It has seemingly become the duty of every Internet critic specializing in horror flicks or b-movies to review 1997's Jack Frost. The reasons for this aren't entirely clear: maybe it's the outlandish premise, the film's calculated camp value, or the lenticular motion-illusion cassette cover that changes an innocent snowman into a slavering ice-beast as you walk by the shelf in the video store. Let us not forget to mention the comic possibilities inherent in the fact that Michael Keaton starred in a family film of the same title which had eerie parallels to its horrific predecessor namely, a human transformed into a walking, talking snowman.
But where the Jack Frost played by Keaton used his snowy powers for the betterment of the lives of his children, the titular snowman in the opus at hand is a serial killer whose DNA has been bonded to the new-fallen snow when he is accidentally splashed with an "experimental acid." Though his human body is no more, the resurrected Jack (Scott MacDonald) eludes his captors on the eve of his execution and begins to terrorize the community of "Snowmonton, Snow Man Capitol of the World."
When Muppets Attack!
Coincidentally, Snowmonton is the little town where Jack was inadvertently captured by small-time sheriff Sam (Christopher Allport), who will be the hero in our little horror story. Since Jack swore retribution against Sam, Sam is rather pleased that Jack will soon be meeting his demise in the electric chair or so he thinks.
On the way to his date with destiny, Jack is released from the prison transport by an accident with the truck. His joy, however, is short lived. The jackknifed truck releases it's contents, and quicker than you can say "Hulk/Daredevil rip-off," Jack is transformed into a being made of that most terrifying of substances: snow. Not just any snow, mind you, but snow with the ability to melt and re-freeze at will. Ooooooh! Scary!
After that, not much happens. Jack goes around town, killing people while making Freddy Krueger-esque puns. The highlight has to be the two teenagers who sneak into the Sheriff's house to have sex. Jack impales the guy with an icicle, then melts into the house's tub and lures the girl to take a bath in him. Well, "lure" is kind of a strong word. She climbs into a mysteriously full tub of her own volition, and without worrying that her horny boyfriend has disappeared, despite the very real chance of seeing her naked. We figure that if he had filled the tub for her, he would stick around to watch the show.
"You're right, that Christmas tree is looking pretty shady..."
We might have liked Jack Frost a bit better if writer-director Michael Cooney had seriously committed the film to a course of action, in its plot and in its style. If he wanted it to be a spoof of horror flicks, it should have flaunted more of the conventions rather than simply aping them. If he wanted to make a pseudo-serious horror film with an amusing premise, a script with less of an Idiot Plot was required. As it stands, the film flounders between the two concepts, never really making much of a statement in either.
To illustrate: Much has been made elsewhere of the apparent lack of snow in this town called Snowmonton, and it's true. For a movie about a killer snowman, the streets, houses, and trees are woefully devoid of snow. It goes a long way towards wrecking the film's credibility, although we're not really sure that a blizzard which appears in the script but not on screen would have saved it.
Next on Fox: World's Worst
Holiday Accidents 4!
Not everything about Jack Frost made us cringe; Cooney has a real gift for developing characters quickly, playing with film conventions, and making visual jokes. There is the scene in which two horny teenagers shed layer after layer of winter clothing as a prelude to sex in the sheriff's house, their invasion of which is never really explained. As the kids get down to their long johns and an inventory of clothing piles up, we chuckled a bit at this parody of summer camp skinny dipping scenes found in other horror flicks. As an even subtler joke, a guitar plays "The Twelve Days of Christmas" in the background.
Similarly, Cooney uses a lot of imaginative camera perspectives, really shaking things up in a Raimi-esque way. Sure, the obligatory Bat-cam tilted angles appear, but when was the last time you saw a scene from the point-of-view of a melted snowman? It's too bad that such a talented director couldn't do more with his pet creation: yes, the eventual use of antifreeze to dispatch Jack is a logical and imaginative choice, but we never really believed that any of these too-campy characters were anything more than b-grade actors set in front of a camera, and the script wasn't giving them any help. Jack Frost was really on the right track for about the first hour or so, but it never quite gave us enough. It wasn't funny enough, it wasn't convincing enough, and it wasn't snowy enough.
"If you don't look good, I don't look good."
The greatest downer in the film, however, is Jack Frost after the transformation. He is played by a several nearly immobile puppets. There are few long shots and we never see him move about to any degree. Sure, the filmmakers were trying to make a cheesy movie, but this one really needed some extra effort in the special effects department. The concept of a killer snowman may be enough to get people to pick up the video box, but the failure to deliver a convincing representation of one undermines the flick's very purpose. You read it here, folks: this film doesn't have Jack.
* The invention of the term "Idiot Plot" has been attributed to several people, including critic Roger Ebert. In essence, an Idiot Plot is one that requires all of the characters to be idiots. This excerpt from an interview with science fiction writer David Brin illustrates the term
Now what is the Idiot Plot? The Idiot Plot is fifteen, a dozen or so spoiled white teenagers in a haunted house, the lights go out, and somebody screams. And then somebody gets the bright idea, "I know, let's all split up!" How many times have you seen that? And you're going, "Oh no " Why do they split up? Because if they link arms, go out the front door, go down the block and dial 911, the movie's over.