Every once in a while when you cruise the movies streaming on Netflix, you'll find a real diamond in the rough. Yesterday I read the synopsis for a movie about a maniac that slaughters teens, and I saw that Horror Legend Tony Todd had a role. Well, I'm a fan of slashers of it's done right, and after seeing that Candyman himself was involved, I was sold.
This was the first movie directed by Kimberly Seilhamer. She also wrote the screenplay. You can tell that she's a real horror fan as the movie flows. She kept things interesting and you never quite know what to expect. In the end, the movie is a cross between The Breakfast Club, Friday The 13th and Final Destination. I know that's a random collection of movies to compare it to, but I'll explain things later in the review.
Jack The Reaper is about a group of high school kids forced to go on a boring field trip on a Saturday morning to make up for a missed assignment. Needless to say, the kids are more than pissed at their teacher, Mr. Smith. (David Beeler). The movie got points for grabbing my attention early with backstories for the teenagers, making me care about some of them. One girl, Jesse, is getting molested by her father. Another student, Shawn, is about to be a father but wants nothing to do with the situation, so his pregnant girlfriend breaks up with him. Shawn's brother, Steven, is the arrogant jock character of the crew. Steven's best friend is a cocky but level-headed African American teenager named Andre.
There's also an annoying fat nerd with a high whiny voice named Harold. (Harold's grandmother is played by Sally Kirkland. She gives her grandson some great advice but the way she does it is hilarious! As was the case with Tony Todd, I wish Sally had more screen time). There is a rich Asian girl named Trudy Yoo, and a misunderstood Albino kid everyone calls "Casper" because of his pale complexion. Rounding things out is a weird Emo black guy named Tyler, the token slut character named Sommer, and her deaf cousin Maya. I was really surprised to see a deaf character. That was something new. It was also interesting to discover that the actress who played Maya, (Amber Zion) is deaf in real life.
Therein lies the similarity to The Breakfast Club - kids with different problems forced together by circumstance. Though eventually they encounter the same problem....
He spooks out Shawn with his story of Railroad Jack, (Douglas Tait) a ghastly figure who haunts the local railroad. According to Steele, once you meet eyes with good ole' Jack, your fate is sealed. Before Shawn departs, Steele tells him that he'll see him soon.
I'm a big Tony Todd fan, but I get the feeling that he's becoming typecast. Don't get me wrong. He does a great job playing these unsettling characters obsessed with death. But it looks like he's "boxing himself in." Yes, pun intended.
Every time I see Will Smith in a movie, I'm expecting an alien to show up somewhere. If I see Adam West, I expect a Bat Signal. If I see Chris Tucker, then I'm waiting on Jackie Chan to pop up somewhere. Now whenever I see Tony Todd, I know he's gonna play some weirdo who likes to tease people about their upcoming deaths. Not a bad thing but I've seen it before. In any case, it seems like Tony showed up one day on set, did his part, collected his check, and that was that.
Jesse saw Railroad Jack on the way to the museum and spots him again on the way back. The driver sees him also and swerves to miss him, crashing the bus. The teenagers wake up with cuts and bruises but the teacher and bus driver are nowhere in sight. The panicked teens can't call anyone because their cell phones have no service. Meanwhile, they notice a carnival nearby. With the exception of Jesse, all of them decide to go have some fun, though they regret it later.
Strangely, there's no one else at the carnival. No cars either. Even the guy sitting in the admission booth is a wax dummy. But the kids don't mind. They take advantage of riding all the free rides. That is, until they start getting killed off one by one by a guy who looks like a pissed off mutated Elmer Fudd....it's Railroad Jack!!!!
Inevitable Comparisons To Friday The 13th
Unlike slow-moving killers like Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, Railroad Jack will chase you down if necessary. He's not as patient as his counterparts. Railroad Jack stands out because of his black eyes, gross teeth and weapon of choice - the pick-axe. Another cool touch is this... every time Railroad Jack kills someone, the Ferris Wheel turns bright red to signal the bloodshed.
