Last of the Monster Kids

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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.

“Jack Frost” is, of course, a completely ridiculous movie. This is most apparent in its titular villain. A killer snowman is a premise that, perhaps, could've been salvaged, if made by an especially gifted filmmaker. Director Michael Cooney, probably because of the meager budget he had to work with, wasn't that guy. The evil 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.

As you'd expect, the acting in “Jack Frost” is quite terrible. The film begins with a ridiculous bit of narration, a faux British uncle telling Jack's story to an unconvincingly voiced little girl. Scott McDonald plays the title lending villain. As a human, he mugs furiously. As a snowman, he broadly delivers a series of increasingly dumb snow puns. Christopher Allport as the heroic sheriff is attempting to take the material seriously, though you can see he's struggling to do so. Stephen Mendel plays Agent Manners, an FBI agent pursuing Frost. Mendel is attempting to play the part as a serio-comic bad-ass. He gets a few laughs but his performance is mostly too tongue in cheek, even for a movie like this. Every other actor in the film is awful, even those that would attain some future fame, like Shannon Elizabeth.

“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.

Among the sky-dwelling sprites are tailors who cut out the individual snowflakes and a troupe of dancing “snow gypsies.” After Jack transforms into a person, two of the above are sent to Earth to keep an eye on the guy. This is but one way the special undermines its own protagonist. Jack Frost is a surprisingly ineffective hero. He makes one attempt to scale the villain's icy fortress, quickly giving up after sliding off the slick wall. Later, while attempting to rescue his love interest, Jack is captured by the same bad guy. (The girl, meanwhile, is rescued by Sir Ravenal, an Arthurian knight who enters the story halfway through.) He gives up his humanity, becoming a sprite again, to escape. Upon returning to Earth, he basically lucks into everything he needs to save the day. In what could've been a tragic turn, the girl ultimately rejects Jack's romantic offers in favor of the knight. In effect, not letting Frost get the girl just makes him look even more like an ineffective ninny.

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.

There's not too much to recommend about “Jack Frost.” The musical numbers aren't very memorable. Pardon-Me-Pete gets a number about Groundhog's Day, which totally derails the story and even makes you question the film's status as a Christmas special. The title song, “Jack Frost is Here,” has an obnoxious chorus. The bad guy's “There's the Rub” is as odd as the character is. “Jack Frost” is definitely mid-tier Rankin/Bass and not as good as “Rudolph” or “Frosty.” No, the special doesn't explain how Frost became a bad guy in “Frosty's Winter Wonderland,” not that I was expecting it to do that. [5/10]

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