Easter is about zombies.
Christmas is about a baby shower.
So Christmas has to work harder to make you like it, getting you drunk on wassail and buying your love with toys. But what if Christmas could combine its best features – gift-giving, twinkling lights, stop motion animation – with the walking dead? How cool would that be? As it turns out, not that cool, really...
Jack Frost (1998)
Directer: Troy Miller
Writers: Mark Steven Johnson and Steve Bloom & Jonathan Roberts and Jeff Cesario
We open on The Jack Frost Band playing a holiday gig in the scenic, snow-covered little town of South Park, Colorado. They’re a rising R&B group, comprising a blond Michael Keaton (lead vocals and harmonica), the heavyset nude dancer from The Full Monty (keyboards) and about fifteen other people, most of whom appear to have recently received their AARP discount card. But they've got so much soul that the excess has leeched into the water table, contaminating the local snowmen, and causing a Zuni fetish doll to chase Karen Black around the house.
Meanwhile, in a cutaway he will later fail to stress on his resume, a baby-faced Paul F. Thompkins (actually, he's so young here he looks fetal-faced) nods along to the band's hard-rockin' cover of "Frosty the Snowman," then points authoritatively at the stage and says, “Yeah!”
The next day kids pour out of school for Christmas vacation. Suddenly, Michael’s 11-year old son, Charlie, detects the distant but approaching sounds of war: the chatter of machineguns, the whistle of artillery shells. Thrilled that he might, through a clerical error, have been cast in Red Dawn instead of this heartwarming family bullshit, he runs toward the carnage, which turns out to be a bunch of second graders getting pounded in a snowball fight.
The 7-year olds regard Charlie as a combination of Joan of Arc and Knute Rockne (because like Rockne, Charlie is an exemplar of good sportsmanship, and like Joan he has aural hallucinations), and beg him to end this orgy of wanton slaughter and inappropriate sound effects. Their faith is not misplaced, for Charlie has gleaned wisdom about the ultimate futility of war from Fifth Grade history class, so he parlays with the enemy leader, then sucker punches him in the face with a snowball he hid behind his back. So less Knute Rockne and more Mike Tyson.
At home, the fridge is covered with Charlie’s crayon drawings which, like the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequences in Spellbound, provide clues to the source of Charlie’s rage and dementia. All the illustrations depict his father in a vehicle, constantly on the move, because he’s a musician and must tour, or because he’s being chased by a crowd that didn’t want to hear one more long, peppy, Blues Traveler-like harmonica solo in the middle of “Silent Night.”
But Michael is a loving dad, and when he returns in the middle of the night, he startles his child from a sound sleep and forces him to construct a snowman. He’s also a cool dad, because when Charlie suggests their icy golem needs a nose, Michael pretends to hear “hose,” and temporarily grafts on a penis (thereby establishing the movie's the theme, as a snowman's traditional lack of sex organs will provide much imitation humor to come).
Michael chivvies the boy off to bed, because his wife (played by Kelly Preston, who's pretty hot for a Scientologist) indicated she was in the mood for a full Body Thetan massage. But first, he says the time has come to give his son the harmonica he bought the day Charlie was born, presumably because Charlie has also impregnated some girl. More importantly, the instrument has “magic powers.”
“When you play that,” Michael assures him, “no matter where I am…I can hear it.” So, sitting on the toilet. Standing in line at the bank. Having sex, reading an eye chart, doing his taxes, Michael will constantly hear a child honking inexpertly on a phantom harmonica. I can only imagine that after awhile, death would come as a sweet release. But let’s not get ahead of the story…)
The next day, Michael and Full Monty are leaving for a recording session, because apparently the world is clamoring for a dirty, Delta Blues version of “Good King Wenceslas.” Charlie needs his father to teach him the family's secret hockey technique, “the J-Shot," but Michael's in a rush and can't stay, although he does take a moment to tenderly address his son as “butt boy.”
Now let’s intercut scenes of Michael being a perfectionist as he records his demo album, with shots of Charlie sucking at hockey – missing shots, running into walls, falling over. Then Michael notices the late hour and clutches his face in despair, realizing that he has missed the irreplaceable chance to see his son stink on ice.
Michael offers to make it up to Kelly and Charlie by taking them to a remote cabin in the woods for Christmas. There's no phone, video games, or TV, but it does come with a Necromonicron in the bedside table (thank you, Gideons) just in case anybody dies and needs to be reanimated as a snowman.
Unfortunately just as they're leaving, Record Company executive Ebeneezer Scrooge calls, and offers to sign Michael and his up-and-coming band of pensioners and Early Bird Special patrons. But only if they play a gig at Scrooge's Christmas party in Aspen. Charlie is outraged that the fulfillment of his father’s lifelong dream means that Michael won’t be at the Cabin when the zombies attack, and he snottily returns the Magic Harmonica for a full refund.
Michael gets halfway to the gig when he decides that he would rather be a good father and husband than a superstar recording artist with a platinum record for his hard-rockin’ version of “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” (the official Christmas carol of the Church of Scientology). Having achieved his epiphany, he promptly drives full speed into a wall and dies (proving that it's never a good idea to rush into an epiphany, which is why so far I've mostly just been window shopping and getting some quotes on the internet).
