On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…
Jack Frost (1997), directed by Michael Cooney
If you were anything like my middle school self, you would have blindly followed just about anything Shannon Elizabeth did with as much reckless abandonment possible. After all, she was Nadia, the sexually fuelled foreign exchange student from American Pie that showed – with unexpectedly rushed results – you didn’t have to fuck a pastry to get off; for her, I would have braved the chilliest conditions! That meant hitching a ride to a small film called Jack Frost – not that Michael Keaton dead daddy doornail – where Shannon Elizabeth apparently heats things up with a snowman (the line of telephone between adolescent boys isn’t the most reliable.) Surprisingly, and fortunate enough for 11-year old me, that was far from the truth, as one of the most bizarre scenes of snowman rape melted before my eyes. Jack Frost may not have been what my perverse adolescent mind wanted, and really, carrots are for eating, but it did wind up being a darkly comedic sheer joy of late-90’s video horror.
The story is simple: minutes before his execution, the vehicle carrying serial killer Jack Frost (Jack MacDonald), on his way through Snowmonton (if you aren’t hooked yet, you might be frozen), is involved in an accident with a genetic research truck carrying toxic chemicals. Of course, Mr. Frost is exposed to the trucks contents, dissolving and leaving him dead in the snow. The sheriff of Snowmonton, Sam Tiller (Christopher Allport), just so happens to be the sheriff that took Jack down, leaving an avalanche of revenge heading his way. Soon, bodies start showing up with barely a trace of evidence, given the fact that snowman don’t have finger prints, and before long, Sheriff Tiller finds himself locked with the FBI in a battle against a killer who, when melting, is one slippery character. Oh, did I mention Snowmonton is also the snowman capital of the world?
Now if you happened to grow up in the 90’s, amidst straight to video gems as The Dentist and The Ice Cream Man (a personal favorite, recently re-released by Vinegar Syndrome), then you’re probably no stranger to the lenticular cover of a snowman who, when turned to the right, brandishes one hell of a smile. It’s a cover that captivated horror hounds and video clerks alike, right alongside A-Pix other seasonally inclined slasher, Uncle Sam. The cover may not have been the goriest, which sells when you’re quickly scouring the shelves before your mom discovers that Steel Magnolia is completely rented, yet it does exactly what the film intends, playing with conventions while having a load of fun doing it!
There’s the killer himself, Jack Frost, who speaks with a rusty drawl and carries himself with his head so cocked back, you would think he’s moments away from a Chuck Norris high-kick. In the first five minutes he snaps an officer’s neck with one foot, showing you that this is far from your older brother’s Video Nasty. It’s a villain that feels ripped from the 80’s action handbook (this doesn’t actually exist, though this is the closest I can find), except when he eventually makes his appearance as a killer snowman. It’s a transformation that steers Jack Frost into a white-out of absurdity, sliding under locked doors all Alex Mac, though much of it comes when he’s just being a snowman; his furrowed brow and grin blending in with the towns growing snowman contest.
Hot on Jack’s trail is FBI Agent Manners (Stephen Mendel) and Agent Stone (Rob LaBelle), who form a sort of buddy cop dynamic. Manners struts around in a black turtleneck that would make Tommy Lee Jones blush while laying down lines such as “Somebody remember to put out the cat,” which I still don’t quite understand. All the while Stone assumes the position of unhinged scientist, who knows more than he leads on, revealing himself as a representative of the genetic research facility who owned the truck involved in Jack Frost’s accidental mutation.
In an informative interview given to Justin Beahm (director of Slay Bells Ring: The Story of Silent Night, Deadly Night) that was originally intended to run in Fangoria, director Michael Cooney, who would later write the horror-noir Identity, says he intended for Jack Frost to be terrifying, shelling out a large sum of the film’s budget on getting the snowman constructed. When it eventually came back, realizing it just wasn’t scary, the film had to be re-written to fit the perplexingly goofy villain that consisted of three balls of foam, “two or three heads” and a carrot stick. It’s an outcome that doesn’t align with Cooney’s idea of a big budget, effects laden film, yet it works wonders with what it’s got; a sled decapitation, an ax handle lodged in a man’s mouth, death by Christmas ornaments and an exploding police station.
Still, one could try to close their eyes and imagine a budget heavy horror opus involving a killer snowman (not one starring Michael Fassbender) and the spectacle that comes to mind wouldn’t compare to Jack Frost! It’s a film that feels like a creature feature and a spoof on the action laden films of the 90’s, bringing with it practical-effects that surprisingly work without feeling overly gimmicky. What makes this such a Christmas miracle is how easily it could have lost traction in an attempt at being too serious, yet Jack Frost manages to successfully usher in the holidays with a treat that’s dark – after all, Shannon Elizabeth does get raped by a giant snowman – jovial and fun; a sentiment that’s unfortunately lost on its sequel, Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.