Category Movie Reviews

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)

He’s Icin’ & Slicin’

A year after killer snowman Jack Frost struck terror into the town of Snowmonton, Sheriff Tyler is still in therapy after what happened. Few believe his story about the snowman and so his therapist advises him to take a vacation to somewhere tropical in order to get over his snow worries. In the meantime, some government officials have dug up the remains of Jack Frost but a freak accident brings him back to life. Seeking revenge and with a new-found imperviousness to heat, Frost follows Tyler on holiday to cut short his vacation…permanently.

 

The absurd killer snowman flick Jack Frost is one of my all-time favourite guilty pleasures. A truly corny idea which appeared just as silly as it sounded on the screen, Jack Frost worked because you went in with such low expectations that when it finished, you realised that you had just watched a really entertaining low budget slasher with a novel idea, a nice tongue-in-cheek approach and bags of creativity. But the idea of a killer snowman was pretty much a one-trick pony and the original milked the obligatory anti-freeze, yellow snow and hot air gags for all they were worth. So what was next for Jack Frost to do? Why not send him to a hot tropical holiday resort? No one would ever believe a snowman could survive there! It’s an even more preposterous idea than the initial thought of a killer snowman. This sequel proves that the joke has run thin.

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman is a major disappointment. The original’s novelty value helped it overcome a lot of its shortfalls and managed a decent balance of silly, serious and downright camp. This sequel tips the scales a little too far in favour of goofing off and is all the worse for it. The first thing that’s different about the two films is how they were shot. Jack Frost, whilst not having the greatest budget, was shot on regular movie film which at least gave it a polished, professional look. Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman skimps on the costly shooting and opts to go for the digital video route, instantly producing a more amateurish look. The cheap sets certainly don’t help the look of the film.

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman pretty much tells the same story as before  with Frost wanting to get revenge on the sheriff for busting him when he was human. The fact that the film is set in a different place matters little to the story. Cue the disbelieving populace who refuse to accept that there is a killer snowman on the loose.

At least the two important characters return – Christopher Allport reprises his role as Sheriff Tiler and Scott McDonald is back as the voice of Jack Frost. Whilst McDonald’s voice still provides Frost with enough sarcastic relish at his dastardly crimes, Allport looks bored to have returned. He was great in the deadpan role in the first one but this time around he’s not the same as the script opts to up the ante for the camp antics of not only him but the rest of the cast. Sadly Allport lost his life in 2008 in, of all ironic things, an avalanche.

Frost gets an updated appearance for this one but he’s nowhere near as fun as he was before. For an start, we see less of him. As immobile as the Frost model was in the first one, at least we got a good look at him. He’s conspicuous by his absence for a large swathe of running time here, no doubt to keep costs down. Classic lines from the original such as “I only axed him for a smoke” are replaced with some woefully unfunny lines and groan-inducing puns. Again it’s the tipping of that balance between being likeably corny and being overtly rubbish and it’s one which the film gets wrong time and time again. But Frost wasn’t all about the gags and despite his lack of real arms, he was able to do some serious damage to his victims.

He’s got some new moves too such as the ability to churn out killer snowballs which look like mini-Frosts and take their cue from Gremlins and Critters by causing mischief and getting up to some shenanigans. These little creatures get more of a look-in than the snowman and can get a little aggressive with their sharp icicle teeth. Comically, they have little movement and so whenever they attack someone, said actor has to hold them and shake them around vigorously to give the impression that they are being threatened. The least said about the CGI version of the snowball creatures, the better. The snowballs do star in the film’s best scene in which they attack people at a party. Cue slow motion and melodramatic music to give it the impression of a Vietnam war flick.

The end credits tease us with the promise of a third Jack Frost film, subtitled Jackzilla, in which the snowman turns into some Godzilla-style destroyer of cities. Due to how badly this one faired, that idea will never see the light of day.

 

Jack Frost 2: The Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman tries too hard to outdo the first one for silliness. But whilst that featured a fair helping of grinning and groaning. this one will have you groaning far more. Michael Clooney’s idea of a killer snowman was great for a one-off film. Twice was pushing his luck.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

Jack the Giant Killer (1962)

A pretty princess. An evil sorcerer. A hero for the ages.

When the evil wizard Pendragon was exiled by the King of Cornwall, he vowed to reclaim the throne. He attempts to kidnap the Princess Elaine so that he can bargain with the King but his plans are thwarted when Jack, a local farmer, successfully rescues her from the clutches of a giant. Jack is then entrusted with a secret mission to escort the Princess to a convent in France where she will be hidden from Pendragon’s clutches. However on the journey there, Pendragon manages to abduct her. Jack then travels to Pendragon’s island castle where he must battle all manner of witches, giants and Pendragon himself to rescue her.

 

Clearly a deliberate attempt to recreate the success of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Jack the Giant Killer reunites director Nathan Juran with actors Kerin Matthews and Torin Thatcher to lesser effect. There are attempts to recreate success and there’s blatantly plagiarising and this film is guilty of the latter. It’s almost a re-run of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad with Matthews and Thatcher playing opposite each other again, similar monsters and even an annoying leprechaun-in-a-bottle, no doubt substituting for the annoying genie-in-the-lamp. The key missing ingredient is the lack of Ray Harryhausen in the special effects department but more on that later.