One Year Later. Charlie gets out of school for Christmas break again, but with his father dead, he doesn’t even feel like sucker-punching a classmate. But that night, Charlie sculpts a disturbing simulacrum of his father out of snow, topping it with Michael's signature porkpie hat, but deliberately leaving off the penis. Then he crawls into bed with the Magic Harmonica (apparently filched from his father’s corpse) and attempts to summon the devil by blowing into it. Unhappily for us, it works. Michael’s soul possesses the pile of slush and its computer generated features come to a hideous mockery of life.
The first thing Snow-Dad does is grab for his junk and howl in existential agony. The second thing is curse his son for giving him a cork for a nose instead of the traditional carrot, because now he can't even switch things around in a sexual emergency and wow this thing got Oedipal all of a sudden...
Still, Michael seems instantly comfortable with his reanimation from the dead (suggesting that there’s no afterlife, else where has he been hanging his porkpie hat for the past year), and when he’s instantly run over by a snowplow, beheaded and gruesomely dismembered, he jauntily dubs his various body parts Ball Two and Ball Three, and makes lame jokes about “separation anxiety.”
In the Faustian tradition, Charlie immediately regrets his deal with the devil. But like Mephistopheles, Michael commands dark, elemental powers, which he uses to harass Charlie's classmates by beaning them in the face with weaponized slush.
This sneak attack inspires Charlie’s friends to heave chunks of ice at his head and chase him to a high cliff, then laugh as he falls off the edge and dangles from a tree root. Thanks, Dad. Glad you're back.
Snow-Michael saves Charlie with a jump cut, which was a nice gesture but doesn't seem to have done much to shorten the 1 hour and 41 minute running time. (Oddly, when the movie came out, it was 95 minutes long, so apparently the DVD copy I got was the Restored Sadist's Cut.).
Anyway, they escape on a toboggan, and suddenly it turns into the climax of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as the entire Fifth Grade pursues them down the mountain (why the District chose to build an elementary school on the edge of a sheer precipice is something that really ought to be brought up at the next School Board meeting) on snowmobiles, skis, snowboards, and what looks like a rocking horse. Needless to say, most of the children involved in the chase die horrible deaths, but since they were apparently working after school for SPECTRE, they had it coming.
“You da man!” the icy golem assures his son.
“You da man,” Charlie retorts.
“No,” Michael says, “I’m da snow man!” Anyone old enough to remember this line from the movie’s trailer will probably also recall it was the moment they decided to add the book Final Exit to their Christmas Wish List.
Michael spies on his wife through the window, bemoaning his lack of a penis and considering the feasibility of making one of those ice dildos used in BDSM temperature play (I admit, some of this is subtext). Meanwhile, Charlie develops the same obsession with the weather report that Mel Gibson had with conspiracy theories in Conspiracy Theory, or with blow jobs and Jesus in real life.
Charlie takes Snow-Dad to his secret Ice Cavern (which most 12-year old boys have – hell, I had one and I grew up at the beach), where Michael teaches him important lessons about life, and how not to suck at hockey, while a dark, grim shadow of whimsy hangs over the film.
Meanwhile, Kelly is worried about her son, because he's taken to hauling a snowman around town in his wagon, while carrying on a bickering, would-be comic dialogue; so Charlie is either psychotic, or he misunderstood his agents and thought he was cast in the Morgan Freeman role in Driving Miss Daisy.
Kelly’s solution is to browbeat Full Monty into dragging Charlie to “Shiverfest,” the town’s annual salute to hypothermia, where the kid stands outside the Father-Son Snowman-Making Contest looking depressed. Frankly, in Charlie’s place I’d be feeling smug as hell. Yeah, sure, you kids got a live dad, and you can build a crappy snowman together, but can you imbue it with unnatural life? Can you drag a soul from beyond the grave and trap it in a graven image, merely through your dark mastery of the Hohner mouth organ? I think not.
Michael goes to watch his son not suck at hockey for once, but somehow being in an ice rink makes him start to melt. Fortunately, the kid Charlie sucker-punched in the opening scene agrees to help him load Michael onto a truck heading for the mountains, because “Snow dad is better than No Dad.” I assume this is one of those Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints billboard slogans that didn’t quite make the final cut.
Charlie and his undead Dad jump off the truck into a Currier and Ives print, where Michael rolls around in the snow and exults, “My balls are freezing!” Amazingly, they’re within easy walking distance of the family's vacation home. Michael puts Charlie to bed on the couch, kisses him with his weird puppet mouth, then places a creepy call to Kelly, who is – strangely enough – not soothed by the sound of her dead husband’s voice telling her to come find her son at a remote, snow-bound cabin, then abruptly ending the call with a click and a dial tone.
Kelly takes her time getting there – apparently there was an episode of The Amazing Race on her Tivo she hadn’t seen – but she does arrive just in time to watch Michael die again. On Christmas. That's two years in a row, which has to be some kind of record.
Everybody tells everybody they love each other, then Michael briefly turns human again so he can croon a heart-rending snippet of a public domain song to Kelly. Then he dissolves into a whirlwind of snow and ice. But just before he vanishes, Michael says, in a raspy, demonic voice, “I will always hear you...!” So I hope when Kelly eventually takes up with another man she keeps the sex quiet, or she might find coitus interrupted by an angry snowman.
Talk about blue balls.
From Mary, Riley, Moondoggie and I...