★★★ out of ★★★★★
It’s a holiday classic! This very B-grade movie overcame studio bankruptcy, anomalous weather, and the fact that it stars a goofy-looking 7-foot tall rubber snowman to achieve cult status as a direct-to-video release.
Directed by Michael Cooney
Ah, the cult classic. Sometimes — and, possibly, more times than not — they’re terrible movies. But there’s just something about them that we’re drawn to. They might be cheaply made, poorly shot, badly acted, or all of the above, but they still strike a chord and resonate with an unexpectedly large audience.
Jack Frost (1997) is just such a movie. And, no, I’m not talking about 1998’s Jack Frost starring Michael Keaton. I haven’t seen that one, but it sounds like it’s pretty much the same movie. Dead guy comes back to life as a snowman to take care of a few things he left unfinished when he died? Yep. Basically the same movie so just stick with the 1997 original.
The good Jack Frost is about a guy named… Jack Frost [Scott MacDonald; Jarhead (2005)]. Ol’ Jack happens to be an unusually prolific psychopathic killer who, by a stroke of misfortune, gets himself captured by Sam Tyler [Christopher Allport; To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)], sheriff of the rather rustic area known as Snowmonton County.
Poor Jack is quickly found guilty, sentenced to die, and we finally catch up with everyone on the eve of his execution. As Jack is being whisked to his date with destiny through blizzard-like conditions in the obviously very official “State Executional Transfer Vehicle,” the transport vehicle collides with a tanker truck from the obviously very shady GCC Genetic Research company. Jack Frost is doused with a crazy “acidic solution” and dissolves painfully into the snow.
But fear not, gentle reader! This is not the end of smilin’ Jack Frost. For, as everyone knows, if you’re ever exposed to weird chemicals from a genetics lab you just mutate into something fun and exciting! In Jack’s case, he becomes the snow — able to change from liquid to solid at will! Kinda like Zan of the Wonder Twins, but more murdery.
And if there’s one thing our Jack enjoys it’s being murdery! With his newfound powers and his ability to cleverly disguise himself as a 7-foot tall snowman, Jack Frost exacts his chilly revenge on the hapless citizens of Snowmonton; including his unsuspecting captor, Sheriff Sam.
First of all, this is a movie about a killer snowman. Snow-man. In order to get a nice wintery feel, the movie was filmed in Big Bear, California — a popular ski destination — in the middle of January. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, it was a drought year. Daytime temperatures in the mid-70s (around 24ºC) meant they had exactly zero snow for their production. Sheets of fluffy cotton and other synthetic snow replacements had to be used instead. Couple that with a main character that’s a pretty goofy looking rubber snowman and you start to get a feel for the caliber of the special effects we’re talking about.
Excusing weak effects (“they’re so bad they’re good!”) usually means other parts of the film can stand up on their own. With Jack Frost, the filmmakers’ decision to spend a larger chunk of their limited budget on actual actors truly pays off. Not that we’re talking about Oscar winning performances here, but all of the main roles are filled with veterans of film and TV. Even many of the actors in supporting roles — for example, shady genetics researcher, Dr. Stone [Rob LaBelle; Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)] and trusty sheriff’s department secretary, Marla [Marsha Clark; TV’s Guiding Light (1979-1984)] — had already been working in the industry for years.
Sure, there are a some newbies. Most notably Shannon Elizabeth [Thir13en Ghosts (2001), the American Pie film series] who had the dubious honor of making “Jill Metzner” in Jack Frost her first real movie role (complete with infamous bathtub scene) before going on to bigger and better things. However, regardless of their experience level, all of the actors in this campy holiday horror did their very best to sell their roles and it shows.
Jack Frost feels like a low budget, B-movie extravaganza with nearly ridiculous special effects being made by a dedicated group of lunatics. It might be the campiest movie to come out of 1997, but cast and crew devote themselves to it like they’re working on a $40 million blockbuster. The offscreen fun being had in between takes bleeds over into the film making Jack Frost a ridiculous and inexplicably enjoyable experience.
You can find Jack Frost streaming at Amazon, if you’re so inclined, but if you’re like me and you wanted to own it for easy yearly holiday viewing, I would recommend checking out the beautifully restored Blu-Ray/DVD combo from our friends at Vinegar Syndrome.
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Review by Robert Zilbauer.