December 22, 2011
Christmas horror movies are usually thinly-veiled slasher flicks where the killer is some maladjusted grownup who was scared into insanity by a freaky Santa when he was a kid. In 1996, screenwriter Michael Cooney (Identity) flipped the script with Jack Frost, an original story about a murderous snowman, and the Christmas horror movie genre hasn’t been the same since.
Set in the town of Snowmonton, Colorado, Jack Frost starts with a condemned serial killer (coincidentally named Jack Frost, and played by Water for Elephants Scott MacDonald) being transported to his execution. Jack pulls off an escape that leaves the van in which he is traveling wrecked, but before he can get away he is hit by a tanker truck that is carrying a top secret genetic material. The material bonds with Jack’s body, collapsing him down onto the ground, melding him with the snow. Jack’s soul is transferred into the snow, and he develops the ability to form himself into a snowman and melt back into water at will. Jack, who gets used to his new body and its powers quickly, goes right after the policeman who caught him, Snowmonton’s Sheriff, Sam Tiler (Christopher Allport from To Live and Die in L.A.). Jack the snowman starts killing the citizens and residents of Snowmonton, getting closer and closer to Sam. Meanwhile, a couple of mysterious men named Agent Manners (Stephen Mendel from T.V.’s “Night Heat”) and Doctor Stone (Watchmen’s Rob LaBelle) appear in town, bent on catching the snowman while seemingly knowing more about what is happening than they let on. With the help of Manners and Stone, Sam fights to save himself and his town from the killer mutant snowman.
Michael Cooney both wrote and directed Jack Frost with his tongue firmly in his cheek, and his sense of humor is just as evident as his respect for the history of horror movies. Cooney has done his research, and Jack kills just as inventively and brutally as any on-screen killer. Jack combines the ruthless killing of a slasher killer with the fun and humor of a creature-feature monster, so Jack Frost is the best of both worlds…and just in time for Christmas!
As crazy as it may sound, Jack Frost is a clever story. The dead-man-reincarnated-as-snowman concept was even borrowed two years later when it was made into a family Christmas film (also called Jack Frost) with Michael Keaton. While the PG rated feel-good retooling may be more well-known, the story works much better as a revenge horror movie…and it’s a lot of fun to watch the revenge being taken by a big snowman.
A big part of what makes Jack Frost such a fun movie is the killer snowman itself. Designed by Mike Deak (the Transformers movies) and Total Fabrication (Carnosaur, Freddy's Dead), Snowman Jack is a classic rubber-suit creature through and through, all practical and no CG effects. Scott MacDonald brings the mascot outfit alive, uttering sarcastic bits of wit that land somewhere between Chucky from Child's Play and “Tales from the Crypt’s” the Cryptkeeper. His humor ranges from stupid puns (“I only axed you for a smoke...”) to self deprecating replies (“The world’s most pissed-off snow cone!”), but one thing is for sure – Jack has an answer for everything. And, with the myriad of ways that he finds to kill people, he backs up his smack talk ferociously.
In addition to the cool retro-effect snowman, Jack Frost also features one of the first performances by Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie). Not only is Ms. Elizabeth in the movie, she’s in one of the most memorable scenes. The scene starts with her in a bathtub, when suddenly the bath water starts freezing and Jack, forming into the snowman in the tub with her, claims her as another victim. The scene is both comical (notice Jack’s carrot nose is not on his face) and frightening (bathrooms are scary places in horror movies), and the conclusion even throws a subconscious nod out to the shower scene from Psycho. Cooney knows it’s funny, but also tosses in a dose of terror for good measure.
The music in Jack Frost is perfect for the holiday horror-comedy. Credited to Chris Anderson and Carl Schurtz, the soundtrack is mostly twisted and rocked-out Christmas carols, revved up or dragged down depending on what the scene calls for. The fractured fairy-tales type of background fits the mutant killer snowman plot to a T, letting the viewer in on the joke that the filmmakers have been playing all along.
As far as horror for the holidays goes, Jack Frost is not only a refreshing departure from the norm but a very entertaining film in and of itself. In a world full of psychotic Santas, it takes a genetically altered serial killer snowman to stand out.