Have you ever noticed that the bulk of horror flicks veer far away from actually taking place on Halloween? Since 1978, there’s a simple reason for that: filmmakers want to avoid being judged—and judged inferior naturally— against John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Carpenter’s film is by far the gold standard for October 31, and has a shadow so long that 35 years later, writers and directors rarely dare to tread on that holiday with a film. Fortunately, the last few years have proven it can be done, and done well. One such example is Michael Dougherty’s TRICK ‘R TREAT, a neat little portmanteau film of interconnecting horror stories. Another is Bryan Norton and Antonio Padovan’s wicked little short JACK ATTACK, a jack o’ lantern of a film with teeth carved out to bite.
A short just under 9 minutes can’t really afford much plot, but that’s okay. Some of the best horror takes a normal slice of life, and by way of a single, bizarre incident turns it into Hell on Earth. JACK ATTACK does just that, and impressed me in doing so. Babysitter Elizabeth is walking her young charge Jack home with a pumpkin to carve. Everything is so mundane, from Elizabeth being pissed off at her boyfriend, to precocious Jack asking if pumpkins feel pain, to the carving of the pumpkin itself, and the scary face left behind by the knife. And then they eat the seeds. And all Hell breaks loose.
To say anymore about the plot would spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that Padovan and Norton’s script flips the proceedings from everyday life to ghastly horror in a heartbeat, and does so impressively. Their appreciation for the genre shows through, and their short entertained me far more than the myriad of trite, trashy full-length horror flicks on Netflix Instant. It’s also beautifully filmed; the lighting in each scene creates an ambience, as lighting is supposed to, and the camera movement is easy on the eyes. JACK ATTACK has style and mood, two things so many modern hacks directing horror lack these days.
The only questionable part of the whole short is one very strange decision Elizabeth makes just after things go awry. Again, I won’t ruin it for you—you’ll know it when it hits. I can only justify it in thinking she’s taking pumpkin carving to extremes. It didn’t ruin the short for me, but it does have me wondering why.
JACK ATTACK takes the gutsy action of placing a horror film on Halloween, and I’m glad it did. It deftly avoids Carpenter’s territory, yet still doesn’t play it safe in presenting an average end of October that develops into something horrifying. JACK ATTACK is the sweet horror treat with the razor lurking inside, the candy that when you bite it, it bites back. And you’ll enjoy being bitten.