There were two films released in the late 1990s under the title “Jack Frost.” One was a sappy family comedy in which Michael Keaton dies and is reincarnated as a snowman, all the better to first terrify and then bond with his young son. The other one was a horror film in which a serial killer’s soul is accidentally deposited in a pile of snow, whereupon the snow becomes sentient and turns itself into a snowman, the better to waddle around town and murder people. Having now seen both films, I’m hard pressed to identify which is more unsettling. A snowman that kills people at least makes sense when you understand that it has the soul of a murderer in it. I mean, what else would a murderer-possessed snowman do? Read to the elderly? But a snowman that hangs out with his son for a few days before melting again — that’s just weird.
But we have already examined the Michael Keaton “Jack Frost” in great detail, so let us turn our attention to the other one, the one that, while perhaps less frightening, is more incompetently made and more generally unpleasant, and that has a higher body count.
So there’s this serial killer, see, and his name is actually Jack Frost. When your surname is Frost and you name your son Jack, there is a strong chance he will grow up to be a psychopath, so I hope Mr. and Mrs. Frost are pleased with themselves. After his multi-state killing spree, Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) was apprehended by a small-town Colorado sheriff and is scheduled to be executed at midnight tonight, a few days before Christmas, because, hey, ’tis the season. But on the way to the gas chamber, the prison transport van smashes into a truck from a genetic research company, like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials (“You got serial killer in my genetic research!” “You got genetic research in my serial killer!”). Jack Frost survives the accident but is then disintegrated by a deluge of acid that bursts forth from the genetic-research truck. Jack Frost’s lawyers immediately file a suit against the state for allowing their client to be recklessly killed on the roadside instead of in a comfortable gas chamber. Jack Frost’s family is awarded several million dollars in damages.
No, I have made some of that up. Everything up through being disintegrated by acid is true, though. And this was no ordinary acid, either, the kind you’d expect to find being transported by the ton in an unsafe truck at midnight. No, this was special acid, the kind being tested in laboratories to see if it can convert an organism into another form. Turns out it can! And now Jack Frost’s soul resides in the snow that he happened to be standing in when the acid melted him! I suppose we are lucky he was not standing in dog poop. For one thing, there wouldn’t be anything clever about a man named Jack Frost being turned into a pile of dog poop.
Jack Frost is now a snowman — or, more accurately, a pile of snow that can shape itself into traditional snowman form. He can also melt himself into water, trickle under a door, and reconstitute himself into a snowman. He can really take any shape he wants, though he prefers to be a snowman, probably because that’s the only costume the filmmakers could afford. We’re informed that his primary goal is to get revenge on the sheriff who arrested him. Having seen far too many of these movies before, we are not surprised that Jack Frost now proceeds to kill pretty much everyone except the sheriff. For some reason, revenge-minded psychopaths always lose focus almost immediately, their meticulous plans of specific punishment devolving into random slayings. I maintain that it is this, not their murderous tendencies, that prevents most psychopaths from functioning in society.
The sheriff in question is named Sam Tiler (Chris Allport), a family man and decent fellow in the small community of Snowmonton. Yes, Snowmonton. Much of the film is obviously tongue-in-cheek, albeit never actually funny. Rather than being scary OR humorous, they tried both and succeeded at neither, the equivalent of flunking out of a double-major in college. Anyway, Sam’s young son, Ryan (Zack Eginton), finds Jack Frost the snowman in his front yard and does the decent thing by giving it a carrot nose and coal eyes. Then the snowman beheads a bully who’s picking on Ryan. No one believes Ryan that a snowman did it, which you can probably understand, given the pacifist nature of most snowmen. No one wants to think a gentle member of the community could turn evil like that. “He was always so quiet,” the neighbors would tell news reporters. “We never would have suspected that a friendly mass of compacted ice crystals would do something like this.”
Sheriff Sam is alarmed by the beheading, as Snowmonton hasn’t had a lot of decapitations before. Sam knows Jack Frost was killed last night on his way to being killed, but just to be sure he calls the FBI. “Is he really dead?” Sheriff Sam asks. “Yes,” the FBI replies. “OK,” Sheriff Sam says. WHEW. Good thing he double-checked.