Jack the Giant Killer is like a fairytale come to life. The film opens with the story of Jack being read from a book before one of the pictures comes to life and we’re transported into the magical world full of all of the classic ingredients of a fairytale: the princess, the dashing hero, a king and a castle, an evil wizard, witches, dwarves, dragons and much more. But the actual script isn’t up to much and simply provides a route for the hero to go from one challenge to the next. And when the monsters aren’t around, the film suffers from a general lack of purpose. This is more than evident during the first fifteen minutes as the film begins with a rip-roaring couple of action set pieces as a giant is unleashed in the castle, captures the princess and heads off to deliver her to Pendragon, only to be fooled by farm boy Jack.

Once this is out of the way, the film never really picks up full steam again until Jack reaches Pendragon’s island, another good thirty minutes or so into the film (witches scene aside, which provides some mid-film scares). At least the final half of the film involves a couple of decent set pieces as Jack and Pendragon finally square off. Kerwin Matthews must have been born to play a dashing hero in this sort of film because he does make a believable action man. Ray Harryhausen once stated that Matthews had an uncanny ability to interact with the monsters he’s fighting and it shows again here. Torin Thatcher puts in another fine performance as Pendragon, full of his usual cartoony evil ways. The two work well off each other although here the performances are more of the pantomime kind, especially from Thatcher. Judi Meredith plays the token female and looks cute but she’s there to be rescued and that’s it.

The main reason that the film doesn’t work as well as it should be is easy to see: there’s no Ray Harryhausen. Jim Danforth’s variety of fantasy creatures don’t look as fluent or realistic as Harryhausen’s and the difference in class is easy to spot. These creatures look like rushed special effects, not like labours of love that have been meticulously animated. They lack characteristics and personalities and they don’t seem to interact with the actors very well. Not only that but they look like the plasticine models that they are with some awful, shiny textured skin and they’re clear rip-offs from Harryhausen’s work. Both Cormorant at the beginning of the film and the two-headed giant towards the end have the same look as the cyclops from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. It’s a shame because the Cormorant scenes have potential and there’s some entertaining moments as it escapes from the castle and heads to Jack’s farm. These are also the only times when Jack truly gets to be a ‘giant killer’ as he spends the rest of the film using his leprechaun friend to get him out of trouble instead of using his brains and brawn. The climatic fight between the two-headed giant and a giant octopus would probably have worked in black-and-white back in the 30s but in full colour, it looks really cheap.

Its this poor animation really harms the impact of these fantasy creatures as there are some good moments with them, it’s just a pity they look ridiculous at times. It’s the non-stop motion special effects which are far more effective here including the haunting witch attack scene aboard the ship. The scene is saturated with an eerie purple/red glow and the witches themselves are outlined with a ghastly white colour to conjure up a really spectral image. It’s quite a freaky and rather scary sequence and one which may alarm some younger children.

 

Jack the Giant Killer lacks the killer special effects which were the main reason that Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad were so enjoyable but it’s still a damned fine fantasy film which seems to be overlooked a lot more than it deserves to be.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jack the Ripper (1976)

Jack the Ripper (1976)

Close your eyes and whisper his name…

By day, Dr Orloff is a respected physician helping the less-than-fortunate patients who flock to him in 19th century London. But by night, he is Jack the Ripper, a deranged killer who murders prostitutes. Scotland Yard are baffled and the Chief Inspector allows his girlfriend to step in as bait to trap the killer once and for all.

 

Apart from using the name of Jack the Ripper, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to do with the real murders in this rather sleazy outing from notorious exploitation director Jess Franco. Re-writing the Ripper’s history? Making a sequel to the original Ripper murders? Cashing in on the name of Jack the Ripper? Whatever the director had in mine for this flick, he certainly never intended it to be historically accurate so any Ripper purists will be best advised to skip this. However Franco revels in his usual perverted, sordid and violent approach to the subject matter by creating arguably one of his most well-made films.

The plot is actually coherent enough to keep the film going even though there’s no mystery in the film to uncover. Right from the opening scene we’re shown who the Ripper is – this is a bit of a shame because the film can’t go down the ‘whodunit’ route. Once the audience know who the killer is, it’s up to the rest of the characters in the film to play catch up. This cuts out any potential interest we have in the murder mystery side of the story as we wait impatiently for the characters to finally surmise who is doing the killing. The script doesn’t do the film any favours with this surprising choice either. You’d have thought that since we know who the killer is, the film may spend the time it’s saved on keeping his identity secret by delving a little deeper into his psyche. But the Ripper doesn’t get too fleshed out as a character. We know his mother was a prostitute and this is why he targets them for death. We never really get into his head. The script assumes that the scraps we’re given about his past will be enough to tide us over. All he pretty much does in the film is kill, rape and run away. Without the ‘whodunit’ and without any real character development, a lot of the film is sluggish because there’s little to fill up the screen time. At least the film looks good. The Swiss locations double nicely for 19th century London and he gets good mileage out of the traditional fog-drenched streets so associated with the Ripper era.

The film only works whenever Dr Orloff is around, mainly due to the excellent performance from the often-unhinged Klaus Kinski. He adds a touch of class to proceedings as the Ripper and his odd, piercing facial expressions certainly give the character a more unusual edge than your regular murderer. The anger, the menace and the evil that Kinski can convey with his eyes is fantastic. It’s like the guy is always thinking about killing someone, even when he’s supposed to be playing it straight during the day as a good-natured doctor. He plays both sides of his mental state well.

