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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Halloween Hoardefest: Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer



Nowadays we're starting to see a little eighties envy (or at least a little eighties endearment) in music and especially horror. Forget the countless remakes that have been plaguing movie theaters from respected directors who shouldn't be called revisionists as much as they should be considered fanboy wish-they'd-done-them-firsts. Friday the 13th is the next one up on the redux block, and who cares if it's back to basics? There's no Betsy Palmer, so consider it heresy at face value.

On the other hand, there are a bunch of underground directors who are starting to break big such as Adam Green, whose love of eighties horror inspired brand new creations done in a neo-vintage style. Hatchet is surefire splatter mayhem, created simply for the spectacle and over-the-top love of gore. There are no other pretentions to Hatchet, other than to maybe broaden the mean age of the cast and round up some horror icons such as Tony Todd and Robert Englund. Some people are fans of Eli Roth's Cabin Fever, others are not, but Roth's adoration of The Evil Dead prompted him to reinvent the precipe of backwoods mutant gore with his own slapdash nuances. Roth made no bones Cabin Fever was done out of love for Sam Raimi's classic, and is certainly more forgivable than the shameless by-the-number sleepfest of The Omen remake.

What we need more of is innovation and both Green and Roth are showing there's new ways to turn the old school's tricks. However, director Jon Knautz and actor Trevor Matthews love eighties horror so much they're willing to camp it up to the point they dare to make a ridiculously archaic rubber monster in the finale of Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer that will undoubtedly remind everyone of Bill Paxton being turned into a big pile of talking shit in Weird Science.

What's particularly great about Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, aside from the fact it gives Robert Englund his longest screen time since the Nightmare romps, is a premise that's just as gonzo as The Evil Dead and Bubba Ho-Tep. Trevor Matthews plays the lead character, a hyper-angry plumber whose inability to keep his rage under control stems from a childhood incident where a monster rips his family to shreds before his eyes on a camping trip.

Jack Brooks goes to therapy by day, charitably gives out plumbing freebies almost as if in penance for his boiling personality, and then habitually shows up late for night school. He hates his girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten) and knowing he's failing his night time chem course, taught by Englund, he offers to look at his professor's clogged pipes in an old mansion, which sets up the story. Inadvertently causing a pressure leak that unleashes a buried corpse that hosts a nefarious black heart that turns humans into demonic entities, Jack Brooks sets his own fate on course.

Englund as Professor Gordon Crowley (any coincidence he appears in Hatchet, whose rampaging villain is named Victor Crowley?) is especially wonderful as he plays the character timid in the beginning then outlandishly ghoulish as he begins to be infected by the black heart's wispy poison trails. He eats with compulsion, barfs all over the chalkboard when attempting to teach and ultimately turns into a multi-tentacled monster which the constantly-incensed Jack Brooks must dispatch.

Along the way, Jack must battle his morphed co-students, and here is where his anger mismanagement plays strategically. He not only thwarts his enemies, he mashes them to pulp the angrier he gets. Eventually this gets downright hilarious, and it ultimately sets up for an inevitable sequel as Jack Brooks, already diagnosing himself as unfit for common society, drops out to become the titular Monster Slayer, as the film's Army of Darkness-esque ending alludes.

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is a major breath of fresh air, particularly due to its comedic honesty. Seriously, why can't we have an antihero outside of The Punisher or Dirty Harry, where he's just an average Joe coping with a horrific childhood moment, and not doing so well in that manner?

Jack Brooks is an Ash of our day to certain latitudes; he's a bit of an oaf, though he's well-meaning. He's frustrated as hell and he absorbs a whipping while taking down the baddies. Though Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is nowhere near as runny and gory as the first two Evil Dead movies, that doesn't mean this film isn't slippery and juicy in its own way. The fact we're dealing with a possible miscreant who could've slipped to the other side of the tracks makes Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer subliminally devilish in a playful sort of way. He's a Toxic Avenger without having to go through the nuclear waste and when he gets bit by his adversaries, he doesn't transform into one them; he becomes his own beast altogether.

And you think Obama's Joe the Plumber has notoriety? As if...

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