In a marketplace of increasingly generic titles and often disingenuous marketing, the horror genre tends to bring a certain honesty to the table. Think about it: the words 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2' can simply never paint as vivid a mental picture as, say, 'Zombie Strippers'. These offerings may be comparatively lower in brow and budget, and no, not for all tastes, but with a film like that -- a title like that -- or Evil Aliens, or Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, for that matter, what-you-see-is-what-you-get chutzpah is on their side, and while that quality might not alone do the trick when it comes to their ultimate entertainment value, it certainly doesn't do any harm.
That said, like those films (well, okay, maybe not that Pants one), Jack Brooks may not quite be the cult classic in the making that it so clearly sets out to be, but at least its influences and intent are always worn plainly upon its blood-stained sleeve.
The eponymous Jack (Trevor Matthews) is a lousy plumber with a lousy girlfriend (Rachel Skarsten) and lousy night classes, prone to outbursts of anger stemming from his inaction as a child to save his family from what he claims to be a monster-related massacre. Of course, any and all local skepticism surrounding his childhood trauma will be put the test when, through a series of events best left for you to discover, his professor (Robert Englund) transforms into a voracious creature with speedy tentacles and a taste for turning students into zombies, leaving a certain you-know-who to rise to the occasion.
Tackling his first feature after several short films, director/co-writer Jon Knautz is rightfully indulgent when it comes to the goofy tone and goopy effects, almost overly eager to craft a midnight-movie romp worthy of what I'm willing to bet was a teenage education in the early efforts of Peter Jackson and Sam Raimi. As our blue-collar hot-headed hero, Matthews has the right degree of everyman stoicism going for him; Skarsten is attractive enough to explain why Jack puts up with her and yet ditzy enough to make you really wonder why; and Englund was only more of a ham as the manager of some Zombie Strippers earlier this year. (Seriously, is the one and only Freddy Krueger on some sort of strict scenery-chewing regimen or what?)
However, Knautz seems to take his time getting to the proudly practical effects of the slam-bang finale, savoring perhaps a bit too much the chance to build up the protagonist's backstory and the professor's transformation. Once monsters could use a beatdown, it's all zip-rip-and-go, but the pacing before that almost feels like a stall tactic of sorts in order to reach feature length. I never thought I'd say that regarding an 85-minute-long film, but with any luck, if/when it comes to the implied sequel, it'll have less to do with Jack facing his figurative demons and more of him whomping on the literal ones.
Like many films of its ilk, Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is probably best enjoyed either with a big crowd at a film festival (as I happened to catch it), or on a small screen in the name of creature comforts and adjusted expectations. It should come as little surprise that it has been greeted this weekend with a North American theatrical roll-out of five screens total, as an already announced DVD date (October 7) only nears on the horizon, but it's on the shelves that the similarly slimy genre throwbacks like Feast and Slither found their footing. It only stands to reason that this may follow suit, and if that means a sequel that serves up the monster melee action first and foremost, then mark Jack Brooks: Still Slayin' as another truthful title for that grand marquee.