Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
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After witnessing the brutal murder of his family when he was just a young boy, Jack Brooks is
left with an unquenchable fury. Now working as a plumber, Jack attempts to fix his Professor s
plumbing, only to unknowingly awake an ancient evil. Prof. Crowley becomes possessed and
starts a slow, gruesome transformation into the depths of evil. Only then does Jack realize that
he can t run from his past, and quickly discovers the true purpose of his inner rage.
A delirious performance by horror vet Robert (Nightmare on Elm Street) Englund and the filmmakers' predilection for old-school monster suits over CGI help to make the Canadian indie horror-comedy Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer an enjoyable and entertaining alternative to the current rash of relentlessly grim fright fare. As played by co-producer Trevor Mathews, Jack Brooks is no barrel-chested pulp hero, but rather an aimless small-town slacker with a hair-trigger temper (the result of childhood trauma involving his family's death at the hands of a monster). Plagued on all sides by a nagging girlfriend, a hapless shrink and a dead-end job as a plumber, Jack seems destined for mediocrity--until his night school professor (an terrific, unfettered comic turn by Englund) unearths an ancient evil and begins to change into a ravenous, slobbering creature, thus giving Jack both a purpose and an outlet for his anger issues. Director Jon Knautz's feature debut pays loving homage to all manner of boyish pop-culture touchstones, from Marvel Comics and Ray Harryhausen epics to the early works of fellow do-it-yourselfers like Sam Raimi, and if his set up feels belabored in its telling, he delivers the goods once Jack straps on his plumbing toolkit to square off against the monster-fied Englund. Inventive and frequently laugh-out-loud funny, Jack Brooks is one potential franchise series that actually deserves a follow up film. The DVD includes commentary by Knautz, Mathews and members of the production team, as well as lengthy featurettes on the film, its soundtrack and the monster FX. Deleted scenes, conceptual art galleries and the original trailer are also included on the disc. --Paul Gaita
Stills from Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (click for larger image)
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- The response: "Well, goddamit, it wasn't easy!"
Get thee back to the 1980s, ye fiendish monster movie! Except that JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER had its theatrical release in late 2007, not that long ago. This movie is Canadian-powered and driven by practical special effects, with a fond eye slanted towards those awesome, semi-hokey, splattery horror flicks of the Reagan era. The tone is very much dark comedy. The not so secret weapon is Robert Englund.
Jack Brooks is an angry, angry guy. And maybe part of it is because he's a lowly plumber and he's also got this really mean girlfriend, but mostly it stems from that camping trip years ago when he was a kid and his family got murdered by a demonic creature in the woods. Hello, psychological trauma, our good friend.
Jack takes this science night class (his girlfriend bossed him into it). One evening the kindly Professor Crowley asks him to look over the clogged-up pipes in his basement. Jack acquiesces; this leads to that, that leads to this, and an ancient evil is let loose and the good professor is gradually transformed into an insatiable monster. Now it's up to Jack Brooks to apply his colossal bad mood and his two-fisted plumbling skills to hold back the hellish thing which the professor had become. Jack has clearly given up on getting a good grade in class.
JACK BROOKS MONSTER SLAYER kicks it old school, and the cast & crew are proud of it. CGI gets pooh-poohed as the special effects crew goes kabonkers with rubber latex and gooey make-up, with puppeteering and animatronics and even more rubber latex. The result is a gallery of purposely iffy-looking monsters, some (or most) of which are so cheesy that even Sid and Marty Krofft go: "Dudes, seriously?"
As a child of the '80s, I had a great time with this film and didn't at all get bent out of shape at the Ashley Williams/Evil Dead callbacks, and, yes, absolutely, this lead part is tailor made for a younger Bruce Campbell. Trevor Matthews - who also plays the blue forest troll - makes a credible enough horror action lead and his rants are awesome. When he finally mans up and springs into monster slaying mode, he demonstrates a viable presence. The final stages of the film feature buckets of gore and blood and ickiness, but it's done in such a way that you can't take it seriously. If you get in the spirit of the thing, you won't mind a bit.
Robert Englund is a longtime treasure not only of the horror cinema but of sci-fi as well (in a weird way, it was his sympathetic alien character in V that infused humanity into that mini-series). In the Behind the Scenes segment, Englund mentions that this was probably the last time in his career that he can attempt some physical comedy. Ergo, he takes advantage of the film's light tone and goes for the gusto with the physical antics (Englund refers to it as "Beetlejuicing"), as his professor undergoes his squirrely demonic change. This metamorphosis calls for non-stop belching and scratching and gross overeating and then vomiting. Robert Englund is friggin' awesome in one of his best roles in recent years. This movie is worth watching for his performance alone.
The DVD Special Features include: an entertaining, cheerfully profane audio commentary by Director Jon Knautz, Producer Patrick White, Producer/Actor Trevor Matthews, and Composer Ryan Shore; the Behind the Scenes documentary (50 minutes long, and really comprehensive); The World Premiere at Sitges, Spain; Storyboard comparisons - six scenes from the movie with the pretty simplistic storyboard sketches picture-in-pictured on them (hilariously, it looks like a 6-year-old drew these sketches); On Set Still Gallery (44 photos); Conceptual Art Gallery (14 images); Creating the Music (almost 13 minutes of maybe more than you wanted to know about the score); Creating the Monsters (15 minutes, and these cats really break down their practical f/x); 5 Deleted Scenes, including the Professor, already possessed, scarfing wings at a bar with his class; and the trailer.
Great fun for a few hours and a few bucks. Good deal.
Anchor Bay's 1080p video presentation looks outstanding. Trust me, the very best DVD doesn't come close in detail and dimensionality. Unfortunately praise of the films visual preservation is about the only positive critique I can give Anchor Bay's otherwise cheap and/or lazy treatment of the film. The studio started out strong on BD with PCM and lossless support across the board, but lately one has to wonder if Anchor Bay isn't in the same dire straits as MGM. Most of their more recent BD offerings have been handicapped by lossy compressed audio and, for Jack Brooks they didn't even create a compulsory menu. So, even the DVD could be technically more advanced than this disc.
There are no extras. But more than that, BD's interactivity goes wasted. You can't hit the pop-up menu to select another chapter. While the disc is partitioned, there is no menu for scene selection at all. Once you load the disc, the feature just repeats itself in a loop until you press stop or eject the disc. Fortunately the video doesn't appear to be hampered by the same lowly effort. The audio is a little weak and favors a made-for-TV fidelity most of the time. But without a lossless encode, we'll never know if it's the mix that's limiting or the lossy compression algorithms messing it up.