I can’t discuss a Franco film without covering his usual obsession with sadism and sexuality. Sex and violence usually go hand-in-hand in Franco’s films and there’s no better example of it than here. The Ripper has a tendency to rip off his victim’s clothes before killing them and then he usually has sex with them after they are dead or dying. The murders are bloody and brutal as Franco loves letting the camera linger over the carnage. This Ripper is intent on not only killing his victims but literally ripping them apart with his knife. His frenzied attacks are chilling and all played out in graphic detail.

 

Jack the Ripper isn’t the best film based on the notorious murderer but it may be the most violent. It’s not classy and it’s not factual but what you’d come to expect from a man like Franco at the helm – nudity, gore and violence.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jack-O (1995)

Jack-O (1995)

He’s Baaack!

A long time ago, a wizard swore vengeance on the townspeople that had put an end to his reign of terror, in particular the Kelly family. When some care-free teenagers accidentally unleash him in the present, it’s up to young Sean Kelly to stop the pumpkin-headed killer and his murderous rampage.

 

I really can’t believe that this was released in 1995. Everything about it smacks of the mid-80s. Jack-O is bargain basement slash with promises of lots of ketchup, pointless T&A and a gimmicky killer. It’s the sort of film that home video was made for because there’s no way any major studio with remote sense would touch this with a barge pole. I bet there are college student films with more excitement, more entertainment and more skill than Jack-O. Nevertheless, I’d been trying to track this down for years because it sounded right down my alley. I mean come on, a pumpkin-headed killer who uses a scythe as a weapon? And look at the cover too! That’s golden material for a low budget slasher but its material that Jack-O wastes right from the word ‘go.’

As soon as the tacky computer-generated opening scenes hits and you’re taken right through the centre of a pumpkin, you know that you’re going to have a hard time in putting up with the sheer lack of talent that almost everyone involved displays. Jack-O‘s main issue is that’s a rather incompetent piece of film overall. Apart from the usual suspects (terrible script, lousy special effects and bad actors) there’s also a distinct lack of talent behind the camera and in the post-production process. The editing is chopping and the flow of the film seems to be all over the place. Jack-O is in one scene then he’s not there the next. He’s across town one moment, in someone’s front garden the next. The pacing doesn’t help matters either. This film drags. And drags. And drags. The film is also full of flashbacks and dream sequences but the problem is that they look exactly the same as the real sequences so it’s all immensely confusing as to whether what you’re seeing on screen is real or just the imagination of one of the characters.

Coupled with the editing and pacing issues, the film looks to have been made by stoners or drunks and you’d probably best be in the same mindset if you ever settle down to watch it. Another glaring problem is the title character or rather the lack of him. Jack-O is hardly around, only popping up briefly from time-to-time to remind us all that we’re watching a horror flick and not someone’s home movie. He looks appalling too – his huge pumpkin head is way too big for his little body to hold it up and he’s about as scary as a dead poodle. At least he has light-up eyes though, like some cheap animatronic Halloween decoration. His killing spree doesn’t start until around the forty-five minute mark so unless you like seeing bad actors just sitting around and watching TV a lot (which the characters do), you’re best skipping to the resurrection scene as quickly as possible.

Jack-O isn’t best watched as a film, it’s more likely to be used as a drinking game where you down shots when certain things happen or just sit and rip the whole thing apart with a bunch of mates. You’ll probably have more fun doing that. At least you’ll be having more fun than the actors as well. They are some of the most shambolic I’ve seen in a low budget horror film. Ryan Latshaw, the child actor who plays Sean Kelly, is terrible. I mean you can’t expect too much from a young actor in any case but this is the sort of performance that instantly makes me hate the idea of kids being major players in horror films. He looks disinterested, doesn’t seem to know where the camera is and has no clue about emotional delivery. He’s the director’s son so needless to say it’s not what he knew, but who he knew that got him this role.

Gary Doles and Maddisen K. Krown are the most irritating parents in the world too so this is one family you’ll hope to get scythed to pieces by the end. They’re all out-acted by the wooden stake wedged in Jack-O’s grave. Scream queen Linnea Quigley is on hand to provide the requisite T&A in an obligatory (and overlong) shower scene (she’s got a hot bod for an over 35) and legend John Carradine also turns up. But Carradine died in 1988 so I’m not sure how he manages to appear in this! I bet he’s turning in his grave but since he doesn’t speak and just turns his head from side to side, I’m wondering whether he’s still in it or whether he was dragged out for this.

 

Jack-O is one of those cool-looking films you always skip past at the video store because you know how bad it’s likely to be. Well believe me, it’s that bad and a hell of a lot more. I wouldn’t even recommend it for people looking for a bad film to laugh at. There are plenty more guilty pleasures out there without having to resort to spending eighty eight minutes with Jack.

 

 ★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Jason and the Argonauts (1963)

Greatest Odyssey Of The Ages – for the first time on the screen

Jason is the son of a murdered king and sets out to reclaim his father’s throne from King Pelias. He must lead a quest to the island of Colchis where he is to retrieve the fabled Golden Fleece, which is said to bring about peace and prosperity to any nation that holds it. With the help of the goddess Hera, Jason enlists the help of the bravest men in Greece and builds a huge ship to sail in. They are not prepared for the many mythical creatures that they encounter on their way.