*This is frustrating. Just when you start to care about the kids and their relationships with each other, they die. I can't count the many Friday The 13th situations where it would look as if Girl A was about to change her mind about Guy C and give him a chance, but they both get murdered before anything could take place, giving you no closure. There are a few examples of that in Jack The Reaper.
One example is when Sommer, the whore of the bunch, turns down goofy Harold for a kiss. When she says, "Eww" and tells him that she's not attracted to him, Harold remembers his feisty grandmother's advice and tells her off, explaining that she's attracted to "everyone else" and all he wanted was a kiss. You go boy!
It seemed his words hit their mark, as Sommer appears to re-access him. But before anything else can happen, they're killed. Likewise, Shawn seemed to strike up quite a connection with Maya. Despite being deaf, she seemed to understand and like him, especially since Shawn decided to make things work with his pregnant girlfriend. Just when the two start to bond, our friend Railroad Jack steps in to slaughter them both. Damnit!!!
In case you're still not following me, here's another example. Remember the episode of Saved By The Bell when Kelly famously broke up with Zack for that much older pedophile college guy named Jeff? Well, what if Jason Voorhees or Railroad Jack suddenly appeared and killed all three of them before anything else could happen? You'd feel pissed! There's no closure! The abrupt endings to these romantic situations in teen slashers really bug me.
*At one point, the creepy female narrator tells Railroad Jack to "Kill them, my child." I've heard Pamela Voorhees tell Jason those same words.
NOTE: Unlike the Friday The 13th films, there's no nudity or sex scenes in Jack The Reaper :(
Though Jesse survived the bus accident because she never left the bus for the carnival, it is implied that she is about to die in the ambulance as Railroad Jack is the paramedic driving her. Then the end credits start.
Pros and Cons
There are a few cons. One is that it took a little too long for the characters to start dying. Disregarding the couple in the opening scene, we don't see our first kill until nearly an hour into the movie. Too much time was spent watching the teens have fun at the carnival. All the while, we know that someone is watching them. What the hell took Railroad Jack so long to make an appearance? Was he masturbating somewhere? Was he watching cartoons or having a beer? Was he watching my music video? Must have been. I don't see any other reason why a supernatural killer would sit back for so long and bide his time.
Secondly, what's up with the narrator lady with the creepy voice? She started speaking at the most random times and I don't see how she fits into the story. Also, it's obvious that there are two Railroad Jacks. One was taking care of the teens in the carnival and the other was harassing Jesse on the bus. Later he put on a cowboy hat and rode around on a horse. This left me with more questions than answers. If Jesse saw Railroad Jack first, why didn't she die first? And can we confirm that she died after the credits? If anyone knows the answer please let me know.
While I think the ending was good overall, it immediately squashes any chance of a sequel because we know that since Railroad Jack is the grim reaper, you see him around only when you're dying. With a little more publicity Railroad Jack could become something of a horror icon. But because the audience knows you only see him when you're near death, I'm not quite sure how that would work in sequels. But it worked nicely as a twist ending here.
Before the ending, we don't know much about Railroad Jack other than the small info Mr. Steele provided in his lecture. We don't know where he came from, or why he's killing everyone. We don't even know what powers he possesses. The movie takes you on a fun ride and gets my respect for its use of imagination and taking a different approach to making monster/slasher films.
**** 4 stars out of 5.
Check out the film trailer.
Also, remember the creepy little blond girl at the museum? She and her family perished on the same road that night, according to another newspaper article that was shown on screen briefly. All of this makes sense. Shawn came close to surviving the crash but Railroad Jack got him just before he could be resuscitated. And from the looks of things, it looks like poor Jesse was indeed a goner after the credits.
Because I now have a better understanding of these plot-holes, I've changed my rating from three and a half stars to four stars. Below are some of my other horror reviews. In the meantime, steer clear of Railroad Jack...
(Photo Courtesy of Jack The Reaper's Facebook Page)