Friday, December 23, 2016
Christmas 2016: December 22
Jack Frost (1997)
During the late nineties, video store shelves were flooded with cheaply produced horror flicks, movies made expressly for the straight-to-video market. “Jack Frost” would probably be as forgotten as most of these flicks if a few things didn't gift it some infamy. Firstly, its ridiculous premise – a killer snowman – wouldn't go unnoticed by some horror fans. Secondly, it was released on video around the same time as an identically entitled family film with a similar premise, leading to some amusing mix-ups. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the VHS box had an eye-catching holographic cover. “Jack Frost's” cult following is most apparent in its recent reissue on Blu Ray, from the fine folks at Vinegar Syndrome.
After a lengthy manhunt, serial killer Jack Frost has been apprehended. Around Christmas time, the police cruiser carrying him towards execution collides with a truck hulling an experimental acid. The acid fuses Frost's genetic structure with the snow around him. The serial killer is reborn as an animated snowman, able to shift from a liquid to a solid at will. Jack returns to the small town of Snowmonton, to take his revenge on the sheriff responsible for his capture. Along the way, he reeks plenty of holiday-flavored mayhem.
snowlem is brought to life through a very unconvincing suit. Jack looks more like a twisted Pillsbury Dough Boy then a snowman. It's even worst when he has to move, which is usually accomplished by the snowman stiffly shuffling around. The thing's arms barely move. Then again, the movie never attempts to turn Frost into a serious threat. The filmmakers knew he was silly. Accordingly, Jack mostly speaks in snowman or Christmas related puns.
So “Jack Frost” goes for humor, more often then not. How else are you suppose to respond to an evil snowman shoving an ax handle down a guy's throat or smashing a woman's face into a box of Christmas ornaments? Or, for that matter, cracking ice puns while shooting icicles at someone? The most notorious moment occurs when Jack sneaks into a young Shannon Elizabeth's bathtub, leading to a rape scene that would be offensive if it wasn't so ridiculous. Yet the film's more obvious attempts at humor tend to fall flat. Such as a reoccuring gag about snowballs or the protagonist's son baking anti-freeze into his cookies. A moment when the snowman's body is mixed up is especially baffling. The awful special effects lead to some unintentional laughs, such as when the snowman awkwardly decapitates a schoolyard bully.
“Jack Frost” ladles on the Christmas atmosphere, except for one element you might expect. Apparently, the movie was filmed during an unseasonably hot winter. Meaning there's very little snow in this movie about a snowman. Once you see this, that the little amount of snow on-screen is clearly fake, it becomes impossible not to notice. The filmmakers would work around this problem for the sequel – yes, there's a sequel – by setting the story in a tropical setting. I'm not sure how that works and, I'm sure you're sad to know, I won't get to part two this December. As for the original “Jack Frost,” it's an entirely ridiculous attempt at a horror/comedy but isn't without its brain dead charms. [6/10]
Jack Frost (1979)
If I have accomplished nothing else this December, I have cleared up a few blind spots concerning the various Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. 1979's “Jack Frost” is another one I've seen advertised for years but have never actually sat down and watched before. Considering his supporting parts in previous stories, I guess it was about time Rankin/Bass gave the frosty sprite his own special. “Jack Frost” follows the titular winter spirit. After a young lass expresses an affection for the invisible entity, Frost requests his dad, the powerful Father Winter, grant him human form. If Jack can find a horse, a house, and a wife before spring, he'll stay human. If not, he'll return to his intangible form. Unlucky for Jack, his quest for person hood runs into a local petty tyrant subjugating the village of January Junction.
Plot wise, “Jack Frost” recalls various legends about fairies falling in love with humans. This being Rankin/Bass, the studio had to put their own suitably bizarre spin on the material. Jack Frost resides in a kingdom in the sky, cohabiting with other wintry sprites. Father Winter is powerful enough to control the weather but, strangely, takes his orders from a singing, dancing groundhog. That groundhog narrates the special, despite his loose connection to the rest of the story. Pardon-Me Pete, because the studio didn't want to mention Punxsutawney for some reason, is voiced by a lisping Buddy Hackett. Pete periodically interrupts the story to sing or narrate some more.
And what of that bad guy? Like the Burgermeister from “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Kubla Kraus is an asshole dictator who lords over a small town. (Both are voiced by Paul Frees, which would be notable if Paul Frees hadn't voiced ten thousand other cartoon characters.) Instead of barking weird laws, Kubla Kraus simply illegally taxes the residents until they have no money at all. Because he's such a miserable asshole, the villain has no friends. To make up for this, he has built a legion of steampunk servants and companions. The weirdest of which is a hand puppet named Dummy. The relationship between the bad guy and his ventriloquism-themed partner is disturbingly similar to Mr. Garrison and Mr. Hat from “South Park.” Like every other Rankin?Bass villain, Kraus is also a buffoon, undone by his own foolishness as much by the hero's actions.