 

Tom Hanks once famously said “Some people say Casablanca or Citizen Kane…..I say Jason and the Argonauts is the greatest film ever made.” He’s not too far from being spot on either. Every once in a while, a film is released which inspires a generation of filmmakers to break into the business. Sam Raimi, John Landis, James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton have all been quoted at some point in saying that this film has been one of their influences in getting into the filmmaking business. The amount of respect this film has received from such Hollywood pedigree is amazing. I’ve always preferred The 7th Voyage of Sinbad but this always gets more of the plaudits and recognition.

It’s really hard to be too critical of Jason and the Argonauts because it’s not the sort of film which will blow you away with its direction, its acting or its script. It’s a film which is here to create spectacle, a sense of awe and an ability to transport you into a fantasy world. Maybe it’s a guy thing (I mean look at that list of filmmakers, they’re all male) but its ability to stir the imagination is second-to-none.

I do feel sorry for the directors in Ray Harryhausen’s films. No one ever remembers their name. People refer to them simply as ‘Harryhausen films’ and it’s a fitting tribute to the effects maestro’s influence and legacy in the movie making industry that such recognition is the case. Jason and the Argonauts is really your standard Harryhausen film in which the story serves the special effects for the most and everything else is second nature. It’s not overly faithful to the myth, some of the sub-plots are weak and forced and the acting is pretty stodgy at times. The scenes with the humans are rather dull and there’s a lack of drama or purpose to a lot of them. The acting isn’t wonderful either. Todd Armstrong vanished off the planet after this film and his lines have all been dubbed – it’s a pity because I would love to have heard how he sounded. Nancy Kovak, as the love interest who comes into the film too late and seems rather forced, is also dubbed. There are noted roles for British actors such as Honor Blackman and Patrick Troughton, as well as plenty of other minor British talent including Douglas Wilmer, Jack Gwillim, Laurence Naismith and Nigel Green. Green’s Hercules may make for one of the most ridiculously entertaining versions of the mythical strongman to ever grace film. He’s not some bulked up Italian muscleman but rather a middle-aged man with a bit of a gut on him!

Harryhausen’s special effects may lack the fluidity of today’s CGI and some of the effects have clearly not dated well but there’s denying the one thing that keeps them popular – they feel real and they feel alive. Each creature has character, its own mannerisms, its own little quirks and attitude. The final fight sequence between three human actors and three stop-motion skeletons has arguably never been bettered on the big screen. It’s a three minute fight which took Harryhausen four months to complete and it’s breathtaking in its complex choreography. The skeletons look stunning and Harryhausen even manages to instil a bit of evil into them with their grinning mouths relishing the slaughter. It’s an iconic moment and one of cinema’s most important in the field of special effects.

As great as the skeleton sequence is, my favourite creature will always be Talos, the 100ft bronze giant. I dare anyone not to get the shivers when he comes to life, tilting his head slowly to the side to see Hercules stealing from his tomb. It’s a pity that this sequence is so early on in the film because nothing else matches the sheer awe, wonder and spectacle of this scene and everything else seems low key. Ironically, the most important part of the myth, the seven-headed Hydra, seems such a let down when it appears. I understand the logistics in Harryhausen not being able to follow the legend that every time one of the Hydra’s heads is cut off, another two grow back but the monster is still killed off way too easily.

Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack is also amazing and one of his best. He manages to match the images on the screen with a riveting and exciting score. His Scherzo Macabre piece of music during the skeleton fight is impressive and really enhances what you’re seeing on screen. Not only is the sound suitably ‘Greek’ but you also believe the notion that this is some fantastical quest in a mythical era with the Mediterranean looking as good as it ever has with the beautiful cinematography really doing the locations justice.

If there’s one thing that always annoys me, even to this day, is the ending of the film. It finishes rather quickly with the promise that “there will be other adventures for Jason.” We never get to see whether he makes it home to reclaim his throne. The film didn’t do as well at the box office as everyone had hoped which is a real shame because if they could see how well-revered and legendary the film has become, they would have filmed a sequel.

 

Jason and the Argonauts is forty years old at the time of writing this review but it still holds up as one of the best films of its genre and a landmark film in technical achievement. It’s cliché to say it but they really don’t make them like this anymore. It’s a timeless classic.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993)

Evil has finally found a home.

After being set up and then blown apart by an FBI ambush, the body of Jason Voorhees is taken for an autopsy. However his spirit still lives on and he possesses the body of the coroner, forcing him to return to Crystal Lake to continue his murderous rampage. It is up to one of his blood relatives and a bounty hunter to finally put him to rest.

 

Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan was both the most expensive and least profitable entry into the series. Not only were audiences sick of seeing Jason slice his way through armies of drunken and promiscuous teenagers but they were sick of the sub-genre in general. During a restructuring exercise, Paramount opted to sell the rights to the series and they were picked up by New Line, who owned one of the other ‘big three’ slasher franchises in the form of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series. After Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare in 1991, New Line let him rest up and decided to give Jason his first outing under their banner. What eventually came out of the studio is Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, a total franchise killer if ever there was one.

