Film Monthly Home
Archives
Wayne Case
Interviews
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Horror
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Television
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

Jack O’ Lantern

Directed by Ron McLellen

Written by Ron McLellen

Starring Dave R. Watkins, Tracy Yarkoni, Justice Leak, Kevin L. Powers

Produced by Ron McLellen, Barry Normin

Rated R

94 minutes

***

Lions Gate serves up a whole new batch of better than mediocre with “Jack O’ Lantern,” a direct to video surprise involving car wrecks and more hicks than you’ll care to count.

So what we have here is Jack, a man who’s been having a rough year. He was in a car accident, and ever since, he’s been having some really unpleasant dreams. But it gets worse—Jack’s visions are taking on a deadly life of their own, and each of them reveal just a little more hidden truth about the accident, and the plot that Jack has found himself a part of.

What you’re going to notice almost immediately is the pumpkin they’re carving in the first minute. That does NOT look like a pumpkin. It looks like foam rubber, is what it looks like. Why not carve an ACTUAL pumpkin? But it does improve from here. In fact, you begin to wonder just what kind of movie you’re watching here, as a couple of redneck blood-drinking serial killers are themselves attacked by something in the woods around their shack.

In point of fact, the first ten minutes have precious little to do with the rest of the movie, except as a means to introduce our primary monster. This is an extremely odd approach to take, and yet on some basic level, it works rather well.

The really interesting thing about “Jack O’ Lantern” is how it takes all these separate plot threads—the sequence at the beginning, Jack and his adoptive family, the five college kids who behave like something out of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (except for a change, WE DON’T!) and links it all together in a cohesive, coherent whole. This makes for a unique and highly watchable film.

But this watchability is tempered by horrible special effects work. For example, check out the first appearance of our jack-o-lantern character—you’ll need to frame advance, it’s over that quickly—and see what we’re working with here.

Yipes.

A public service announcement hits us like a pickup that isn’t paying attention at the forty one minute mark—hang up the phone and drive.

The prize for “Sublimely Screwed Up Moment” goes to one hour and twelve seconds exactly. Check this out. This is beyond belief. One of our female leads, eyes wide, is clutching a teddy bear and a Glock. At least I think it’s a Glock…may just be your standard 9mm. The joke is, I’m not kidding! Look at this! Look at it and see if you can’t suppress a giggle or two.

Even more unintentional laughs come from the sequence at one hour seven minutes and sixteen seconds. Start up your frame advances to watch Jack’s face do this odd little morphing deal.

It’s odd, but the plot somehow manages to be fantastically original and alarmingly derivative all at the same time. Despite the originality of hiding all the disparate elements’ connections until the end, it’s still basically the same old slasher movie it usually is. It compares all too easily with “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” or “Urban Legend,” or “Scream,” or any combination thereto. Kevin Williamson could’ve written “Jack O’ Lantern.” And you may find that a good thing.

The ending does a surprisingly good job of bringing all the loose ends together, which is generally what an ending is supposed to do. The fact that “Jack O’ Lantern” managed to hold the secrets until the end, with only a minimum of giving anything away is an achievement of no small note—let’s face it, folks…you had to suspect they were involved in something, but the movie did do a fair job of keeping suspicion off the kids involved as long as possible.

At least until the rather incomprehensible twist…what was with that, anyway? Did we just need one last excuse to show off the giant pumpkin monster?

The special features include a behind the scenes featurette, audio options, subtitles in English and Spanish, plus trailers for “Jack O’ Lantern,” “Bloody Mallory,” “Zodiac Killer,” “Vampire Assassin,” “Fugitive Hunter,” and for some strange reason, the only theatrical release in the bunch, “Waiting.” What, couldn’t we slap yet another screening of the “Saw II” trailer in there?

All in all, “Jack O’ Lantern” will offer up the most original derivative plot with special effects cheap enough to be called direct-to-video. It’s not all that bad. It’s nothing great, but it’s certainly not all that bad.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


Got a problem? E-mail us at filmmonthly@gmail.com