What the FBI guy, Agent Manners (Stephen Mendel), isn’t telling Sheriff Sam is that Jack Frost isn’t “dead” so much as reincarnated in a pile of snow. Manners knows this because a weaselly representative of the genetic-research company, Mr. Stone (Rob LaBelle), is in his office explaining it to him. Their plan now is to capture Jack Frost and study how he came to be a living snowman. Their research indicates that there must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found — i.e., given the way that when they placed it on his head he began to dance around — but that’s all they have to go on.
It will be tricky for Sheriff Sam and Agent Manners to capture the rascal, though, considering he can turn into water and trickle away when he wants to, and also considering that they are morons. Once it becomes clear that people are indeed being killed by a snowman, they try stupid things like firing their guns at it. They also do a lot of running away and panicking, adding more fuel to the stereotype that people in horror movies are almost universally dimwitted.
Jack Frost kills one guy by jamming an ax handle down his throat, a curious misuse of a perfectly good weapon. Then he says, to no one, “I only axed him a question!” This alone should be grounds for all copies of this film being confiscated and destroyed by U.S. marshals. Then he kills that guy’s wife by strangling her with Christmas tree lights. Oh, and the bully he beheaded earlier? That couple’s son. If you’re scoring along at home, Jack Frost has now murdered three people unrelated to Sheriff Sam and zero people related to him.
That dead couple, the Metzners, have a teenage daughter, Jill, played by Shannon Elizabeth, who would later appear in “American Pie.” Jill is devastated by the beheading of her little brother, of course, but she still goes out that night to fornicate with her boyfriend, Tommy (Darren O. Campbell). I guess they’d had it on the calendar for a while and hated to cancel. Jill’s parents get murdered while she’s out of the house, so she doesn’t know it happened (not that it would have put a damper on her mood). She and Tommy decide, for reasons the film doesn’t even try to explain, to sneak into Sheriff Sam’s house to do their naughty business. Is this a thing that people do? Go to other people’s homes to have sex? An abandoned house, sure. That’s sexy. But one that’s currently occupied, where the owners simply aren’t home right now? Is that for real? What’s wrong with the back seat of Tommy’s car?
Wouldn’t you know it, this is when Jack Frost finally gets around to thinking about killing Sheriff Sam, but when he arrives at Sam’s house he finds only Jill and Tommy. Drat! Well, since you’re here, might as well kill them too. Hate to waste a trip. While Jack is murdering Tommy in the kitchen, Jill is upstairs, unable to hear the commotion because she is blow-drying her hair. The fact that her hair was not wet is of no importance to the movie. The filmmakers needed Jill not to hear her boyfriend’s screams, and a blow dryer was the loudest prop handy. After drying her already-dry hair, Jill gets in the bathtub, immediately soaking her hair. She thinks that Tommy drew a nice warm bath for her, but in fact the water is Jack Frost (who apparently can turn himself not just into water but into warm water), lying in wait for a sneak attack. Sheriff Sam’s family is going to be VERY DISTURBED when they get home.
Jill was the last surviving member of her family, you’ll recall, so if Jack Frost’s plan had been to wipe out the Metzners, he would have succeeded now. Instead, he heads to the center of town, where all the locals have gathered for safety, having already given up on fighting the evil snowman and ceded all their homes and property to their new frozen overlord. Finally it occurs to them that Jack Frost is relatively harmless in his liquid state, and that it’s only when he freezes up that he’s dangerous. If only there were something that could keep him from freezing, some sort of … “anti-freeze.” But wait! There is! It’s called antifreeze! And it’s readily available! Sometimes the most obvious solutions are the hardest ones to see. For example, when someone had the idea to make a movie about a killer snowman, the obvious solution was to abandon the idea because it’s terrible. But no one ever thought of that, and here we are. Even Michael Keaton couldn’t have saved it.