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 wizard’s demonic 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 the usual promises of lots of ketchup, pointless T&A and a gimmicky killer, and all produced by exploitation director Fred Olen Ray. It's the sort of film that home video was made for – made on a shoestring budget and no doubt recouped far more than it cost to make in home video rentals. The cool-looking cover art on the video was one of those horror films you’d skip past as in impressionable teenager, browsing the video store for something to watch within your age limit. As age and experience has since proven, the better the cover art on these old school horrors, the worse the end product usually was! Nevertheless, I'd been trying to track this down for years as an adult because it sounded right down my alley. I mean come on, a pumpkin-headed killer who uses a scythe as a weapon? And not forgetting the sight of that cover! 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 low cost production values that are always lurking to hold the film back from being anything other than cheap junk. Director Steve Latshaw has obviously learnt a thing or two from the executive producer as this is almost the Fred Olen Ray playbook down to a tee. You know the creative minds behind Jack-O had a cool idea for a killer and then struggled to build up a story around it, throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in an attempt to engage the audience.
Life is always going to be made more difficult when filmmakers can't even get the basics right. The editing is poor, with Jack-O being in one scene one minute then across the town the next – I know this is a common trope with slashers who seem to have the ability to materialise at will wherever they want but usually its done with a bit more thought than this. Jack moves at warp speed, flitting between scenes as when the script chooses, and he looks like he’s going in circles, never really getting to who he needs to kill to fulfil the MacGuffin of the plot. The pacing doesn’t help matters. Jack-O drags. And drags. And drags. Full of flashbacks and dream sequences, it can get a little puzzling when there’s no distinction between them and reality. Is what you’re seeing on screen ‘real’ or just the imagination of one of the characters? Besides which, Jack-O already featured a prologue about the origins of the tale so I’m not sure why they keep throwing these flashbacks in. Coupled with the choppy editing and you get a real loss of sequence with the narrative. At least the scriptwriters had a right doozy of a day when they came up with the nursery rhymes that are sung about Jack-O during the film – “Mr Jack will break your back and chop off your head with a whack whack whack!” They’re about the only creative and sensible thing about the writing.
One 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 are watching a horror flick and not someone's home movie. His huge pumpkin head is way too big for his little body to hold it up – think of Jack Pumpkinhead from Return to Oz to give you an idea of his oversized proportions. At least he has light-up eyes though, like some cheap animatronic Halloween decoration from your local supermarket. He does look decent when he's standing there glowering through open doors or windows but when he's asked to chase people around and start moving, the effect becomes comedic. 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. The body count is pretty high so the titular character does deliver when it matters.
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. Scream queen Linnea Quigley is on hand to provide the requisite T&A in an obligatory (and overlong) shower scene and horror legend John Carradine also turns up - but Carradine died in 1988 so his appearance is obviously unused stock footage that was lying around somewhere and the writers thought they could write a scene around it. Either that or, given how old and deathly he looks, maybe someone just dug him up and propped him up against the chair for a few minutes.
Jack-O has everything you might be looking for in a horror or everything you might be trying to avoid – silly plot, amateurish acting, daft script, lots of fake blood, laughable kill scenes and plenty of breasts. It is somewhat entertaining despite itself, though I wouldn’t be going back to visit Jack anytime soon.
Director(s): Steve Latshaw
Writer(s): Patrick Moran (screenplay by), Fred Olen Ray (based on a story by), Brad Linaweaver (based on a story by)
Actor(s): Linnea Quigley, Maddisen K. Krown, Gary Doles, Ryan Latshaw, Catherine Walsh, Rachel Carter, Tom Ferda
Duration: 88 mins