Reviewed by Scott Weinberg
There have been tons of indie flicks inspired by the early works of Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), and Peter Jackson (Dead-Alive), and with only a few exceptions, those movies generally stink. That's because lots of indie horror flicks are made by people with more "horror passion" and "free time" than "filmmaking skill" or "talent," but every once in a while there comes an entry that's a whole lot better than you'd expect.
Such is clearly the case with Jon Knautz's Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, a slyly amusing, genially energetic, and consistently entertaining horror/comedy that'll no doubt tickle many a genre geek's fancy before going on to enjoy a solid shelf-life. It seems a bit too early to predict that JB:MS will earn the sort of cult following so many other flicks have, but all I can say is that I had a damn good time with this familiar-yet-fresh little multi-genre concoction.
Jack Brooks is a short-tempered young plumber with a big problem: His whole family was devoured by a brutal creature twenty years ago, and now he finds himself in a perpetual state of irritation. And to say that Mr. Brooks loses his temper at the drop of a hat would be a massive understatement. So when Jack is asked to repair some pipes at the home of his night school professor, he offers to help -- but Professor Crowley's plumbing problems lead to a sudden outpouring of evil beasties from beyond ... well, from beyond somewhere pretty freaky.
And it's up to good ol' Jack Brooks to save the day.
Told in a broad (but never stupid) style, and boasting stronger performances than you'd normally find in a flick like this, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer indicates that its creators not only love the creature features, but also that they have the filmmaking chops required to pull off a solid homage of their own. Basically, if the idea of a well-made, low-budget marriage between Hellboy and The Evil Dead sounds like fun to you, then definitely keep your eyes peeled for Jack Brooks.
If the movie suffers from a handful of minor pacing issues (mainly in the early section), it more than makes up for those glitches with a finale that's absolutely overstocked with high-end mayhem. And get this: The monsters are actually cool! Created in an old-school latex style, the monsters that try to terrorize Jack Brooks are all sorts of ickily nifty. And hey, the movie is actually shot really cleanly and has a fantastic old-school-style musical score! Imagine that!
Lead actor Trevor Matthews does a very fine job of creating a wise-cracking, comic-booky horror hero. His Jack Brooks is, yes, a short-tempered misfit who's prone to unpleasant outbursts, but Matthews also brings a lot of quick wit and pulpy swagger to the material. If Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer had been made twenty years ago, it would have starred Bruce Campbell in the title role -- and obviously that's meant as compliment (to both actors). The supporting cast is made up of (current) unknowns with talent, but a guy by the name of James A. Woods delivers a supremely amusing performance as a smug jerk who pisses Brooks off one time too many.
Lean, (slightly) mean, and boasting the funniest Robert Englund performance in quite some time, Monster Slayer is tailor-made for the young* horror geeks who love to see the same old stories, but only if they're told in a distinctly fresh, funny, or freaky fashion. Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is hardly the re-invention of the genre wheel, but that's fine by me. It's just a whole bunch of sick, sly, silly fun.
(* By young, I obviously mean "young at heart," as well. Because I'm no kid, believe me.)
Special note: A few days after its Slamdance screening, the flick was purchased by Anchor Bay. And yes, this movie would definitely make for a solid double-feature alongside Hatchet.