Ol Jack Brooks has got himself a bit of a problem. You see, when Jack gets mad, Jack gets violent. Which isn’t exactly a good thing for our hero, being that he’s in his mid-20s, stuck in a dead-end job as a plumber, and spends his nights being dragged to night school by his nagging girlfriend. Things start to look up (in a matter of speaking) when Jack’s professor (played by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund in an effective comic performance) finds himself possessed by a demonic entity that resides in his backyard – at least until a plumbing incident awakens it. Now ol Jack has to battle the demon in night class, less it swallow up all of his classmates, including that cute blonde he’s had his eyes on. Plus, did I mention his girlfriend is kind of a nag?
“Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” certainly lives up to its title – at least for the film’s final 20 minutes, when we finally get to see some slaying. Until then, “Jack Brooks” is mostly set-up, which could have been a very tedious 60 minutes had director Jon Knautz and his co-writers not able to come up with some amusing shenanigans to keep us occupied. Fortunately the set-up for our hero’s inevitable confrontation with the demon and its underlings are worth some chuckles, and although the film does certainly drag toward its expected gore-tastic Third Act, I was more astounded that the film had managed to entertain me, for the most part, all the way through rather than be bothered by the lack of, well, monster slaying that I’ve been promised.
When we first meet our hero, Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) is quite the troubled plumber. Of course you can’t really blame the guy, since as a kid he saw a monster leap out of the bushes and eat his family while they were camping in the hills. Jack, then a young boy, fled the scene, and has regretted it ever since. Now, whenever situations arise that he can’t deal with, Jack flies off the handle. In an attempt to rein in his temper, Jack occasionally sees a shrink (Daniel Kash), while trying to keep girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten) at bay. Things come to a head for Jack when his night class Professor (Englund) asks him to head on up to his old house in the hills to check on his wayward plumbing. No, the Professor doesn’t like boys; he’s actually referring to his actual plumbing.
I’ve heard of “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” being described as “Evil Dead” for the new millennium, and the finished product certainly seems to be taking a lot of its cue from Sam Raimi’s low-budget break-through film from the good ‘ol days of splatter cinema. The gore in “Jack Brooks” is plentiful, and the creature effects are adequate, if not entirely convincing. Okay, to be honest, the monster and the entire sequence that bookends the film is so bad I thought the movie was doing a parody of bad creature movies from the ‘50s when I first saw it. Alas, no. It’s just bad creature make-up not helped by sloppy writing, acting, and directing, and it’s curious why Knautz et al decided to lead out and end with such an unspectacular sequence.
Of course you don’t go into a movie called “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” expecting ILM caliber special effects or “Citizen Kane” level script work. George Lucas and Orson Wells don’t make movies about a plumber who saw his family get eaten by a hairy, black-faced demon one night, and now finds himself fighting a Jabba The Hutt-type demon that has possessed his night school Professor, and is now using tentacles that shoot out of his orifices to capture his victims for, er, feeding. Nope, this is entirely the arena of filmmakers who grew up on the barely budgeted gore-heavy creature films of the ‘80s and ‘90s that used to populate mom and pop video stores across America, usually in the very back shelves where the decent customers rarely venture.
The lack of a big budget probably also explains why much of the film’s action and heavy demonic sequences are saved for the final Third Act. When the time finally does come for some demon-killing to get done by our hero, director Jon Knautz certainly makes the most of it. “Jack Brooks” features a pretty outstanding final 20 or so minutes that is wall-to-wall demon action, with nary a single second wasted. Even if you thought the first hour was way too slow and too, well, set-up heavy, the crazy final 20 minutes should more than make up for it. Unless, of course, you really were expecting something in the vein of “Citizen Kane”, in which case, well, you’re an idiot.
Special recognition goes to Robert Englund, who is so un-Freddy like that sometimes I had to remind myself this is the same guy who, for much of the ‘80s, terrified me as the knives wielding Freddy Krueger. Englund does fantastic work, and credit to Jon Knautz for realizing that the horror vet has comedic chops and using it to their fullest. The film offers up some highly entertainment moments, with everyone playing comedic foil to lead Trevor Matthews’ straight man. Matthews himself is a convincing hero, and although his constant, anger-fueled tirades in his doctor’s office can get a bit awkward at times, they do feature a couple of nice lines. Overall, great acting work by the leads, including Rachel Skarsten as Jack’s pestering girlfriend, who always seems to be this close to dumping him.
If you know what you’re expecting going in, then there isn’t a whole lot about “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” that will disappoint. The film’s title pretty much sells the movie – it’s about a guy name Jack Brooks who, you know, slays monsters. The effective comedy in the first hour was unexpected, but much appreciated. Add in the presence of one of those clichéd Old Guy Who Knows Stuff (with a hook for a hand, in this case), and it’s not too much of a stretch to guess that the writers knew exactly what they were doing, and that not a single generic character that populates the film were put in there by accident. Yes, the annoying guy is supposed to be annoying; yes, the hot girl is supposed to be hot; and yes, the annoying girlfriend is supposed to be annoying. That’s the point. “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” gets the point, and so will you if you toss it into the DVD player.
Jon Knautz (director) / John Ainslie, Jon Knautz, Trevor Matthews, Patrick White (screenplay)
CAST: Trevor Matthews … Jack Brooks
Robert Englund … Professor Crowley
Rachel Skarsten … Eve
James A. Woods … John
Daniel Kash … Dr. Silverstein
Ashley Bryant … Kristy
Stefanie Drummond … Janice
Meghanne Kessels … Suzy
David Fox … Howard