Judge Gordon Sullivan won't call this plumber, not even to fix plot holes.
All work and no RAGE makes Jack a dull boy.
Sadly, no amount of rage is going to make this film interesting. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer wants to be a campy horror-comedy in the Bruce Campbell vein, but decent monster effects and an excellent turn by Robert Englund can't save the film from retread tedium.
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is story of the titular hero (Trever Matthews,Teen Massacre), who has nurtured an uncontrollable rage ever since his little sister and his parents were devoured by some unidentifiable creature. Jack's rage and apparent apathy have kept him from excelling, and now he's making a living as a plumber. His girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten, Birds of Prey) has convinced him to take a night class for self-enrichment. Although his teacher Mr. Crowley (Robert Englund, Nightmare on Elm Street) tries his best to make science interesting, Jack has other things on his mind, like his crumbling relationship with Eve. One night after class, Crowley asks Jack back to his place to have a look at the malfunctioning pipes in his basement. While attempting to fix the pipes, Jack causes a pipe to burst, which brings to life an ancient demon. This demon possesses Professor Crowley, and it'll be up to Jack to harness his rage and save the world from the demon.
Because this is an indie feature (and obviously the product of love), I'll give it some kudos first. Most creature features these days (of any budget) opt for CGI monsters that are never really satisfying. Jack Brooks goes the opposite route, offering minimal CGI and loads of practical effects. Everything from a dead dog to the final monster seems to have been accomplished practically, and this film could stand as Exhibit A that no matter what the budget, practical effects still rule the horror world. Yes, a few of the effects aren't perfect (the final monster being one of them), but even their flaws give them a charm that CGI simply can't top.
Robert Englund also deserves some serious credit for his role here. Most horror films use him like set dressing, giving him little to do but ham it up for the camera. Jack Brooks gives him a chance to show off his comedy skills without resorting to the kind of broad, winking caricature that he gave in films like 2001 Maniacs. His role as Professor Crowley requires him to act possessed, like someone who is just learning how to use his body and he's amazing at it. I knew he had dramatic talent lurking in him, but I was genuinely surprised that he could do comedy this well. The rest of the actors do a fine job, too, although none can reach the high bar set by Englund.
Sadly, that's where my praise of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer has to end.
Have you seen Slither? I ask because judging by Jack Brooks, writer John Ainslie and director Jon Knautz have. Both films are horror comedies featuring a monster who invades a host, causing him to eat everything in sight. Then, tentacles start to appear from the host's body until he finally becomes a many-tentacled monster that just wants to make humans into zombies. Slither did it better. Where Slither only suggests a phallus with the tentacles emerging from the chest, Jack Brooks goes whole hog, showing a lone phallic tentacle. Where Slither implied the eating of the dog, Jack Brooks shows it to us. Subtlety is not Jack's strong suit, and that hurts both the comedy and the horror.
The major difference between Slither and Jack Brooks is the title hero. Nathan Fillion's unassuming Sheriff Bill is replaced by the anger-challenged Jack. He's a loser, and there isn't much to like about him. Perhaps if his angry dialogue had been a little more interesting, he would have been able to carry the film. However, as it is he's unsympathetic and downright obnoxious for most of the film. His tortured past might give the audience a reason for his anger, but it's nothing new. A few more one-liners might have made his character interesting, but even though this film screams franchise, I hope to see no more of Jack Brooks.
The technical presentation of Jack Brooks is slightly above par for indie horror releases. The video was generally strong, although it had some trouble with the darker scenes. The audio kept a nice balance between dialogue, music, and effects. The extras are also slightly better than average as well. We get a commentary with the writer, director, star, and composer. There are also a number of featurettes covering behind the scenes, the music, the premiere, and the creation of the monsters. We also get some deleted scenes. This is a pretty impressive package considering the film's budget.
I can see the appeal of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer to a rowdy midnight-movie crowd, but it fell flat when watching at home with a friend. Not even an above-average DVD presentation can save this film from its mediocrity. Should the writer and director revisit Mr. Brooks, hopefully they'll craft a more original story for their title hero.
Jack Brooks is guilty of serving up monster-movie clichés.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Commentary Jon Knautz, Patrick White, Trevor Matthews, and Ryan Shore
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