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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jack the Reaper

Man, I must have the world's worst karma....I had a billing issue with Netflix, almost ended up canceling the account, couldn't find a good(bad?) slasher on ComCast, tried YouTube for a few hours...and I'm back at Netflix. Crazy, right?

Anyway, I was hoping to watch a free movie on cable, but the one I wanted cost 4 bucks. On a channel I already subscribe to! Luckily, after I re-jiggered Netflix a bit, the very same film turned out to be available as a streaming movie, so I win either way. Which is my circuitous way of saying that today's SAW is Jack the Reaper. Yup, it's "Reaper", as opposed to "Ripper". I can already tell it's going to suck like a's taken me more effort to set it up than it probably took to MAKE the damned film. Fun, not-exasperated-at-all SPOILERS up ahead!

Yeesh, the opening credits for the production logo are already making me regret this choice. It's "A MAD CRAPPER PRODUCTION", complete with a crudely drawn jogger taking, yes, a crap. Seriously, why do I torture myself like this? Why couldn't I have been a raving fan of 4-star period dramas, or intricate political thrillers? Mad Crapper. They're gonna put that on my tombstone.

Anyway, 3 paragraphs in, and I haven't made it past the first production credit. A woman begins a speech, explaining that she and others like her are "harvesters", and that they control time and fate over humanity. Then she tells us that her name is Violet, and that the  other harvesters call her "the great mother". Sure, whatever, just do something interesting!

Now we see a car accident. A guy climbs out of the car(which is tipped sideways), crawls away, and starts to shout over to his passenger, named Emma. A man steps into view, and the sailor asks him to see if his wife is okay. The anonymous stranger flips the wife's body over with a large pickaxe, pulls her upright by her hair, then drags the corpse away. The sailor, dumbfounded, screams at him. Then the stranger returns, flips the sailor over onto his back, and stabs him with the weapon.

Then we see a title card, and a caption telling us that we're in the "present day" of the film. We're probably seeing a world in which a Mad Crapper makes logical sense. A bus for Charon High School nearly hits the camera. Ooooh, Charon...that movie is so deep and meaningful with the symbolism.

A guy with a clipboard approaches The Bus of The Living Damned, then we meet our pile of future dead bodies. There's Sommer, a ditzy, boy-crazy girl who's hung up on a jock named Steven; Maya, her hearing-impaired cousin; Steven, the aforementioned jock with the usual smug attitude; Harold, a chubby outsider with a domineering grandmother; an albino slacker named Brian; Andre, Steven's best friend; Jesse, a sullen girl with a creepy father; Trudy, an Asian girl who'd rather lounge in bed all day; Tyler, a scruffy-looking punk with a sense of humor; and Shawn, Steven's supposed-to-be-a-twin brother(who just found out that his girlfriend's pregnant...). That's quite a hefty cast, and there's still the bus driver and Mr. Smith, the teacher.

The journey finally begins! Mr. Smith begins by telling us that the reason they're all together is due to a class assignment that none of them turned in, something about the industrial revolution. As punishment, they have to waste a Saturday morning by visiting a railway museum, then writing a report about the experience.

Steven starts out on the wrong foot almost immediately, by coming on strong to Maya. Maya clearly insults his, um, "size", but Sommer leaves that part out when doing the translation. Still, Steven seems pretty thick, to not get that by watching what she was doing with her hands. I don't speak sign language, but it was incredibly obvious to me!

Shawn pulls a guitar out, and starts to just strum it at random. Then he spots a crudely made sign by the road that says DEATH'S DOOR. Wow, more symbolism. Groovy. And way subtle. Steven tries to ask his brother what's wrong, but he doesn't get much of a response.

At a railroad crossing(ooooooh!!!!), Jesse spots the guy with the pickaxe. Further up the road, she sees him again. Tyler also peers out the window, but he sees nothing out of the ordinary. Jesse takes another look, but the killer has vanished.

The bus arrives at the museum, then Violet the Harvester decides to start yammering again. She confesses that she and her kind crave human souls, and what's a better place to eat someone's soul than a railway museum? Violet the Harvester explains that she is able to find the right souls with the help of an Ambassador, a human host who can identify the victims for her. Then I assume she kills her victims with deadly boring narration...

...and that's when Candyman shows up. Yeah, Tony Todd arrives on the scene, playing a museum curator named Mr. Steele. He grabs Harold by the head, then begins by telling the kids as many death-related railroad facts as he can recall. So really, he's just Bludworth from the Final Destination films, except in a train museum. Heck, why didn't they just call this Final Destination: The Little Engine That Killed? (Okay, seriously, somebody write that one down.)

Steele makes a threat that the class might not get home in one piece, then Tony Todd leaves the movie to go class up another movie with his presence. It's as if you can hear the film deflating as he exits. Then we see Shawn staring at a creepy guy in an old photograph portraying various railroad workers. A little girl points at the man, telling Shawn that she saw him standing by the road, just like Jesse reported earlier.

Steele spooks Shawn, then informs him that the guy in the picture is named Railroad Jack. Wait, didn't he leave? Seeing Railroad Jack is a bad omen, and Jack has somehow appeared to various people over the decades. Before Shawn gets away, Steele tries to warn him that there are some places where Jack can't go, but he doesn't elaborate in any sort of, you know, USEFUL way.

The students return to the bus(Oh, come ON! There's a guy who haunts railroads, you're at a railroad museum, but no one is getting killed there??? WTF?), and get ready to head back to the school, I guess. Steele, talking to himself, says that Jack will see them very soon.

As the sun sets, everyone on the bus looks like they're falling asleep. When are they supposed to write this mythical essay? And how are a gazillion kids going to write different essays, based on a scene that took less than 5 minutes to play out? How much weed was the writer smoking when he threw this together? And the most important question of all: Why, oh WHY are they all still alive at this point?

Jesse glances outside, and sees Railroad Jack yet again, still in the same pose. Maybe someone is just putting Railroad Jack statues out by the highway to mess with her head. Actually, that would be pretty hilarious. As Jesse tells Mr. Smith about the spooky figure, the killer shows up in the middle of the road. The bus swerves, crashes, then the screen turns red.

Some time later, Violet can be heard, asking the teens to come out and play. The kids all gradually wake up, and the bus is a mess, with seat cushions and various debris everywhere. No adults, but lost and lots of wrecked stuff. While the others start to fight amongst themselves and recover, Andre makes it a point to take a head-count and make sure that no one has been seriously hurt. That's also when they realize that the adults are missing.

Harold makes matters worse, by suggesting that the bus could explode. Andre orders him to calm down, so Harold starts to cry like a baby. I was going to say "blubber like a baby", but that's like shooting fish in a barrel. Great, now Harold's comparing their situation to The Hills Have Eyes. Ha, he wishes!

Then we see the bus from outside, as Railroad Jack surveys the situation. When they see him, do you think they'll say "Hi, Jack"? I hope so. Friendliness makes all the difference.

There seems to be some disagreement over whether or not they should exit the bus. Andre spots a brightly-lit carnival in the distance, and most of the others agree that it sounds like a good place to ask for assistance. Jesse begs them to stay, but only Shawn and Brian remain with her. Railroad Jack watches the larger group jump off the bus, and move in his general direction.

Shawn tells Jesse and Brian that they should join the others. Why? Because he intends to leave as well, but head down the road to watch for any other motorists. Where the heck is the killer,  and why is he waiting so long? Hell, I'll kill some of these folks right now! Just ask me.

Everyone in the larger group is excited about the carnival, except for Trudy. She's whining because she wore flimsy sandals, and now she can't keep up. Making it even worse, she can sense Railroad Jack somewhere in the dark, and now she's scared that the others will abandon her.

The presence isn't the killer, it's Shawn. Wait, so he ditched the others to go have fun? What a douchebag. Hey, remember when Tony Todd was in the movie? Man, that was really terrific. I miss him.

Anyway, Trudy gets Andre to carry her the rest of the way. Then Harold gets winded, but no one offers to carry him to the carnival. Which looks deserted, by the way, as none of the rides are actually running. Gosh, it's almost like a....carnival of....SOULS! Symbol-freaking-ism!!!

The ticket window is being manned by a mannequin, so the teens just figure they get in for free. The carnival itself is also deserted. While the lights are all on, the rides themselves are as still as statues. No customers, no carnies, no one at all.

Trudy, Sommer and Maya approach a fancy carousel. While Trudy and Sommer sit down on the ride, Maya looks at the control panel, then turns the thing on. They all seem to be having a blast, even Maya, who's just watching.

The guys are trying out one of the carnival games, the strength-tester. You know, where you hit a platform with a hammer, and try to ring the bell at the top of the scale? Shawn reminds them that they need to find help, so they all move further into the carnival to resume the search. Well, minus Harold, who lingers behind to stare at the scale.

Back at the bus, both Jesse and Brian are wavering between bored and worried. The others have been gone for about an hour, though it's hard to say for sure, because Brian's watch has stopped. Sym. Bo. Lism. Jesse still thinks that the creepy guy in the road is lurking outside, so Brian suggests a search for weapons or supplies.

The quick search around the bus turns up an extra flashlight, and a road flare. Brian takes the flare, tells Jesse to honk the horn if she has any trouble, then he also heads to the carnival. Jesse watches him walk away, then she closes the bus door for protection. Oh, and we're now roughly at the mid-point of the movie, and STILL, nothing has happened. I've had more excitement during my last colonoscopy. Jack the Reaper might be the cure for severe cases of insomnia.

Maya, while watching the carousel, suddenly realizes that Trudy has disappeared, leaving only her coat behind. Maya turns the ride off, and explains to her cousin that Trudy is now gone. As they discuss whether or not to look for her, the guys arrive on the scene. My money's on "Trudy left the movie to be in a better movie", but I'm probably wrong.

Maya and Sommer argue about what to do next, and Sommer eventually convinces her cousin to go with her to rejoin the group. Then Harold gets the Tilt-A-Whirl ride up and running, momentarily becoming one of the popular kids. Good for him, NOW can we kill someone?

Shawn suddenly begs Harold to stop the ride, because he senses that something just ain't right. Then Brian wanders closer to the carnival, and the killer keeps tabs on the various characters, regardless of their various locations. As he watches the group standing in front of the ride, we see Brian arrive safely at the entrance to the carnival, where he extinguishes the flare. Yes, it's always a terrific idea to waste something that could save your life in an emergency.

The larger group run to a Whack-A-Mole game next, then one of those games where you throw a basketball up a ramp, and there's a net under the inclined section. Yeah, that game. Then some sort of racing game. Steven grabs a toy prize from the game, then gives it to Sommer.

Sommer, Steven, Andre and Harold go to the bumper cars next, and Sommer asks Steven if they can share a car. ^wink wink^ Steven calls her a bitch, then informs her that he only gave her the stuffed animal to be nice, but that he doesn't want to take it any further than that. Sommer stomps away in a huff, and Harold follows her.

In an attempt to woo Sommer, Harold offers to start up another ride, just for her to use, one of those monster-themed tunnel rides. Brian arrives just in time to see them ride into the tunnel together. There's a brief shot of Jesse staring sullenly at the carnival from a window on the bus, then we see Brian decide that he wants to ride the tunnel amusement as well.

He changes his mind, choosing to wait for the couple at the door. Unfortunately, the ride stops on the tracks, stranding them. Sommer suggests walking out, but Harold advises against it, worried that they might get electrocuted if it suddenly came back on while they were standing on the tracks.

Then Harold gets bold, putting his arm around Sommer. As he attempts to move in for a kiss, Sommer says "Ew,", and firmly rejects him. When he tries again, she tells him point-blank that she has no attraction to him whatsoever. Harold accuses her of being a slut, then he leaves her sitting there to find the exit himself.

Maya wanders around aimlessly, then returns to the carousel, getting a little disoriented in the process. Nothing cures dizziness better than more dizziness, so she tries to turn the carousel back on, then hops aboard. Something spooks her, and she stares up in awe at the massive ferris wheel. Yikes!

Oh okay, now I know why Maya was getting freaked out by the height of the structure: Tyler's up at the very tip-top of either the funhouse or the ferris wheel, and he's standing up to take a piss over the side of some kind of balcony. These characters are all incredibly smart aren't they? And yet, we're nearly at the one-hour mark, and they're all still alive and well. I guess maybe it's the killer who's the dumbass.

Harold is still waddling through the tunnel, cursing out the other teens, and carefully watching where he puts his feet. A bunch of fake cobwebs(What exactly is a cob, by the way? And why is it always covered in webs?) make him jumpy, and he gets somewhat confused about where he was heading. He nervously turns in various directions, then chooses one, and resumes walking. When he stops to brush at more webs in his face and hair, Jack the Reaper plants his weapon into Harold's back, and lifts him up toward the ceiling. FINALLY!

Then the ferris wheel begins to spin, even though none of the teens turned it on. While they're shouting and waving at Tyler from the ground, he's stumbling around, just trying not to plummet to his death. As the teens try frantically to turn the ride off, we get some really crappy film editing: Tyler can be seen falling toward some sharp-looking branches, yet he lands on a bare piece of pavement, with nary a tree or bush in sight. Man, it's like this movie was thrown together by some sort of a...a... mad crapper! Just imagine.

Anyway, they surround poor Tyler, and turn him over onto his back. Steven angrily decides that what happened was Brian's fault, even though Shawn points out that he wasn't near the control panel when the ride turned itself back on. Then Andre says that he saw Brian when they were all at the bumper cars. Yeah, that's really helpful.

Tyler suddenly has a spasm, coughing up a small amount of blood. They tell him to try to hang on while they get help, then Shawn and Steven argue over who will stay with him, and who will run for help. Andre gets fed up with the sibling rivalry, telling them both to go, while he watches over Tyler.

There's a brief segue back to the funhouse, where Brian wanders randomly into the chamber where Sommer has been waiting. A weapon is raised, then one of them is killed. But which one?

As Andre tries to keep Tyler alive, a blurry figure sprints  past them. Andre sees the figure and decides to see who it was, but he promises to return to Tyler as soon as he can. As soon as he leaves, Jack approaches Tyler, finishing him off in seconds.

Back in the bus, Jesse jumps when she hears a sudden banging noise, coming from someplace just outside the vehicle. She sees someone moving around, and backs away from the windows. Then we see Brian bursting out of the tunnel ride at high speed. He tries to figure out what to do next, then sees Sommer's new stuffed animal ride by in the cart, covered in blood.

Before he can react, Steven jumps him. Shawn pulls his brother off of Brian, and it devolves into a shouting match, with everybody accusing everybody else of committing murder. Brian denies doing anything to Tyler, then relates to the twins the story about how Sommer was killed.

As the trio move to find the rest of the teens, Maya collides with poor Andre, who is now upset because he managed to lose track of Tyler. Maya tries to convey a message to him, but he has no idea what she's trying to say. Then Brian and the twins discover them, and we get more shouting and frantic explanations.

Brian shares his idea that the killer is somehow controlling the rides. Maya stares at him and backs away, then the others follow suit. Railroad Jack, looming directly behind the albino, lunges at him. Thrown to the ground by the impact, Brian loses his tinted sunglasses. He looks up at the killer, seeing that Railroad Jack has dark, empty eye sockets. As the others run away, Railroad Jack viciously stabs the teen several times.

Taking out the emergency flashlight, Jesse ventures out of the bus. Yeah, not too smart. She calls out to the darkness a few times, telling whoever is there to stop scaring her. After a few more nervous glances at the terrain, she wisely chooses to head back into the bus, slamming the emergency door shut again. So far, I'm rooting for her and Maya to live through this. They're the only really likable characters. (Well, yeah, Brian was a cool guy as well, but he's deader than disco at this point...)

Shawn grabs Maya's hand, and they retreat into a snack shack to hide from the killer. They hide, then watch as Steven and Andre scoot by to find refuge in a building covered in windows. Uhhh, something tells me that a WINDOW might not be the most effective hiding place when eluding a murdering psycho.

Anyway, Railroad Jack stops by, and quickly spots the pair of lunkheads. To their credit, both Andre and Steven do at least attempt to get through the glass maze, and Andre succeeds., not so much. He more or less just stands there, and it's not too surprising when the others seem him get a blade through his head moments later.

Jesse, still crouched on the floor of the bus, has been crying. She jumps when she hears a thumping sound, followed by heavy breathing. Railroad Jack is literally over her head, walking along the roof. Then he leaps to the ground, hissing at her through the window. As he circles the vehicle and terrorizes her, Jesse tries to convince herself that it's all just a dream. Just as suddenly as the attack began, it stops.

Wait, how is Railroad Jack able to be at the bus AND the carnival at the same time?

Speaking of the carnival...Andre, Shawn and Maya are once again running away from the eyeless killer. They should try walking on their tiptoes. I mean, how hard can it be to hide from a guy with no eyes? Somehow, not only do they all manage to run around in a circle, but Andre also gets separated from the others.

Andre gets inside the snack stand, where he crouches down and tries to unlock the power of prayer. Maya lets Shawn drag her to a shooting gallery game, where they conceal themselves and grab one of the guns for protection. Jesse then has another run-in with Railroad Jack, and he leers at her through the window.

While hiding, Shawn confesses to Maya that he got his girlfriend pregnant. Being hunted has given him some perspective, and he makes a vow to be a good husband and father. If he lives, that is. He then admits that it's easier to say that sort of stuff to her, because she can't understand him. Maya lets him know, through pantomime, that she can, indeed, read lips. D'oh!

Andre then realizes that the killer knows where he is. They make eye(well, sort of...) contact, and Railroad Jack quickly corners the teen. Andre promises to hurt him, then promptly gets himself killed.

While huddled together in the shooting gallery, Shawn and Maya catch a glimpse of Railroad Jack wandering nearby. They swiftly duck back down, ans he seems to disappear when they dare to take another look. Shawn gets himself and Maya out of the booth, then turns back for the rifle. In that short amount of time, Railroad Jack teleports himself directly behind Maya.

He tries to get her, but Shawn intervenes, smacking him with the gun. As the maniac tries to turn his attention back to Maya, Shawn continues to bash him from behind. Then Railroad Jack tosses the boy aside, turns to Maya, and, grinning, says something to her in sign language.

Shawn tries to tell Maya to run toward something, but she doesn't get it. The momentary distraction allows the killer to surprise the deaf teen, and he drives his weapon through the side of her head, into her ear. Death by irony. And this movie's on my hit list, for killing the hottest girl in the story. Dagnabbit.

Shawn escapes, and comes to a halt in front of the carousel. He finds a very grim spectacle on display: The bodies of his friends, including the just-slaughtered Maya, have been propped up on the various carousel animals. He takes it all in, then realizes that the entrance is a few feet away. Finding a sudden rush of energy, he races to the ticket booth to escape.

He runs toward the bus, screaming for help. The killer is also running, and he appears to be catching up. Jesse sees them, and tells Shawn to run. She's very helpful. Shawn glances over his shoulder, then stops.

He sees a team of paramedics and rescue workers between him and the bus. Then there's a montage, replaying some of the death scenes, as well as Steele's cryptic hints about Railroad Jack. At the end of the flashback, Steele can be seen reading the obituaries of the various teens.

Okay, so I hate to keep harping on this one bit, but...WHY isn't this a movie in the Final Destination franchise? I mean, you have the large group dynamic, the car crash as the opening disaster, Tony Todd, the elaborately staged carnival-related deaths...Hell, just make the characters more interesting, tie in their deaths to the carnival itself, and you've got a ready-made sequel. Heck, they can even keep in the silly symbolic death hints to tease the audience a bit. It just seems like a wasted opportunity.

Anyway, let's see how it ends. There can't be much more to it, right? Okay, so Railroad Jack catches up to Shawn. He grabs him by the hair, then drags him, kicking and screaming, back toward the carnival.

Jesse gets upset, then slowly backs away from the rear window again. She hears a horse whinnying, and sees Railroad Jack ride up on a horse. Or maybe this is Horseback Jack, his brother, because his outfit is now a striped suit. Violet the Narrator starts talking again, and Jesse now realizes that there are several Jacks out there, probably waiting for her to give up.

Then we see a paramedic giving Shawn CPR. His partner advises him to stop, and they pronounce Shawn dead. Mr. Smith, the teacher, is being interviewed by an investigator, and he's busy blaming himself for the tragedy. As he wonders how he can possibly tell their loved ones what happened, another person announces that there was a survivor found in the bus: Jesse.

They extract her on a stretcher, assuring her that she's going to be fine. Violet disagrees, and the paramedics load the stretcher onto an ambulance. Jesse sits straight up, then screams. THE END

Well. That was fairly uneven. A good idea, some decent actors, but a horrible pace and a painfully obvious conclusion. And many obvious problems with the script, such as: Who the hell was Violet, and what was she doing as the narrator? Why did the actual mayhem have to take so long to be seen? And why was it so similar to Final Destination? 2.5 mad crapper killer trees out of 5.

And what did I learn from Jack the Reaper?

-Deaf girls are kinda hot.

-Carnivals are merely an excuse to lose your soul.

-Glass mazes are the worst hiding places ever.

Next up, one of those killer-toy movies from Charles Band. It's Doll Graveyard, which I'm not familiar with. Eh, maybe it'll surprise me by actually being decent. See you soon!