Jack the Reaper, written and directed by Kimberly Seilhamer, could have been an interesting and decent horror flick if it weren’t hampered by its incredibly low budget and general incompetence. The basic premise is that a group of high school students are stranded in the desert after their bus crashes (which is shown by not the actual bus crashing, but a reddened freeze-frame) and find a carnival where a murderous undead railway worker lurks who begins to hunt them down.
While the acting ranges from okay to bad and the budget is obviously low the film suffers most greatly from its script which is overly reliant on formula and general horror movie cliches. This is evidenced early on by the introduction of the characters who are all just off-the-rack Breakfast Club archetypes; there’s the overweight nerd who spouts lines like, “wait for me guys!” the jock whose primary characterization is that he wears a football jersey, the tortured albino kid, an emotionally-damaged girl whose father sexually abuses her, the rich girl, the ditz and her cousin who happens to be deaf, a weird-ass, and two normal guys. None of these characters are particularly interesting and the actors aren’t good enough to give them any dimension more than what their stereotypes allow; it also doesn’t help that half the cast is obviously in their thirties. This might have been okay, however, if the kills were satisfying, but unfortunately even the violence in this film is dull. It also doesn’t help being able to predict who is about to be killed-off. The best character in the film is probably Railroad Jack but even then he lurches around like a typical horror movie monster and uses a pick-axe to slaughter his victims. However, his presence is sinister and he manages to be the best part of the film.
The script also frustrates for the characters often engage in too-dumb-to-live actions that are prevalent in these types of films, like when one of the students finally decides to leave the crashed bus and uses a flare to help him see as it’s night, but the audience has been shown that there were some flashlights still on the bus. And there’s also the fact that the characters, instead of searching for help at the carnival, engage in the activities and bicker among themselves. While one can argue that this is how dumb high schoolers would act in this type of situation it still doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s frustrating for the audience to witness and pulls them out of the film.
However, there are some interesting ideas provided that help individuate Jack the Reaper from other slashers, but they are handled poorly, such as the “twist” at the end of the film. There is also some images, like whenever another one is killed the Ferris wheel lights up with a red spiral, and near the end where the dead bodies are riding the carousal.
Technically, the film ranges from passable to just awful. Before getting to the carnival most of the camera work and lightning is bad especially when we’re riding on the bus with the students. Fortunately, the camera work gets better when we get to the carnival even if the camera work is purely functionary. The make-up, especially the blood, is cheap-looking and the appearance of Railroad Jack isn’t all shakes.
So for the reasons cited Jack the Reaper remains an interesting failure that could have been a passable diversion. Even in it’s best parts it doesn’t inspire any creeping sense or excitement; the movie overall ranges from being dull, to just plain bad, and unfortunately not laughably bad either.