Welcome to The Twelve Ways of Christmas, where we discuss holiday films you’ve already seen or never plan on watching. And why not, right? Every other damn movie site’s doing it, and since when does giving in to peer pressure put you on the naughty list?
With little rhyme or reason, check in from now until The Day That Must Not Be Named for a new entry. And Happy Kwanzaa.
Outside the sublime status of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2, the “horror comedy” sub-genre is less an apt categorization and more an anticipatory heading off of the audience’s reaction. Take convicted serial murderer Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald), whom en route to the electric chair, becomes a malevolent snowman when his execution convoy collides with a truck containing experimental molecular technology. A single frame from Michael Cooney’s 1997 direct-to-video “horror comedy” isn’t necessary in illustrating the absurdity of a killer snowman; Jack Frost is more than aware of how dumb it is.
But what does Cooney do with the presumed ridiculousness of his premise? For one thing, he uses it as license to bastardize tonality. On a jarringly twee note between an adolescent eager for a bedtime story and a faceless, inexplicably British storyteller, Jack Frost begins as a Christmas story, told to a young girl by her indulgent uncle, who seems all too keen on disturbing his sole audience member with Frost’s legendary slayings. Who tells children this stuff? Especially at Christmas? That subversive thrust is at the core of what might define a Christmas horror film, but where Bob Clark’s Black Christmas relied on the disjunctive combination of salacious, thrilling slaughter and shiny tinsel, Cooney’s addition of black humor to the recipe shows he’s already juggling more than he can handle.
With a transformed (and now missing) Jack Frost, the people of Snomonton presume the killer to be dead and their nightmare to be over, but the town sheriff (Christopher Allport) can’t shake Frost’s threats of revenge on the man who finally put him away. As insane as Frost’s vengeful form will be however, it’s hard to believe Allport’s simpleton sheriff didn’t see the murderous snowman coming. Jack Frost is loaded to the brim with snowmen — inanimate ones, of course. Snowmen hang up on classroom walls in the background. The sheriff’s son builds one in the front yard. There are snowmen decorations hanging from trees and kitchen drawers. For crying out loud, the town’s name is “Snomonton.” The saturation makes for a comical preamble before Frost’s new form is revealed. It’s a terrible form. Closer to resembling foam balls than anything like snow, the costume’s biggest crime isn’t its Pilsbury Doughboy smile but that it completely obscures the one element Jack Frost has going for it. Scott MacDonald’s career to date has been defined by “that guy” character acting, but he relishes in mugging for the camera here, delivering one-liners on precognitive levels of self-awareness. In human form, MacDonald furrows his brow as he sneers and puts out cigarettes on prison guard’s faces, but as a grouchy voice behind a shoddy costume, the film’s energy is diluted.
Really, it’s all about the kills though, and if Jack Frost can be considered remotely recognizable for anything, its bathtub sequence is undoubtedly the reason. After a strip down in which Snomonton’s lone 20-something male and a pre-American Pie Shannon Elizabeth hurriedly disrobe to jaunty elevator music and an accelerated frame rate (read: comedy), Elizabeth readies for bathroom coitus by taking a dip in the tub. Unfortunately for her, Jack’s melted himself down to water, lying in wait for his newest victim (read: horror). Once he solidifies back to his powdery form, Elizabeth’s terrified shrieks feel incongruous to the absurdity around her, and Jack’s resulting “rape by carrot nose” plays like a chauvinist punchline as a bulbous snowman rams a young woman against the shower wall to the tune of a Brian Setzer-styled guitar solo.
Given its upbeat score, quick zooms and line-slinging smartassed Frosty, Cooney is intent on maintaining his tongue-in-cheek scares (His dedication would eventually produce a sequel, Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman, in 2000). But its barebones Christmas decorations feel subservient to a one-dimensional joke. Jack Frost never finds notes of balance within its purported horror comedy, and its classification within such a niche category rings as misguided, not intentional. Much in the same way Tommy Wiseau’s been exonerated of his creative failings in recent years, Cooney’s post hoc cult status tries to remove its filmmaker from damning culpability. As with fans’ ironic enjoyment of The Room, Cooney’s project doesn’t seem appreciated as intended.
Way #2: The Nightmare Before Christmas