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Review: Jack Frost (1997) Christmas Comedy Horror Film

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Jack Frost

No we’re not talking about the child friendly Michael Keaton fantasy made a year later. This Jack Frost has a similar premise: a man dies in a car crash during the holiday season and is resurrected as a walking talking snowman. Only in this movie he isn’t a loving father but a serial killer out for revenge against the sheriff who caught him, using the theme of Christmas as inspiration for his killings.

The tone is set up in the opening credits. We hear the annoyingly squeaky (obviously fake) voice of a girl asking her uncle to tell her a “funny scary story”. The uncle pauses for a moment, trying to come up with a story that can gel comedy and horror together.

Films of this subgenre only work well when one takes priority over the other. Peter Jackson’s Braindead (AKA Dead Alive) is a fantastic comedy that happens to be the goriest movie of all time. Whereas Severance is most definitely grounded in horror but is seasoned with laughs. The first Jack Frost isn’t quite sure which tone should take emphasis.

There is something commendable in the way director Michael Cooney pulls off ambitious set pieces with such an obviously low budget. They manage to film a car crash without showing the exteriors of the vehicles – they just spin the camera as the actors scream and glass shatters. Another example is the reuse of sets. A couple of teens need a place to hook up so they break into the sheriff’s kitchen while he’s out. Makes sense.

Jack Frost review

Sometimes the really noticeable ways they work around the budget can take us out of the movie. When still human Jack is covered in acid there are constant cuts between his flesh dissolving away bit by bit and a dumb-founded prison guard watching the melting unfold. It’s not the kind of seamless transformation you’d see in An American Werewolf in London. They also appear to have shot during summer as there is an obvious lack of snow. Though since the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously these flaws added to my enjoyment of it.

A movie about a killer snowman is only as good as it’s icy villain. Thankfully Scott MacDonald plays “the world’s most pissed off snow cone” with sadistic glee groaning out winter themed one-liners left and right. In fact pretty much everything Jack Frost says is either a pun, a threat or both. By the end of the first movie he is an endearing cult horror character much like Warwick Davis’ Leprechaun. However it takes a long time to set him up as such. He’s first introduced to us in human form with MacDonald playing him with a cheap Jack Nicholson impression. We also see him in several flashbacks. He is never a consistent character. In the prison van he is wide eyed and quietly menacing. In one flashback he is much more berserk. Even his facial hair is inconsistent. Once he is transformed we don’t see him straight away in all his snowy (and clearly Styrofoam) glory. Michael Cooney teases us in the style of Jaws. There are even underwater point of view shots, only in this film Jack is the water.

For a film with such a self-consciously silly premise there are times when it shifts from camp to dark gallows humour. There are other messy tonal shifts throughout. The government agents feel like they walked in from a different movie. The mother of one of Jack’s victims played by Kelly Jean Peters is too tragic a character for a movie where decapitation is played for laughs.

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