People may argue about the merits of each individual instalment all they like but surely common consensus must lay the title of ‘Worst in the Series’ to Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday. After being axed in the head, electrocuted, drowned, shot, stabbed with a machete, buried under collapsed buildings and then washed with toxic waste, you’d have thought the guy wouldn’t want anymore. But New Line clearly tried to reboot the franchise by injecting some fresh life into the story by completely re-writing it! Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday starts promisingly. A young female in a cabin in the woods. Brief nudity. Jason then trying to kill her. A quick chase through the woods. It’s all of the staple ingredients which made the previous films so successful and it is condensed down into a nine-minute sequence (minus the gore since no one dies). But then Jason gets blown up! Literally just blown up. I can appreciate the logic in the script with the FBI taking note of Jason’s mass slaughter over the years and deciding to do something about it. It makes perfect sense as it’s exactly what would happen in real life. But it makes for terrible viewing.

The film rapidly goes downhill from here on and it turns into a body swapping horror film as Jason’s spirit hops from one body to the next. The explanation that Jason is some kind of small creature which possesses human bodies is absurd, comes out of nowhere and makes a mockery out of the previous eight films. Jason is now in the bodies of other people and you won’t see much of your favourite hockey-mask wearing killer, only other characters pretending to be him. This is not only a shame for the story but for Kane Hodder, the actor who has played Jason in the previous few films. Apart from a few moments in the infamous mask, Hodder is consigned to a throwaway cameo. You’ll miss his hulking Jason stomping around woods slaughtering teenagers. How anyone could green light the idea that Jason, some massive undead zombie-like killer, is actually a tiny creature which needs a host body is beyond me. But the script is happy to throw in whatever it wants to keep the film moving – the introduction of Jason having some previously unmentioned long lost relative just smacks of desperation.

At least the film doesn’t skimp on the gore and it’s one of the bloodiest entries in the series with the best kill being a woman having sex with her boyfriend in a tent when Jason rams a pole through her back, out of her chest and then proceeds to tear her in half upwards. Some editions of the film have the money shot cut out but track down the film uncut and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best kills of the series. There are other gory kills too so it’s good to see some of the hallmarks of the series have remained untouched. Not only are there graphic deaths but the heart-eating moment early in the film is pretty nasty. In order for Jason to swap bodies, he needs to transfer his tiny body orally which leads to all manner of silly ‘making out’ moments which rank high on the gross scale and low on the common sense scale.

Being the only one who knows this information at the start of the film, Creighton Duke, the bounty hunter, is one of the best characters of the entire series. Played by Steven Williams, he makes for a great adversary for Jason and, should there have been a direct sequel to this one, he’d have made for a welcome return. Swaggering around the screen like some horror version of Shaft, Williams is clearly better than the material he’s surrounded by.

Apart from Williams, the highlight of the film and the most talked about moment comes right in the last shot with the appearance of Freddy Kruger’s glove – hinting at a mouth watering confrontation between Freddy and Jason which would take a staggering ten years to make.

 

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday is the worst of the series by a long way. Yes, it’s good to see a series try and reinvent itself and try something new (Halloween III: Season of the Witch anyone?) but when it’s executed as poorly and sloppily as this, it’s not worth the effort. Skip the film and just watch the Freddy bit on Youtube.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jaws 2 (1978)

Jaws 2 (1978)

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water

Four years after having to battle the monstrous Great White shark, a few unexplained events including the explosion of a skiing boat and the disappearance of a pair of divers prompt Chief Brody to suspect that another Great White shark has staked claim to the waters. But no one else on Amity Island believes him and Brody begins to wonder whether he is just being paranoid. However his theory ends up coming true and he must go out to sea once again to face the terror from the deep.

 

It was always going to be impossible to top one of the greatest films ever made so Jaws 2 was up against it from the moment it was given the green light. Jaws was a brilliant film, a once-in-a-lifetime occasion, where a coming together of quality and talent coupled with problems, mistakes and enforced changes, ended up in the film’s favour to create the masterpiece that we have come to know and love today. The problem with any sequel was going to be simply: how do you even get close to matching the greatness of Jaws?

Jaws 2 gets an unfair rap as a sequel, mainly because the following sequels were atrocious. Jaws 2 seemingly gets lumbered in with them when people talk about the follow-ups but it’s actually a rather decent sequel which is far better than it has any right to be. Though still a troubled production like its predecessor, Jaws 2 manages to deliver decent suspense, another solid performance (if better) by Roy Scheider and, of course, some plentiful shark action. The main problem is that it tries to replicate the original but without the best parts.

Case in point #1: Roy Scheider makes this film. He’s excellent as Chief Brody once again, bringing a little more to the role than he did in the original. Here, the character has been visibly affected by the events that transpired and he’s not as laid back and prepared to sit back and take orders like he once was. The film is quite interesting as it explores Brody’s paranoia about the shark threat and the scenes both on the beach where he’s in the shark tower and later in the town hall where he confronts the council are highlights.

However what is sorely lacking, and what Scheider clearly misses, is having another great character to spark off. The camaraderie that the second half of the original shared between Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw aboard the boat was one of the main reasons why it worked so well. Seemingly surrounded by a cast of teenagers, Scheider even gets short-shifted for a lot of this half as the main focus is on the youngsters and their ever-sinking flotilla of wrecked sail boats. They’re not the worst teenage bunch ever to grace film but they’re so weakly written that it’s hard to distinguish between most of them and even hard to show any interest in their survival.

