After Thanksgiving, my mind begins to wander. I start dreaming of all of the exciting things that the coming weeks will bring. Specifically, diving into all of my Christmas horror favorites. It’s time for Black Christmas(s)! It’s time for Silent Night Deadly Night! It’s time for Krampus! Food, gifts, family and merriment are great, but as I’ve explained before, all of that stuff hasn’t been hitting me in the same way recently. Horror movies have really stepped up to fill that gap and allow me to enjoy the holiday on my own terms.
Over the past few years, another film has joined my list and if I’m being honest, has become one of my most anticipated watches every December. The immortal classic, Jack Frost. I was first introduced to it on The Last Drive-In in 2019 and it became an immediate favorite. The ridiculousness and the playful tone really struck me and it has been a part of my holiday viewing ever since. And because it is celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday, I wanted to take some time to talk about the joys of Jack Frost.
Released in 1997, Michael Cooney’s Jack Frost follows the residents in the quaint mountain town of Snowmonton. One wintery night, the transport vehicle carrying notorious murder Jack Frost to his execution collides with a vehicle carrying a new chemical compound used in genetic experimentation. Jack gets sprayed with the chemical and melts into the snow, his molecules bonding with the snow particles (science, amiright?). Jack is now free, can take the form of snow, water and ice, and is more pissed off than ever. Soon after the accident, he takes the form of a Snowman (presumably because it’s easier to murder when you have arms) and stays that way through most of the story.
Snowman Jack goes on a rampage. Anyone who crosses his path is dispensable, and most of them are dispatched quickly and with a good amount of humor. His primary target is murdering Sheriff Sam Tiler (Christopher Allport), the man who was responsible for his capture in the first place, but he’s more than happy to slay any unsuspecting townsperson who happens to cross his path.
Sam has been fearing the worst since the accident was reported, and his fears are confirmed when Agent Manners (Stephen Mendel) arrives on the scene, with a genetic engineer (Rob LaBelle) in tow. Manners is like Walter Peck’s more douchey brother. He’s caustic, rude, and just a huge pain. But he does eventually come clean with Sam and explain the frightening truth: Jack Frost has indeed escaped and is roaming your small town, and oh yeah, he seems to be a killer snowman. The team then has to figure out how to trap Jack and incapacitate him before he can do any more damage to the residents of Snomonton.
Cooney’s script is, without question, a horror film, but it’s one that takes on an intentionally light tone through it all. The humor at play makes the entire film feel more like a ridiculous romp than it does a standard horror-comedy. And I say that as a compliment. When you’re watching a movie about a killer snowman, the crazier you can make it, the better. Jack Frost is made up of a crazy-ass premise, some vicious murders, and a mountain of ridiculous one-liners and zings.
My favorite kill involves a woman who declares early on in the film that when she was a little girl, she always wanted to be an angel on top of the Christmas tree. Later in the story, Jack Frost visits her house. Though she is supposed to be in mourning over the murder of her son (thanks to Jack), she is still filled with Christmas spirit and basks in the glow of the lights from her tree. Jack descends on her and in a comical scene (complete with huge mittens standing in for snowman arms), wraps her in Christmas lights, smashes an ornament into her face, and props her up against the tree, allowing her childhood wish to come to fruition.
It’s cheeky and silly. Silly fun that never fails to make me smile. And it’s a film that was a labor of love for everyone involved. The crew fought through a low budget and no snow during the time they were filming. It was an unseasonably dry winter at Big Bear and they had to bring in what little snow they could find and then supplement with other materials and clever camera angles. The special effects budget went largely to making the snowman come to life, so many of the kills happen offscreen (but are nonetheless incredibly entertaining). But the general vibe onset was reportedly very positive and everyone enjoyed the work that they did to bring this story to the screen. This was Cooney’s first foray into direction after having written a couple of other screenplays, and he handled the limitations well.
Scott McDonald really makes Jack Frost an entertaining character. He played a few moments of the human Jack and then provided the voice for snowman Jack and really seemed to have fun with it. He says in an interview on the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray “You have to overplay your hand” in order for everything to work. He makes the character so big and really goes for it in every line reading and the result is a performance that more than inhabits the character. He creates a villain that is over the top evil, angry all the time, and just a blast to watch. Had he played Jack in a more reserved fashion, I don’t think it would have worked as well. This character is Go Big or Go Home, and that’s exactly what McDonald delivers.
Jack Frost is the kind of horror-comedy that finds itself in a space of such irreverence that it quickly flips over and becomes more of a farce with some fun horror notes. It’s definitely not a film for everyone - either it works for you or it doesn’t. But if you can get into the humor and the absurdity of it all, then you’re going to have a good time. It’s a film that I am so happy to have added to my annual Holiday viewing. I look forward to Jack’s shenanigans in Snomonton every year, and if you’re looking for something a little unusual to brighten your season, I definitely recommend giving it a shot.
Jack Frost is available on Prime Video and on Blu-ray from MVD