"Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer" is the type of predigested cult film that's easier to admire than actually enjoy. A polite tip of the hat to "Evil Dead" and all things "Buffy," this horror/comedy is lacking proper oomph in both categories, resulting in a movie of commendable purpose, but lackluster realization.
Ever since he witnessed his family brutally murdered by a forest troll as a child, Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) has battled furious bouts of depression, unable to deal with his volatile temper or act civil to those around him. A terrible plumber taking night classes, Jack is alarmed when his science teacher (Robert Englund) starts to exhibit ominous signs of possession after forcibly consuming an ancient demonic heart. When all hell breaks loose at the school, it's up to Jack to stifle his fears and assume his place in monster slaying history.
"Jack Brooks" is a throwback of sorts to the days before computer enhancement turned bloodletting into a sophisticated, expensive art form. Here is a sloppy, goopy monster film that takes an enormous amount of pride in detailed creature make-up and bruising practical effects, and the results are genuinely impressive. Director Jon Knautz lovingly captures the chaos of guys in rubber suits, geeking out over the finer details of slime and blood as they spew out of the talent in every conceivable fashion. It's a kick to watch the monster mash unfold in "Jack Brooks," which touches delightful whip-crack Raimiesque contact highs when the title character straps on his plumber belt and sprints to his destiny.
Unfortunately, it takes nearly an hour for the feature to position itself into full-throated slaying mode.
Apparently an origin tale to an upcoming, sequel-happy DTV franchise, "Jack Brooks" is dullsville when attempting to pad the story with the title character's banal motivations and day-to-day existence. The screenplay just doesn't scrounge up a compelling backstory for Brooks, holding to uneventful anger-management issues and vague relationship woes. The character is pleasingly rounded by Matthews, who refuses to give himself over to winks, unlike the rest of the cast, who ham it up obnoxiously. The actor keeps Brooks grounded in seething frustration, to better execute the transition from punch-happy loner to global monster killer. Englund has the showoff role, running around bleeding, eating, and vomiting (it's a cheerfully disgusting character), but Matthews keeps the feature together during the glacial first half with his skillful restraint.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1 aspect ratio), "Jack Brooks" looks pretty good for a low-budget horror comedy. Gruesome detail is preserved wonderfully, along with the tricky/sickly lighting design of the film. Black levels, and there's a whole bunch of that, are solid, never interfering with the cinematographic intent.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix on "Jack Brooks" is surround-intensive experience, whipping the monsters and muck around the listener with agreeable, often sloshy dimension and bottom-heavy fidelity. Dialogue and soundtrack are separated comfortably.
English for the Deaf & Hearing Impaired subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary with director Jon Knautz, producer/actor Trevor Matthews, producer Patrick White, and composer Ryan Shore is a disappointingly jokey experience, with this tight group of filmmakers spending more time trying to crack up the room than relaying decent production information. Still, the listener does learn that the production design department was made up of misspelling "assholes," that Matthews wasn't hit in the face with real metal objects, and how Knautz "didn't direct that much."
To be fair, the boys do offer up some pertinent filming particulars, but it's lost in the sea of bad jokes. I wouldn't recommend a listen, especially when the rest of the DVD's features are far more focused and enlightening.
"Behind the Scenes" (50:06) is a supremely detailed journey into the making of "Jack Brooks." While it's somewhat deflating to hear the film was motivated purely out of business and career potential (horror being an easily marketable genre), it's a treat to witness the effort that went into the creation of the motion picture, including interviews with cast and crew to illuminate the filming process. Canadian locations, night-shoot headaches, and extensive character/actor motivations are explored, along with plenty of BTS footage to fill out the making-of. This is the type of quality production detail documentation that should be included on every DVD.
"Creating the Monsters" (15:20) meets up with David Scott, the wildly gifted creature and make-up designer behind "Jack Brooks." With oodles of workshop footage to observe, the featurette gives the viewer a strong overview of monster-making and special-effect techniques. Fangoria readers will love this mini-documentary.
"Creating the Music" (12:49) brings composer Ryan Shore to the forefront to talk about his music efforts for the feature. The big screen journey eventually takes the production to Bratislava, Slovakia for the orchestral recording sessions.
"World Premiere: Sitges, Spain" (3:03) brings the boys across the globe to debut their creature feature, and to partake in a pre-movie press conference
"Deleted Scenes" (15:56) presents more with young Brooks and his family, some positivity and some rage with Robert England, and additional domestic woes for our hero.
"Storyboard Comparisons" (10:31) displays some before and after sequences from the film.
Also included are "Conceptual Art" and "On Set" still galleries.
And finally, a Theatrical Trailer for the film is presented on this DVD.
It's unsettling to watch Knautz squander the possibilities of the premise on arid subplots and extended lead time, perhaps hoping to return to the deliberate genre pacing of the 1980s. Unfortunately, there's no suspense and the jokes aren't funny. Once the film explodes in the final reel, where Jack slip-n-slides around after-hour high school hallways dealing with a ghoulish, flesh-hungry menace, the picture finally finds an enterprising footing to build on, making room for buckets of blood and a superb parade of triumphantly handmade horrors. If only the entire film held the same aspiration.