Case in point #2: The shark itself. Director Jeannot Szwarc realised that the audience knew what the shark was going to look like so it was pointless in having a slow reveal as in the first one. Here, the shark is pretty much seen from the first major attack on the skiing boat and you get to see a lot of it during the course of the film. The threat just isn’t there though and Szwarc just fails to get any major sequences of tension going. Apart from a nervy moment where Chief Brody wades out to check some driftwood and another in which the shark closes in a teenager who has fallen overboard, there’s little to match the original in terms of dramatic tension. Instead of going for the subtle build-ups, Szwarc is more than happily going straight in for the kill.

Kept in the shadows again, the shark may have posed more of a threat but now we really get the feeling this is a mechanical monster, such so that the shark’s head actually bends during one collision with the side of a boat. In a nice touch, the shark is scarred by an early encounter with fire and as a result, sports this cool signature burn mark across its snout for the duration. It gives the shark a menacing look.

Case in point #3: I am sure if you saw a shark attack in real life, it would be a bloody affair. Though the body count is upped significantly in Jaws 2, the gore quota has been toned down a lot. You won’t get to see any floating heads, severed legs or people bitten in two. That is disappointing because there are some great kills in here which screamed for a little something extra. The attack on the skiers is suspenseful, the shark looks like it swallows another victim hole and the helicopter attack was aching for a limb or fountain of blood. Part of the fear of being attacked by a shark is the unrelenting damage that it could do whilst it rips you apart with its teeth. We never get any of the sense of the ferocity or the damage that the shark can do. Everything has been toned down.

John Williams returns to score the film. The signature Jaws motif is still lurking around here but the score is a broader selection of more upbeat tunes. Since much of the tension and suspense had been lost from keeping the shark hidden, it was easy to make the film’s soundtrack a lot more vibrant, adventurous and exciting.

On a last note, the tag line for Jaws 2 is one of the most famous I’ve ever heard of. ‘Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water’ sends an ominous message out to those people who were petrified to go swimming after the original’s release. The shark is back and it’s hungrier than ever so make sure you don’t go out too far!

 

 

Jaws 2 is a hugely underrated sequel which suffered from the fact that there was no way any film would match that of the original. That is the main thing which holds it back. It’s got some fantastic moments, does a great job of keeping the story as fresh as possible and is entertaining from start to finish. Arguably the second greatest shark film ever made.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Jaws 3 (1983)

Jaws 3 (1983)

Reaching new depths of terror.

A baby Great White shark is found inside in the man made lagoon of a Florida sea park. The park owner hopes to put it on display as no great white has ever survived captivity. But after the partially chewed body of one of the gate workers is found, everyone realises that there is an even bigger shark loose in the lagoon – the baby’s mother.

 

The original plan for Jaws 3 was to turn it into some sort of comedy spoof with the tag line Jaws 3: People 0. Come on, that’s infinitely more interesting than this third serving of great white mayhem which goes down as one of the worst sequels of all time and actually provides more unintentional laughs than straight comedies do altogether. The great debate is just which of the Jaws sequels is the worst and although many people choose Jaws: The Revenge for it’s laughable ‘shark out for revenge’ story and a really fake animatronic shark, I always say that Jaws 3 is the worst simply for the fact it’s just overly boring and there’s not much in the way of shark action. Jaws: The Revenge is so bad but at least it’s entertaining at times – Jaws 3 is just dull, lifeless and while it’s the better film from a technical standpoint, it fails to get the pulse racing.

The story had potential as sea parks across the world have tried and failed to keep a great white in captivity for years. Enclosing the shark in a confined area also brought about a fresh approach to the series instead of having it sea-based again. But any shred of story that the film could have had is wasted as the majority of it seems to be a poor advertisement for SeaWorld. There are plenty of scenes of dolphins jumping around, people skiing and other water-based stunts that make it look like a TV commercial.

It tries to tie itself into the Jaws timeline by having two of the males in the film portray older versions of the Brody brothers. Given that the film was clearly green lit around the concept of a shark being loose in a sea park, it seems forcefully tacked on as on afterthought. The film also falls flat on its face when it tries to create an atmosphere. You know that there’s a shark in the sea park somewhere but there’s no suspense or tension in the eventual discovery. It takes over an hour for the shark to finally start causing some havoc around the park and even then it does little apart from scare people off their skis. Before then we’ve got the dreaded character development scenes of the various actors making friends with each other, drinking and going about their daily jobs. We’re lumped with a bunch of losers though. Louis Gossett Jr, who chews the scenery up as the park owner, is the only one of the cast to even try. He knows that the film sucks so at least he’s going down with a bang and comes off looking like some rich pimp. Dennis Quaid has seen better days and was quoted in an interview once as saying “I was in Jaws what?” Clearly he knows how low down on his list of credits this was.

The shark should be the star of the show but never has it looked worse. Sharks can’t swim backwards so once the shark gets trapped in a pipe in the park then it’s had it basically. Not this shark though as it manages to squirm free by swimming backwards and out of the pipe. The next thing you know, it will stand up and walk along the beach looking for people to eat. I counted a kill total of six here and that includes the pre-credits fish we see ripped to pieces. Three of them aren’t even done on screen and the ones that are left look rather poor. Where is the thrashing around, the bloody water and the desperate underwater screams for help as we’ve seen before? There’s literally no gore at all on display here and the best we get is a chewed up corpse which looks like a remnant from a Halloween sale. In the film’s best death scene, the nephew of the park owner is snatched by the shark shortly after breaking into the control room. Cue a badly placed audio clip of the actor and a ridiculous-looking dummy being chewed up by the shark. It’s absurd and a long way from Quint’s shocking death in the original.

