Tuesday, December 19, 2017

12 Horrors of Christmas: 'Jack Frost' (1997)

Thanks to sharing a title and a basic concept (dead man is reincarnated as a snowman) with a Michael Keaton-starring family movie that came out just a year later, Michael Cooney's Jack Frost has enjoyed a higher level of awareness than the average C-level direct-to-video horror movie (it even gained enough of a cult following to spawn a sequel three years later). It benefits from a bit of cheeky self-awareness and a memorably absurd premise, but it's still mostly a slog, with a drawn-out plot that never gets beyond its initial hook, and a bunch of disposable characters whose only value is as fodder for the killer. Writer-director Cooney tries really, really hard to turn that killer into the next Freddy Krueger or Chucky (with tons of quippy one-liners), but nothing in the movie quite lands the way it should.

After a clever opening featuring Cooney himself in voiceover giving the backstory of serial killer Jack Frost (during credits that are printed on Christmas ornaments), the movie shifts into more typical B-movie territory, with Jack (an entertainingly evil Scott MacDonald) on his way to his execution, only for his transport vehicle to collide with a truck carrying highly volatile chemicals, all in the middle of a snowstorm. In classic supervillain-origin fashion, Jack is covered in an experimental substance that fuses his molecules with the snow, thus turning him into a living snowman with the ability to manipulate his frozen body and even change states from water to snow and back.

That sounds impressive, but of course the movie is so low-budget that it can't really depict any of it, and Jack himself remains mostly inert, his motion depicted by cutting away from him and then cutting back to show him in a different place. His mouth sometimes moves when he speaks, and his arms (which look like giant oven mitts) occasionally sway, but that's the extent of his range of motion. Nothing used in the movie to simulate snow looks anything like real snow. Even more ridiculously, Jack's water form is just normal puddles of water, and Cooney completely fails to invest these small wet spots with terror (even if people are shooting guns at them). So even though Jack is killing residents of the small Colorado town (named, of course, Snomonton, home of an annual snowman-building competition), he never seems dangerous or scary.

Cooney understands how silly all of this is, and he gives Jack a stream of dumb jokes that mostly fall flat, although MacDonald delivers them with as much sarcastic gusto as Robert Englund or Brad Dourif playing more iconic horror-movie villains. Jack's kills are sometimes inventive -- a young Shannon Elizabeth plays a teenager who's essentially raped to death by Jack's carrot-stick nose, in the movie's best/worst moment -- but mostly they're just nonsensical, as are the various plans by the townspeople to destroy the seemingly unkillable Jack (eventually they manage to take him out with antifreeze). Although the Christmas setting is a constant background presence, Cooney doesn't really comment on the holiday, and most of the movie could be set during any cold-weather period. It aims to be a campy holiday treat, but it doesn't quite have the ingenuity to follow through.

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