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Jack Frost
(1997)

Director: Michael Cooney  
Cast:
Chris Allport, Stephen Mendel, F. William Parker


Unlike many other movie review web sites that exclusively focus on one particular genre - action, horror, etc. - I chose to review (unknown) films from all sorts of genres when I decided to set up this web site. There are several reasons why I ultimately came to that decision. One of the big reasons was that I love all sorts of movies, and I certainly did not want to narrow myself to exploring one particular kind of film genre. Another reason was to have something for any reader's taste, so that I would potentially attract a bigger audience than a site that just reviews one particular film genre. Anyway, my ultimate decision to review all sorts of movies (as long as they are unknown to some degree) has really paid off for me. One big way it has paid off is that it has taught me that there is a movie for anyone's particular taste at any particular time. For example, take a look at the action genre alone. Are you tired of Die Hard rip-offs? Not to worry - there are plenty of different kind of action movies out there, such as westerns (both spaghetti and domestic), martial art epics, war flicks, police sagas, revenge movies, and plenty more where all those movies came from. The comedy genre also has plenty to choose from, such as skit movies like Prime Time, various parodies and satires, raunchy exercises, and plenty more where all those movies came from. Maybe you are in the mood for something from the science fiction and fantasy field? Well, you are in luck, because there sure are a lot of sword & sorcery epics, alien encounters, scientific achievements, and plenty more where all those movies came from.

If you are in the mood for some horror, well, you are in luck too. No doubt you already know about the many different kind of horror movies out there - there are plenty more where all those movies came from. But I would like to talk about one particular kind of horror movie, one that hasn't been made that much over the many decades of movie making. It's a kind of horror movie that has a one-two punch of sorts: a horror movie taking place in a wintertime landscape and during the Christmas holiday season. Yes, there have been some horror movies that have had both of these attributes, such as Gremlins, To All A Good Night, and the Silent Night, Deadly Night movies. But there haven't been a great deal more made. Why is this so? Well, thinking about it just a little comes up with some plausible reasons. Let's examine the wintertime setting factor first. Most domestic movies projects are planned and often shot in Hollywood and the surrounding areas - areas that don't get any snow in the winter, at least the last time that I checked. So that eliminates snow potential in a lot of movies made by the major studios. True, there are a number of movies that shoot outside of southern California, but you don't often see snow in those movies, horror or not. It doesn't take much thought to come up with the reason why. Having grown up in an area that got a lot of snow during the winter, I can tell you that doing any sort of work in a snowy landscape is hard work. Not only is filming in snow hard work, it is also much more expensive to shoot in snow, because you have to pay for additional costs like snow plows, heaters, and all sorts of additional expenses.

So it's obvious why filmmakers of any genre, horror or not, don't like to film in winter conditions and avoid it when possible. But then there is the question as to why horror filmmakers don't set more horror movies during Christmas. After all, it's a big holiday, and big things often have Jack Frostbig potential. Thinking about it for a while, I have a theory why the holiday hasn't been exploited more by horror filmmakers. I think horror filmmakers are afraid of a backlash, like the one that came from the release of the first Silent Night, Deadly Night movie. Christmas has shaped itself to be a family friendly time, and woe be to Scrooges. So I think I can understand why the makers of Jack Frost - who made a wintertime horror movie set during the Christmas season - chose a different than expected tone for their horror movie. It's a tone some other low budget horror movie makers have also gone with when faced with some of the same obstacles these filmmakers had. Just take a look at the movie's basic plot for a taste of the movie's tone. The central character of Jack Frost is a mortal man named Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald, Fire In The Sky). We quickly learn that he is a serial killer that has terrorized the country for years, slicing up people and putting their body parts into pies. But eventually he was caught by small town sheriff Sam Tiler (Allport, The Sweeper), put on trial, and sentenced to death. But one December night, while Jack is in a transport van delivering him to the prison where he is to be executed, the van gets into an acccident with a truck carrying a mysterious chemical formula. After the crash, Jack escapes from the van, but is almost immediately afterwards sprayed with the formula from the damaged truck, and he disappears... but not for long. Somehow, the formula bonded Jack's body with the snow that was under his feet, and Jack has become living snow that can form or melt at will. Disguising himself as a snowman, Jack proceeds in the next few hours to terrorize the closest community from the road accident. As it happens, one of the members of the community happens to be Sam, who soon realizes with the escalating body count in the town that he's up against a foe much more dangerous than your mere mortal serial killer.