The shark itself looks even worse than it’s ever done and it’s hard to comprehend the fact that the effects seem to get worse from film to film as opposed to going the other way. The slow-motion shot of it ‘swimming’ towards the underwater glass screen in a torpedo-like movement is ridiculous. Looking back at this film in the current fad of 3-D, it’s easy to say that the effects look horrid. They’ve dated badly and the 3-D is clearly a tacked on gimmick with floating fish, arms, the submarine and even the shark all given the special treatment.

 

It’s hard to see how anyone could have even considered doing another sequel after this ship wreck of a film. Jaws 3 is the worst of the series by a long way and did irreparable damage to the franchise of which it’s not recovered from to this day. It is a million miles away from the quality of the original or even Jaws 2 for that matter. If only they’d have gone with the spoof.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

This time it’s personal

Years after the original attacks on Amity Island, another shark has staked a claim in the local waters and kills Sean, the son of now-deceased Chief Brody. Older brother Michael, now a marine biologist in the Bahamas, convinces his distraught mother, Ellen, to come with him to the Caribbean for a much needed holiday. Ellen maintains that the shark specifically targeted her son but no one believes her and reluctantly agrees to go with Michael. However the shark follows her to the Bahamas to finish the job.

 

Perhaps the most universally reviled sequel in film history, Jaws: The Revenge is, in short, an absolute abomination of a film which totally ruins the classic legacy of the first film. It is ridiculous on pretty much all counts. For a start who can take the idea of a shark taking personal revenge seriously? The shark in the original film was killed yet this film suggests that this is either the same shark, somehow reincarnated and hungry for revenge or simply a relative looking to settle a family feud. The film never explains why this particular shark is so single-minded in it’s pursuit of Ellen Brody, not that we really care though. There are many other random things that this shark does like being able to swim thousands of miles within a day from Amity to the Caribbean, being able to roar and being able to jump through the air and maintain it’s jump. Great whites have been filmed vaulting into the air to attack prey but not majestically gliding through the air and pose for photos like this one does.

There’s also some bizarre telepathic link that Ellen Brody has with the shark as she constantly feels its presence. She has flashbacks to scenes that she was not present in from the original which is just plain dumb. One problem I’ve always had with the story is why she chooses to go to the Caribbean. I mean if she feels like a shark is after her blood, why does she go to an island? Why not take refuge as far inland as possible?

You’d have thought that all of this time after the original, they would have come up with a remotely realistic shark. But the sequels have all showcased progressively worse model sharks, so much so that at the end of this one, a tiny miniature shark is used during a re-filmed ending. Depending on which version you watch, there are two endings and both as pathetically rendered as each other. In one version, the shark explodes when being impaled by the boat’s broken pole on the front. In the other one it simply roars a bit, blood spurting from its mouth, and then slowly sinks down into the depths, ripping the front half of the boat off and causing it to sink. The exploding shark ending contains one of the most unconvincing ‘special’ effects that I can recall. Like Jaws 2, the film suffers greatly due to the fact that the shark is given more screen time than it should do. There’s not nearly enough shark action in the film but you still see it way more than needed. In some widescreen edits of the film, you can see the moving mechanism protruding from a gaping hole in its stomach. You can probably see ‘made in Taiwan’ if you look closely. The fact that they are filming in the crystal clear water of the Bahamas doesn’t help the shark’s cause either. There are a couple of random shots of the shark swimming underwater thrown around during the film just to remind you that it’s still there. It only serves to see how cheap the whole mechanical monster looks.

The opening ten minutes promise a lot more than it delivers, with the horrific attack on Sean Brody being one of the most violent in the series as he gets an arm bitten off first and then dragged off the boat and into the water before he’s pulled under permanently. It’s a rather haunting scene with inter-cut shots of the carol singers drowning out his cries for help. The attack on the banana boat also earns the film some brownie points as you see the shark chomping down on its female victim with the now-deflating banana boat speeding off towards the beach.

But, depending on which version you see and whether Jake lives or dies, the film has a feeble body count of two. Some revenge huh? These two scenes represent the highlight of the film and it’s a shame because they work well. The rest of the film does not. The film is bogged down with too much pointless melodramatic piffle on land. The first worked well due to the interactions of Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, the Mayor and the other characters before they finally set out to sea. This one features a dreary love angle with Ellen Brody and Hoagie, a pilot she falls for, as well as sexual frustrations with Michael Brody and his wife. Through in the token Rasta character Jake to make sure that you know this is set in the Caribbean and you’ve got idiotic drama which wouldn’t even wash for a Monday morning daytime soap. John Williams’ infamous score is recycled here to lesser effect although it’s still a useful component to create a bit of tension during the opening credits. However that soon fizzles out.

