time making the film and they have plenty to talk about over the course of the track.
- Deleted Scenes. There are about 15 minutes' worth of cut scenes. They are worth checking out, but would have done nothing to help the movie's pacing.
- Behind the Scenes. This is an extensive 50-minute look at the production with plenty of interviews and behind the scenes footage. Definitely worth checking out for fans.
- Creating the Monsters. Fifteen minutes on the creation of the creatures. A lot goes into the making of these critters, from the initial design to the creation of miniatures to the full-sized costumes and applications.
- Creating the Music. The score for this movie is actually quite good, better than you would expect for this sort of film. This talks with Ryan Shore and Jon Knautz, and Trevor Matthews about how they came about creating the music.
- World Premiere: Sitges, Spain. Footage of the cast and crew signing autographs and celebrating the premiere of their film.
- Storyboard Comparisons. A series of scenes with the storyboards shown Picture-in-Picture style. Interesting, but the boards are not all that detailed.
- Conceptual Art Gallery. A collection of thoughts that came about during the creative process.
- On Set Still Gallery. A collection of stills from the set.
- Trailer. The original trailer for the film.
Bottom line. This movie is a blast. I cannot say it lived up to the expectations I had going in, but there is no doubt that I really enjoyed the film and would love to see a series of them. There is a lot of love for the genre among the cast and crew and it is highly infectious. If you like horror/comedy, do yourself a favor and give this a shot.