Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas 2018: December 18th

Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Mutant Snowman (2000)

Rather notoriously, two movies named “Jack Frost” were hitting video stores around the same time. Despite the identical titles and similar living snowman premises, one was a sappy family film and the other was a gory horror/comedy. While the family film probably had a wider cultural reach at the time, owing to it actually playing in theaters, only the goofy horror movie got a sequel. The gloriously subtitled “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Mutant Snowman” would hit video shelves at the dawn of the new millennium. Writer/director Michael Cooney and some of the same cast would return along with the killer snowman, suggesting people genuinely wanted to make this sequel.

A year has past since serial killer Jack Frost was transformed into an animated snowman and went on a rampage through the small town of Snowmonton. Though Frost was seemingly melted with antifreeze, Sheriff Sam Tiler is still traumatized by his memories of the killing spree. In hopes it'll get his mind off things, his wife suggest they head to Hawaii for a Christmas vacation. Sam reluctantly agrees, joining his friends for their island honeymoon. But the sheriff is right to be worried. Government agents recover Frost's remains, attempts to weaponize his powers, and end up resurrecting the mutant frost golem. Now with a psychic link to Tiler, he follows the family to Hawaii and begins killing anew.

The first “Jack Frost” was a knowingly ridiculous movie. If the subtitle wasn't indication enough, the sequel ramps that silliness up even further. This is most apparent in the film's ludicrous collection of characters. FBI Agent Manners returns from the first movie, played by a different actor and sporting an eye patch. Every time he exits the screen, he's followed by a dramatic musical sting on the soundtrack. The hotel staff includes an exaggerated Jamaican guy, a British fellow in a pith helmet he makes repeated references to fighting wars in India, and Captain Fun. Captain Fun is a responsible for getting everyone in a party mode, with tactics like costume parties and snowball fights. These goofy characters indicate the kind of cartoony tone “Jack Frost 2” is obviously after.

The first film clearly did not have a very high budget, which is most evident in the lack of snow on the ground throughout most of it. The sequel seems to follow this lead at first. In the first half, Jack Frost appears largely via voice-over and P.O.V. shots. Or a carrot being dragged along the beach. Halfway through, however, Frost makes it snow in Hawaii. He's massacring a whole party. Much of the film's latter half focuses on Frost's snowball-shaped offspring, a very silly plot twist that turns the sequel into a super-cheap “Gremlins” knock-off of sorts. There's even some (admittedly extremely crude) CGI. The movie was clearly saving its budget for its second half.

“Jack Frost 2” does have a demented creative streak. Those nearly indestructible snow-babies – which get squished in waffle irons, swarm victims, and chug booze – are a totally unexpected digression. They admittedly kind of take over the movie but, just when you're sick of their cute-but-deadly antics, papa Jack Frost comes roaring back. Otherwise, the gore effects are even more cartoonish than last time. Jack actually kills someone but changing into an anvil and falling on them. There's an effective exploding head and repeated deadly uses for a carrot. He even shapes into a box at one point, capturing and crushing someone. The highlight of the sequel is when Jack crashes a party, turning a snowball fight deadly. Though mildly amusing throughout, this is the only time the sequel actually made me laugh from its audacity.

Despite teasing a third installment with a typically ridiculous mid-credits scene, there would be no further adventures for Jack Frost. That's probably for the best. I'm not sure what else you could have done with the premise beyond this sequel, which manages to be both somewhat lazy and surprisingly ambitious. (Though the Christmas aspect is mostly in the background, which is not surprising considering the tropical setting.) It's totally brain-dead and will admittedly only appeal to a certain breed of weirdo. Yet I definitely did have a good time with this frosted sequel. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're going to see one killer snowman movie, see “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Mutant Snowman.” [7/10]

Into the Dark: Pooka!

Blumhouse and Hulu's “Into the Dark” feature length anthology series premiered back in October without much fanfare. I reviewed the first episode, which wasn't without merit, but even horror websites didn't seem all that impressed with the first two installments. (I haven't caught up with the November/Thanksgiving feature, “Flesh and Blood.”) However, the December/Christmas episode, “Pooka!,” got some positive reviews. Not coincidentally, this is the first “Into the Dark” chapter to be made by a qualified horror filmmaker. Nacho Vigalondo's career has been uneven but his films are always interesting.

Wilson, a struggling actor, moves to L.A. to get away from a troubled past. He eventually scores his first gig. Wilson has been hired to be the in-costume performer of Pooka. That's the hottest new toy of the holidays, a teddy bear that unpredictably repeats what you just said. Wilson isn't sure about the gig, especially since the suit gives him weird vibes, but it pays well. It also gives him a chance to romance Melanie, a pretty real estate agent. However, he begins to have nightmares about the Pooka suit. Which soon transforms into bizarre hallucinations. He forms a disturbing bond with the suit. When the whole toy line is recalled, Wilson's life truly falls apart.

From its opening minutes, “Pooka!” sets out to create an unnerving atmosphere. The titular toy is well designed. It's cute enough that kids would believably want it. There's also something kind of creepy about it, with those wide eyes that flash red and blue randomly. That juxtaposition, between the cute and the creepy, is successfully built on to create an unsettling atmosphere. Throughout most of “Pooka!,” there's this uncomfortable sense that things could go wrong at any minute. As that nightmarish tone continues, Vigalondo throws more casually surreal sights at us. Such as the Pooka suit sitting in a coffee shop or mysterious banging noises that shakes a Christmas tree.

By establishing this creepy ambiance, the audience is left on-edge for whatever fucked-up imagery Vigalondo throws at us. And there's a lot of that in “Pooka!” Wilson's nightmares are very unnerving indeed. They start as malevolent but explicable, with the Pooka suit springing to life and wrecking his apartment. Something cute becoming corrupt is a reoccurring theme in the episode. As the nightmares continue, Pooka continues to behave badly. He performs sex acts, sets fire, vomits blood, smokes lightly. In the most shocking moment, a child is even endangered, the severity of which we never learn. Vigalondo does a good job of keeping us off-guard and throwing freakishness at us when it's needed.

While “Pooka's” functions well as a surreal creep-fest, its story isn't very concrete. The audience is eventually left wandering what the point of this nightmare is. If Wilson's anxieties about employment or relationships will solidify into something meaningful. Or if the film is taking shots at toy fads like Furbys or Pokemon, both of which Pooka resembles. Surely the Pooka – which shares a name with a mischievous fairy spirit in Celtic mythology – has some deeper significance? Instead, the film's denouncement explains everything in the least interesting way possible, a twist that is well trotted ground. It ends up feeling like a bit of a cop-out.

Still, “Pooka!” is an appropriately spooky bit of holiday horror. There's a decent amount of Christmas trappings. A tense stalking scene occurring in a Christmas tree lot, for example. The cast is solid, with Nyasha Hatendi being a fittingly squirrely as the lead. Mostly, it's Vigalondo's grasp of atmosphere and tone, and the creepy looking title entity, that makes “Pooka!” worth seeing. I doubt it'll become a regular part of my Christmas horror marathons but I think I will continue to check in on “Into the Dark” throughout the year. I'm curious what they'll premiere in August or September, months without any real holidays to latch onto. [7/10]

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