Monday, June 6, 2011

Basement Jack (2009)

Stay Out Of The Basement, Jack!

Ambition is an important quality to have when making any film, be it a Michael Bay blockbuster or just a low-budget indie flick shot on a handy cam. Basement Jack is a very ambitious little horror film, made for roughly one million dollars, and for the most part, it allows the film to work beyond its budget and produce some truly effective scenes. But at the same time, is being too ambitious on a meager budget the best way to go? While Basement Jack delivers some tasty gore sequences and adds an enjoyable new killer to the slasher genre, it also boasts some scenes that may have worked better with a larger budget, or choosing prosthetics over CGI, at least.

The film begins with Karen (Michele Morrow) returning home from a bad date to discover that her entire family has been murdered by a serial killer known as Basement Jack, who travels from town to town, hiding in families' basements and only attacking his prey during lightning storms and power outages. Once finished, he arranges the bodies with wire to resemble mannequins doing everyday activities. Narrowly escaping her own demise, Karen is rescued and Jack is sent off to jail, where he's not kept due to being underage, and only ends up serving time in an institution per court orders. Years later, a court hearing decides that through a loophole in the system, Jack had not received a fair trial and he is released back into the world. Jack returns to finish what he started with Karen, unaware that she's grown stronger over the years and is now hunting him as well. As Basement Jack's killing spree continues from town to town, Karen (with the help of a friendly, but naive rookie cop) attempts to avenge her family and get her life back once and for all.

Overall, the most impressive thing about Basement Jack is the character of Jack himself. In a genre of seemingly infinite slashers with infinite M.O.'s, Jack enters the horror scene as a fleshed out killer whose style is more unique than most of what we see churned out every month. Sure, the fact that he only kills during thunderstorms and power outages (which are consistent weather conditions in this movie) is a bit of a stretch, but the film at least attempts to provide an explanation revolving around traveling weather patterns which Jack follows through each town. We also get an insight into Jack's childhood via flashbacks, centering on his crazed, tyrannical mother (Lynn Lowry, The Super) who used various (not to mention deviant) forms of electricity to punish her young child into behaving like a good boy should. While many killers are given a backstory nowadays, Jack's provides you with a bit of sympathy because he wasn't born a monster; he was made into one.

The gore is also top-notch, with some creative weapons and kills (one of Jack's weapons is a metal arm brace fitted with a large blade on the end), and the film doesn't shy away from killing children, either (which isn't executed as harshly as you may think), giving Jack a more dastardly and conscienceless frame of mind. Where the film really downturns is in its use of CGI. Any spark, volt of electricity, or gunshot is stifled by very sub par and overwhelmingly mismatched visual effects that immediately detract the viewer from the rest of the scene, some of which are already intense and engaging. A particular scene near the end of the film features Jack performing a swift multi-kill on a couple of cops, but instead of going with cheap prosthetics and smart editing, the film decides to go with CGI during a single take, leaving the brutal deaths looking far more cheese-horror than eliciting a "dammmn!" reaction. There's also one scene where Karen and Jack square off blade to blade, and for a low-budget film, it's a very well choreographed battle. But at the same time, it features so many slow motion shots and choreography, that I found myself starting to giggle because I knew that I was supposed to be watching a low-budget slasher film. This was is what I meant in the beginning when I stated that over-ambition can be a curse at times, especially for indie-horror flicks.

Aside from the CGI, some stiff acting (including some serious overacting on the part of a certain hotel manager that's almost unbearably cheesy), some laughable flubs in certain dialogue and situations (all of the cops and paramedics leaving a crime scene without collecting evidence or tending to the wounded), Basement Jack is a surprisingly effective entry in the slasher genre. Compared to most of the mainstream bullshit we have shoved down our throats every year via horror remakes and copycats, it's nice to see a low-budget production provide a vicious but sympathetic killer that stands his own ground. I should make note that the film also features Tiffany Shepis in a medium-sized role as one of the police officers on the case. If anything, this movie will definitely stay in your mind any time you go into your basement to get Christmas decorations or check the breaker. Fortunately for me, we don't have basements in my state, so unless there's a sequel called Attic Jack, I think I'll be okay.

3/5 Stars

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