Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer
Not only is the film a positive surprise, but the DVD offering is packed full of features, and some pretty interesting features too, not the usual “throw content at the viewer” type of extras either.
A young boy is camping with his sister and parents, they're having a great time, until a creature comes out of the woods and attacks them, killing the parents the boy runs, and remembers it for the rest of his life. Further forward in time.
Jack Brooks is attending night school in chemistry with his girlfriend and struggling with an anger inside of him that he can't control. He's a plumber, unhappy with life and searching for something.
Meanwhile his chemistry teacher discovers something strange buried in his garden, a blackened heart. It starts beating and enters his body. Pretty soon Jack Brooks is the only hope for the entire class, and Brooks comes across his first monster and it is the making of him.
The opening scene surprised me straight away with the sighting of the Cyclopean creature, with my preconceptions of the film I had thought that the effects would be pretty poor and shadowed in darkness. What's the first thing we see? A creature made of practical effects shown head to foot in broad daylight as it does battle with extras, now that doesn't sound like a B movie.
That's something that is throughout the film. Although some of the effects aren't as strong as this one, they do remain good and almost wholly practical.
Once the story skips past the childhood event it does move a little slowly and you do find yourself wondering what's happening and where the story is going, if it's going anywhere, but it does pick up again as the professor discovers what's in his yard and the main story kicks in.
The pace of the film is good after this, it doesn't move too fast, keeping the story and character development steady and building to the big climactic sequences at the school.
It's when the story does kick off that we get some great pay off's from the script that's been building well, and some good fun moments along with the horror and excitement.
It's amusing in places with some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Yet it's not a comedy and for the horror fans out there you're in luck, there's enough blood and gore to keep you happy, but not so much to drop it into the horror film festival crowd and leave it there.
That said there's plenty here for the horror festival fans and I could see it playing well at the UK's Dead by Dawn horror festival, in fact I think it did!
Back to the comedy for a moment though. Yes there are some strong moments and I did laugh out loud, but there are also some dud moments that you can see are trying to be something more. The sequence of the woman being dragged around the corridors and hitting everything in her way could have been good but it wasn't executed well enough and could have had a lot more laughs, and there are a few moments where it drops the ball a little.
Acting wise I have to mention the performance of Robert Englund. We've come to expect a certain type of character with him, and my expectations certainly did not include physical comedy. He has a varied performance and really does seem to be having fun in the role. The film is made so much more for having him in it.
The picture is strong and manages to cope with some challenging moments, such as the opening scene with the cyclopean creature, all practical effects in bright daylight leaping to another practical effects creature in the darkest of nights. What's great is that it doesn't rely on the darkness to hide the effects either.
The cinematography was strong for the most part and carried good lighting and framing. The film looked good upscaled and really did fill out the detail in the picture.
Dolby Digital 5.1
Something I noticed up front is that there's been some time spent on this audio track. Unlike a lot of films where they just cobble together something and throw a few ambient sounds to the rear speakers, here they have worked hard on the separation and direction of the sound and really taken advantage of all six speakers.
The audio track adds a hell of a lot to the film, particularly during the horror and action moments.
Audio Commentary featuring director Jon Knautz, producer Patrick White, composer Ryan Shore, and producer and actor Trevor Matthews; Behind the Scenes, Building a Monster; World Première; Creating the Music; Deleted Scenes; Storyboard Comparison; Teen Massacre Short; Teen Massacre Short Audio Commentary featuring director Jon Knautz; Making Teen Massacre
Audio Commentary featuring director Jon Knautz, producer Patrick White, composer Ryan Shore, and producer and actor Trevor Matthews
The commentary isn't the best and begins to struggle for things to say quite early on. It has some interesting points, but for the most part it's a bunch of friends talking about the film without too much to say about it. Knautz has the most to say about the film, and I just wish he'd said more.
Behind the Scenes
The Behind the Scenes featurette has some good information from the director, the lead actor, and Robert Englund. What surprised me the most, and in a good way, was just how much time the special effects team had to talk about their work. They had a large amount of the screen time and it's all time well spent and provides for some of the most interesting featurette content. It also includes plenty of behind the scenes footage.
Building a Monster
This featurette is a very details special effects film which looks into how most of the big effects sequences have been created. There's a lot more detail in here for the effects work and we're treated to a lot more information on the process.
At the world première of the film there was a press junket which some of the talent behind the scenes were involved with. The Q&A was all too short and nothing that interesting considering what we've already watched so far.
Creating the Music
This little featurette brings the biggest surprise of the entire DVD because of the sheer scale of the music production. The film used a full orchestra and travelled abroad in order to be able to afford them to get the full scale orchestra. We hear from the director and the composer about the music and we get to see footage of the orchestra practicing and being recorded in their home country.
There are plenty of deleted scenes to be had here, and some big scenes too, complete start to finish scenes, not just the usual snipped seconds from an existing scene. Scenes like the bar scene where Robert Englund delivers more of his comic performance, it's actually a scene that you wonder whether it should have been deleted or not. This section of extras is one of the better deleted scenes extras I've wacthed, mainly for the complete edited scenes.
This storyboard comparison shows us six sequences that we've already seen in the film with the corresponding storyboard panel shown in a picture in picture. It works well, and is even better with the crudely drawn storyboard panels.
Teen Massacre Short
This is a short film that the team made before Jack Brooks, a typical slasher horror film in short format. It's a bit silly and over the top at some points, but it does deliver a lot of blood and gore for the fans of such and I'm sure would go down well at horror film festivals. There are some stylistic moments which look good and provide a little break from the standard fare it delivers.
Teen Massacre Short Audio Commentary
There's even an audio commentary for the short film which has the actor, director and co-writer talking about the film. This is quite interesting and gives a little insight into how to create low budget films.
Making Teen Massacre
A short featurette looking behind the scenes of the short film. There's nothing too exciting but it has a few interesting comments, again about low budget film making.
Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer was a surprising film for me, surprising from the opening scene which featured much better special effects than I'd expected, and that's a theme that goes through the whole film, it's much better than you would have thought.
It's enjoyable, entertaining and has some scares and horror moments to suit all fans. The makers of the film have been very ambitious with their work and have set it up so that there's a possibility of a franchise, something that they are already talking about with the first sequel.
This is good fun, and a lot better than I expected. Then there's the DVD it comes with, packed with extras and features which are interesting and relevant, rather than just content thrown at the disc. A good package and worth taking a look at.