The 20-something Jack Brooks finds just the role to sate his anger management issues, which stem back to childhood, when, during a camping incident, he lost his parents to a beast in the woods. It takes a while for him to find his calling, but when he does, the beasts better look out!
The Canadian production “Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer” – which screened at this year’s Philadelphia Film Festival after Anchor Bay acquired it at Slamdance – sports a devotion to classic horror, to the days when the dream factory brought forth monsters chased by a sure-fire hunter. The film is especially nostalgic in a time when horror is often sent to PG-13 land or made into sterile torture-porn. In its affection for its genre, “Jack Brooks” is a pure, refreshing entry.
But the path to Jack’s (Trevor Matthews) calling is a slow one, even for a fan base used to extended setups. The deliberate first hour of the film mostly concerns Jack’s attending a night school chemistry course. It’s taught by Professor Crowley (Robert Englund), who’s so into his subject that he tries to apply it to home improvement. When he can’t solve his plumbing issues, he calls in Jack, who plumbs by day when his anger doesn’t end jobs on the spot. A piping mishap awakens an underground curse that soon possesses Englund, making him into a stomach-churning zombie. A flesh eater? Possibly, but he spends a good chunk of the film chewing meat off hot wings.
Thus, “Jack Brooks” drops its plot for gross-out laughs, until the film admits that a host occupies Professor Crowley, one which gives him supersonic tentacles and makes him into an eggplant-shaped parasite. (If you can remember how Bill Paxton looked toward the end of “Weird Science,” you’ll be close.) Once Englund’s left his human form, Jack becomes a pipe wielding a*s-kicker, and you’ll sense “They Live’s” Rowdy Roddy strutting somewhere in the background.
Jack’s attack on the monster’s zombies – which Englund’s Crowley creates through tentacle throat-diving – brings forth sheer mayhem, but a little too late. The last act finally shows co-writer/director Jon Knautz in good form, as he sports a sure-hand at directing action. The frame never turns into a tennis match, much blood-soaked kinetics notwithstanding. Little puns indicate that he aims to double-fist shocks with gags, like Peter Jackson’s ceaselessly clever “Brain Dead.” If Knautz does well enough supplying the former, he can’t be faulted for losing hold of the humor. Classic horror viewers will love the old-school analog FX that realize plenty of blood and crunch – for every zombie there’s a gory blow or two from Jack, with a strong score by Ryan Shore to match. And making Englund into a zombie is like Lugosi taking a bite off of Frankenstein (Look out for the horror icon in another current romp, “Zombie Strippers.”) If you can wait until near the end, you’re in for some fun. But after an hour-plus, it’s a pretty long wait.