The slasher genre has been done to death. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll keep watchin’ ’em as long as they keep turnin’ ’em out, but part of that reason is that I’m always holding out that small, peripheral hope that I’ll see someone come up with a new twist…some little detail that spices the film up and catches you off-guard like putting habañero juice in the ol’ coffee. That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it’s a treat (well, the hot sauce in the coffee would suck, but you get the “unexpected surprise” idea, right?).
Jack the Reaper turned out to fan my hopes a bit. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s the “next big thing in horror” or anything like that; I’ll state right out front that I found it formulaic, slow-starting, and largely predictable. That said, however, I will say that it kept me interested. The characters had real backgrounds (mostly what’s responsible for the slow start), the atmosphere was genuinely creepy, and the story had some elements to it that freshened up the admittedly “seen-it-before” plot. The coup of having Tony Todd be the one that sets up the whole thing with that straight-outta-hell voice and theatrical delivery of his contributes greatly to this, but I also felt that the acting, while not in every case stellar, was still good enough to really carry you through and make you care about the character’s journeys.
The flick starts out with what appears to be the checklist of every slasher film ever made (asshole jock, loveable slut, vulnerable girl, black best friend, sensitive guy, etc.) going on a weekend field trip to study about railroads. Although filling in the usual stereotypes, the cast does have a few neat additions: we have an overweight, babied kid whose grandma is hilarious, an albino kid, and our Vulnerable Heroine seems to have a father with an unhealthy attraction to her. We also start off with a surprisingly well-acted scene between our Sensitive Guy and his girlfriend that, while slowing the film down, does at least flesh out the character and some of his motivations later on.
Anyway, this trip is prompted because all of these kids failed to turn in a paper on the Industrial Revolution; this, it seems, is the make-up. The group lands first at a railroad museum, where Candyman himself, playing something of a really weird tour guide, introduces the students to the wonders of the railroad, although in probably the creepiest and most sinister fashion you’ll ever hear. Shortly after this, the expedition sets out again, and that’s when we finally get rolling on the ‘horror’ part: the bus crashes, the teacher and driver disappear, and the shaken up students wake to find themselves in the middle of nowhere with the lights of a carnival in the distance. When a group of them head off for said carnival and find it deserted…well, I should really stop there…=)
Without giving too much away, I can tell you that what follows isn’t the most original plot I’ve seen, but it’s pretty good, with an slightly (but adequately, at least to me) original twist. “Railroad Jack” may not be the next Michael Myers (and his makeup shows the budget limitations, but it’s still not godawful), but he’s not bad, not bad at all. There are, of course, several kills, but most have the killing strokes off-camera. There’s one or two scenes that are kinda gory, but alas, there’s not a lot of red stuff flowing (and no nudity at all…VERY odd for a slasher). However, the atmosphere and genuine like you develop for some of the characters (well, at least I did) set this one above the standard hack ‘n’ slash fare I usually find when I test out a low-budget indie slasher. There’s a little weakness in some of the odd voiceover work, but it still serves to set this tale up with a little originality.
I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it…as I said, it kept my interest and I didn’t feel like I wasted my time on it. If you’re a strict blood-and-boobs slasher fan (and there’s nothing wrong with that at all), you’ll find this one a little flat (heh-heh), but if you’re seeking that at least slightly fresh spin on the genre, I think this one is worth either a stream or a rental. Pick yer poison.