Jack O 1995 Review
Directed by: Steve Latham
Starring: Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell, Ryan Lathshaw
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
It’s the second birthday of a SLASH above and almost October the 31st, so I thought I’d post this Halloween related feature 🙂 Now, any film that has horror veterans Linnea Quigley, Cameron Mitchell and John Carradine all in the same cast list must surely be worth a watch, right?
Jack-O was the second to last movie to include a role for Mr. Carradine senior. He died in 1988 and this was released in 1995, which means that his performance must have been lifted from stock-footage. It’s actually quite ingenious how director Steve Lathshaw made it work so well. It was also the swan song for cheesy slasher regular Cameron Mitchell, before his death in 1994. The screenplay was adapted from a story by Fred Olen Ray, whom we all know exceedingly well from his previous ‘videomatic’ misdemeanors. He was behind slashers,Scalps and Final Examination and is still chucking out B-movies at a rate that Lance Armstrong on a whole bag of his performance enhancing drugs couldn’t keep up with. Lathshaw went on after this to direct a couple more flicks, including the interesting Death Mask, before switching to screen-writing and churning out scripts for twenty-eight movies. Unlike most American direct to video/cable horror films from the mid-nineties, this actually secured a global distribution and I have VHS versions from England, Poland and Spain. The UK’s Midnight Movies label released so few copies that originals have now become somewhat of a rarity and sell for fairly good money on eBay. Is it one that deserves the hunt?
Many years ago, the families of Oakmoor Crossing tracked down a vicious murderer named Walter Machen (Carradine) and lynched him. He was a powerful warlock and just before he died, he summoned a demon from the depths of hell to seek revenge on the townsfolk. The maniac attacked and butchered lots of people, until a man called Arthur Kelly found a way to stop him for good. Now, present day, three rowdy teens accidentally revive the pumpkin headed fiend, much to their dismay. Armed with a scythe, he heads back to the same town to continue where he left off his killing spree. He couldn’t have picked a better night for murder, because it happens to be October the 31st, or in other words, Halloween. Arthur’s great, great Grandson, Sean Kelly (Ryan Lathshaw) is only a young boy, but little does he know, that he is the only person alive with the power to stop the bloodthirsty killer. Will he realise his potential before the demon reaches his parents, or will he be too late?
Make no mistake about it, they certainly don’t come much cheesier than this fierce example of dairy produce in a videomatic format. Everything from the killer’s laughable Jack O’ Lantern head to the way that his urban legend is spread through rhymes that my six-year old daughter could have written (Mr Jack will break your back and chop off your head with a whack whack whack!) is the cinematic equivalent of a fondue festival. Olen Ray has once again rushed out a nonsensical screenplay, which is overflowing with make believe characters, impossible situations and basically poor screenwriting. I especially enjoyed the woefully out of date ‘cool dude’ guy, who, dressed in a leather jacket, jeans and quiff whilst perched on a motorbike, couldn’t have been more cliche if he’d had ‘cool character’ written on his forehead. Over the years, since her debut in Psycho from Texas and inclusion in tonnes of cheapo flicks including Graduation Day and Fatal Games, Linnea Quigley has gained herself a devoted cult following. She doesn’t disappoint fans here and takes a long gratuitous shower just to display her lady lumps for at least two minutes in her first scene. Just do your thing, baby…
Unfortunately, the lesser-known faces are all good actors in a dimension that’s totally the opposite to this one. Gary Doles was the only human in a 100-mile radius that even attempted to add a little life to his character and the rest really didn’t look bothered. If you blink, you’ll miss Cameron Mitchell’s brief cameo. He plays Dr.Cadaver, a creepy TV presenter that hosts a show filled with all things horror. His inclusion in flicks ranging from The Toolbox Murders to Memorial Valley Massacre made it a part that was perfect for him. There were two anti-establishment toffs who I guess were there to supply the comic relief bits. That really wasn’t necessary though, because the whole thing was little more than a bad joke in the first place.
Jack O’ chucks in some supernatural elements, but the special FX for these gimmicks are poorly conceived, which is a shame, because other titles produced on similar budgets have delivered much more. The lightening, for example, looked like it had been drawn onto the negatives with a felt tip pen and the killer’s lantern-head was pretty much a dime-store mask. A cool one mind, but hardly ‘convincing’. The production team at least manage to chuck in some gooey red-stuff and a fairly well modeled decapitation, which is surprisingly gory. Even if Lathshaw didn’t get much from his amateur cast, he planned a few interesting camera angles and the woodland scenes are all well lighted. You won’t get bored whilst watching and it doesn’t hang around to introduce cheesy horror as the central characteristic, so really you can’t complain too much. I don’t know, it just feels like amateur night at the local karaoke bar and if that’s what tickles your fancy, then you’re in luck. By the way, keep a look out for the director’s son, Ryan in a starring role. You can’t deny that he’s an ‘authentic’ actor, if nothing else.
What did you actually expect from a movie called ‘Jack-O’ with a pumpkin-headed killer on the cover and Linnea Quigley in the cast? Yeah, yeah; I was also expecting a trip to the Oscars – damn it. Thankfully, it’s bad in a good way and fans of mature cheddar circumstances will find more than enough to fill their hunger. It’s better than that other Halloween-based throwaway, Hack-o-Lantern, but go in with the right frame of mind to avoid disappointment. Come October the 31st, don’t you dare forget that Mr. Jack will snap your spine and cut you in half with a scaly vine…! Oooooooh!
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √