JACK O'LANTERN

Directed by Ron McLellen
Produced by Ron McLellen & Tim E. Hayes
Written by Ron McLellen
Director of Photograpy Ron McLellen
Music by The Dark Forest Philharmonic and Sacha Dzuba
Cast: David R. Watkins, Tracy Yarkoni, Justice Leak & Kevin L. Powers

2004/94 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.66:1/English/USA/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD

As a child, I saw Disney's 1949 version of THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, and I was immediately mesmerized by the image of the Headless Horseman wearing a flaming jack o'lantern as a head. Since that time, I've longed to see an effective horror film which featured a monster which had a jack o'lantern for a head. Well, I've seen a few and they've all been gravely disappointing. The latest entry into this sorry line-up of movies is simply titled JACK O'LANTERN.

JACK O'LANTERN centers on a group of friends who all apparently attend the local community college. I think it was a community college, although it looked more like a high school. Brett (Kevin L. Powers), the only likable member of this lowly bunch, lives with Jack (Dave R. Watkins), a mute narcoleptic who enjoys wearing a big hat with ear flaps. One day Jack finds a pumpkin on his front porch and goes about carving a jack o'lantern from it, despite the fact that blood pours from the pumpkin. I don't know, maybe that's normal where he lives. After Jack finishes carving the pumpkin, he falls asleep, because, let's face it, making a jack o'lantern is tiring work. It's around this time that we learn that the rest of the "gang" -- Christine (Tracy Yarkoni), Billy (Justice Leak), Josh (Brian Avenet-Bradley), Lori (Cheri Christian), Page (April Glover), and Max (Sacha A. Dzuba) -- all share a terrible secret which somehow involves Jack and the odd flashbacks of his father which he keeps having. It's too bad that the group has opted to keep this secret to themselves, because every time that Jack falls asleep, a monster kills one of them. And let me tell you, Jack takes like 10 naps a day. If you ask me, anybody who nods off that much must be messing with sweet lady H. As the bodies pile up, the group realizes that they are in danger and Jack comes to grip with the fact that he's a drowsy monster maker and nobody really does anything about it.

If you've ever wondered what would happen if someone combined PUMPKINHEAD with I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, here's your answer; they'd unleash a really bad movie. JACK O'LANTERN is a shot-on-video homegrown horror movie which was lensed in Gainesville, Georgia (but for some reason, it's set in North Carolina, which is not known for its blood pumpkins). Now, I'm not here to pick on regional low-budget horror movies. I'm here to pick on this particular low-budget horror movie, because it's very bad.

When a movie isn't very good, it can often be difficult on exactly where to lay blame. That's not the case with JACK O'LANTERN, as one Ron McLellen was the writer, director, producer, editor, casting director, for the movie, and he also has a small role in the film. While I applaud Mr. McLellen for having the guts to make a movie, he still has a lot to learn about filmmaking. This movie is full of annoying flaws, but to me the worst one was the editing. The movie contains many shots of trees and buildings, when we would rather see something like...I don't know...people. There are some instances where the scene will cut away from the actors, show a tree, and then cut back to the actors. I understand that sometimes cutaways are necessary if a scene didn't work, but don't cut to a tree, because they have some of the worst reaction shots in the business. There are also some moments where I got the feeling that the actors were waiting for someone to call "action". Clearly, this leads to some issues with pacing.

For most viewers, the problem with the film will be the story. As noted above, JACK O'LANTERN is derivative of other films and certainly doesn't have any new ideas of its own. Unless you count the fact that the movie contains an 11-minute prologue which seemingly has nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie. The film starts out like another rip-off of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and then switches to a totally different story. And while we learn why Jack would want revenge, we never learn why his little naps create a pumpkin-headed monster. (I know that I get a little cranky when I DON'T nap, but that didn't help my understanding of this movie.) The acting is about what you'd expect from this kind of production and there is very little gore in the film. The shots of the titular monster are often dark or blurred, so we never get a good idea of the quality of the mask. I usually try to find something positive to say about every movie which I review, and for JACK O'LANTERN, I have to say that I liked the scene where a character bought a new truck for no apparent reason.

JACK O'LANTERN carves a niche on DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. The movie has been letterboxed at 1.66:1, but the transfer is not anamorphic. As JACK O'LANTERN was shot on video, the image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material. The colors look good and the picture is fairly stable. There are some moments where the movement of characters creates blurred lines and there is a "burn out" effect in some scenes. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and music. The stereo effects are pretty good, but there wasn't much in the way of surround sound action or subwoofer effects.

The JACK O'LANTERN DVD contains a 12-minute "Behind the Screams" segment which contains comments from many members of the cast and crew, combined with clips from the movie and a few behind-the-scenes shots. Here, we learn that director etc. Ron McLellen is a perfectionist. OK. (I also like the fact that the movie was shot on video, yet the actors are sitting in front of a film camera during their interviews and McLellen is sitting by an old 16mm film projector.) The only other extra on the disc is the trailer for JACK O'LANTERN, which is presented full-frame.

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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2005. ©