I am pretty sure that from that plot synopsis alone, you have some idea of what tone Jack Frost sticks with for the most part. Like the people behind such movies like The Toxic Avenger and The Convent, Jack Frost happens to be a horror movie with frequent (black) comedy touches. And I think that this decision to add laughs with horror elements was, at least in this particular case, the right decision to follow. For starters, if you were to remove all the humor in the movie, you would clearly see that there is some material that by itself, without comedy to soften the impact, would more likely than not come across as pretty grim. (WARNING: SPOILERS ARE AHEAD). Children are made to go through some terrifying moments. One youth even gets killed. Old people are also killed. Plus, there is also a rape sequence. But as tough as these moments may sound, there is always something in these scenes that adds a great deal of absurdity to what's happening, and we don't feel uncomfortable as a result. The sight of a snowman having its way with a naked woman is so ludicrous that you can't take it seriously. But there is also another reason why I think so much humor was added to the movie, one for the opposite reason. There are a few tense moments treated with complete seriousness. Before these particular moments, we in the audience have been chuckling at what we have been seeing unfold on the screen. Then when the movie suddenly reveals one of these serious moments, we are somewhat taken aback. The sudden change from comedy to seriousness makes these serious moments more effective than if they were in a movie that took each and every scene seriously.

There also seems to be a third reason why the makers of Jack Frost decided to give the movie a lot of comedy. That reason has to be because of the movie's very low budget, giving the movie a lot of production values that are somewhat lacking, to put it charitably. Much of the movie is tightly filmed, not giving the audience much chance to see the surroundings. Though taking place in the winter holiday season, there isn't that much snow on the ground, and the little there is looks artificial. As for the scenes of Jack Frost when he's rampaging as a beast made up of snow, he's obvious made of a material akin to Styrofoam, one that has already made indentations on his body for coal and carrots when Sheriff Sam's young son comes across him and decides to decorate this snow figure. With many cheap touches as those, it was the right decision for writer/director Michael Cooney to make much of Jack Frost a comedy. If the movie had somehow been totally serious, the audience would most likely have a negative reaction to the movie, feeling that their intelligence was being insulted. But as it is, Cooney is basically admitting, "Yeah, I know this film is cheap and has a silly premise, so feel free to laugh at it." This technique works, especially since much of the humor in the movie is genuinely funny at times. Jack Frost makes many amusing snow-related puns as he knocks various people off. Characters make some pretty goofy decisions, such as the young couple who thinks that the best place to do the nasty is to sneak into the sheriff's home while he's out, or what Sheriff Sam's son puts into his father's food to make sure he won't get cold while out on patrol. There is so much silliness on display that the audience keeps alert, wanting to see if the movie can get any crazier.

At this point, I am pretty sure that a lot of die hard horror fans are wondering if Jack Frost has that special ingredient found in many other low budget horror movies - blood and gore. The news that there isn't much of that material here (nor that high of a body count) may sound disappointing at first. But what there is of that stuff isn't that bad - there's a nice frozen corpse, and a few flashes of that juicy stuff such as when Jack Frost is sprayed by the chemical after the opening road accident. Cooney does compensate for the lack of red stuff in other ways when it comes to bumping townspeople off. There are some original and creative kills, like when Jack Frost picks up an axe, but uses it on a victim in a way you've probably never seen in a movie before. With Jack Frost being his directorial debut, Cooney shows a lot of promise in this first film of his. As mentioned before, there are some serious moments in the movie, and they work as well as the comedy, such as with a tense moment when the Sheriff has to retrieve a set of keys from a door while Jack Frost is trying to get in on the other side. Cooney also does well with the no-name cast, correctly getting nearly every actor to play their roles in one specific way - absolutely straight. Only Scott MacDonald, playing Jack Frost, hams it up, though it's to good effect. If the other actors had been playing the roles as goofy simpletons, more likely than not it would have been extremely tough to sit though the movie. But as it is, they contribute to making Jack Frost a nice surprise, a satisfying watch for those who deep down have a Scrooge in them that likes to see some holiday mayhem. As for the sequel that came out three years later (Jack Frost 2: Revenge Of The Mutant Killer Snowman), well, that's a different thing entirely.

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See also: The Convent, Demonwarp, To All A Good Night

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