Roy Scheider did the right thing by refusing to reprise his role for even a cameo and so the writers crudely kill him off-screen, saying that Martin Brody was a victim of a heart attack brought on by “the fear of the thing.” Whether this refers to the shark or the script remains to be seen. Lorraine Gary reprises her role as Ellen Brody so at least the film has some continuity from the earlier sequels but she’s really bad in this. Watching her and Caine attempt to inject some vitality into their supposed romance is cringe-worthy. Michael Caine could not accept his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters because he was filming this. I love his famous quote “I have never seen it but by all accounts, it’s terrible. However I have seen the house that it built and it’s terrific” and, as you can clearly see, you know what Caine was thinking about when he took the role. He phones it in and must have had a clause in his contract stating that he wouldn’t be killed despite suffering the film’s closest shave with the shark.

 

Jaws: The Revenge is bad. The only question is just how bad. It’s a terrible, incompetent film full of glaring deficiencies and ridiculous ideas that should never have been given the light of day. But I prefer it over Jaws 3 any day. Although that’s like saying I’d rather eat out of the toilet than the sewer.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Jeepers Creepers (2001)

Fear takes a road trip.

Darryl and Trish are on their way home from their freshmen year at college. But the trip turns into a nightmare as they are first nearly forced off the road by a reckless truck driver and then later they see a man dumping something down a pipe. They recognise him as the truck driver from before and go back later to find out what he was dumping. But what they discover is too terrifying for them to comprehend and soon they are running for their lives, pursed by an ancient demon known as The Creeper.

 

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I went to see at this at the cinema. 2001 was a pretty weak year for big screen horror films as the genre had been slowly drained of life thanks to the never ending deluge of Scream clones. Thankfully Jeepers Creepers blew away the rather feeble competition because it had something that they lacked – originality. It’s been ages since there has been a decent creature flick on the big screen and this filled that void with gleeful abandon. Apart from one throwaway line early on in the film about “people in horror films doing really stupid things” the film is played seriously and doesn’t resort to the hip, self-aware crap that is bogging the genre down at the moment.

Jeepers Creepers is genuinely creepy and actually reasonably scary at times. The first half of the film is excellent. The opening scenes are blatantly based around Duel, in which the siblings’ car is nearly driven off the road by the demented truck. There’s a great shot of the siblings talking to each other whilst the truck slowly gets closer and closer. You know it’s not going to stop but you can’t just scream out at the TV for them to turn around until it’s too late. The shots of the Creeper dropping what looks like bodies down a pipe and then standing to watch the siblings drive past is also a chilling sight. Both the characters and audience clearly know what he was dropping down the pipe but we don’t want to admit it. The scene in which they go back to investigate the pipe is also a long, drawn-out affair of slow-burning tension until the loaded gun is fired and you find out what is lurking down there. And then a bit later on, there’s another great scene in which the Creeper finally reveals himself by standing on top of a moving police car and taking care of the occupants. There are plenty of real stand-out moments here and all of them are creepy, scary or just downright eerie in their own right. The first half of this film packs more punch than dozens of entire films put together. Director Victor Salva has an obvious eye for the genre and he knows what he’s doing to get the mood right.

The menace of the Creeper unfolds to the audience at exactly the same time as the cast so they don’t know more than we do and vice versa. Unfortunately, the more we get to know about The Creeper, the less interesting the film becomes and it’s precisely around this time that the film loses its steam and turns into a more ridiculous affair. There’s the introduction of the psychic woman who’s simply there to provide the audience with an explanation of what the Creeper is. Do we really need that at this point in the film? I think by then we had all got beyond the point of caring and the way in which Victor Salva keeps us guessing as to his motives is enough for me. But because there would obviously be people in the audience who demand answers, we are given a seemingly forced back story about the Creeper being a demon that feeds every twenty three years for twenty three days. Without the back story, the film wouldn’t need the pointless psychic woman.

The film then loses it’s steam, plays out a lot more straightforward than usual including an attack on a police station before heading off into a great, powerful ending which goes against genre regulations. It’s a gutsy decision by the director but one that kept in tone with the opening half of the film. The Creeper looks a little like the Djinn from Wishmaster but it’s certainly an original creation and something you won’t expect to see at the start. In its ‘human form’ it looks like an old redneck, with cowboy hat and white, whispery hair flapping around all over the place which does provide some unintentional laughs. Despite the fact it feeds on humans, there isn’t a massive amount of gore and the worst bit is probably right at the end of the film if you’re a bit worried about gore.

Both of the teenage actors are great in their roles and they’re one of the biggest pluses about the film because their chemistry is spot on and you do really take them for being brother and sister. Justin Long has been mainly associated with being a comedy actor with roles in plenty of silly, juvenile comedies in his time. But he has the ability to do serious and his rabbit-in-the-headlights expression during the search at the bottom of the pipe is great. Gina Phillips also does a great job as his sister. The script treats them with respect, not forcing them to do stupid things just to progress the plot (although if they hadn’t gone back to investigate the pipe, none of the events that followed would have happened!). They’re real kids caught in a nightmare situation and give real reactions to their doomed plight.

 

Jeepers Creepers had a lot of potential and it does live up to that for the most part. It’s exciting, got a decent pace and provides enough scares and tension, and even the odd laugh, to definitely be a modern genre classic. The problems begin when the film changes its direction in the middle because it has nowhere else to go except into familiar territory. And because of this detour, it feels like there is something missing – the icing on the cake if you would.

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