ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

After a group of high school kids fail to turn in their book reports on the Industrial Revolution, their teacher deems the best punishment to be taking them all on a field trip to a railroad museum.

Okay, stop. What the hell? I always got either detention or a failing grade, but these little ass-wipes get a field trip?

Anyway, upon arriving at their destination, they are greeted by the world’s creepiest museum caretaker, Mr. Steele (Tony Todd), who tells them the cold and unforgiving history of trains and the railroad tracks, and then closes with the legendary tale of Railroad Jack, aka Jack the Reaper. Since the teens are clearly wiser beyond their years and have shown great tact, respect and sound judgment so far, they roll their eyes at Mr. Steele, call him a kook and walk away laughing him off.

Well, except for the deaf girl in the group, ’cause she obviously didn’t hear a single word he said.

On their way back home, they cross over one of those dreaded train tracks, and before you can say, “Geez… Well, that wasn’t so bad.”, a mysterious figure jumps out in front of them, causing their driver to lose control and crash the bus.

But wait! They survive the crash, and thankfully, instead of doing something stupid and foolish like call for help or find any place that’s willing to take them to a nearby hospital, they spot an empty carnival just randomly sitting out in the middle of the desert and decide to check it out.

No cars, no park guests, no one running the joint. Sure, what could possibly go wrong?

SPOILER ALERTS: They all die.

Brought to us by writer/director Kimberly Seilhamer and Mad Crapper Productions (yes, that’s its actual name and not me taking a shot at the value of this film), Jack the Reaper (See what they did there?) is a low-budget slasher film…

Well, at least for the final 30 minutes of its 90-minute run time ’cause Seilhamer wants to develop all the Breakfast Club wannabe characters first.

Claire and Brian would bite the dust first, which is fine as long as my girl Ally Sheedy survives.
Claire and Brian would bite the dust first, which is fine as long as my girl Ally Sheedy survives.

Yes, this is like the horror film equivalent of last year’s Godzilla. Oscar-nominated actress Sally Kirkland and cult horror film fan-fave Tony Todd pop up in two thankless roles for no more than a couple minutes, only to be shoved aside for the rest of the film. We’re then left with a busload of bland Aaron Taylor-Johnson students, who bitch and moan and whine and cry for the entire film until the monster finally shows up at the end.

Now, I have no problem with a film wanting to develop their characters before they bring out the good stuff. The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Descent, Let the Right One In and last year’s The Babadook are just a few examples of horror films that have terrific character development. However, these characters are each introduced with their own personal baggage, but none of their problems are ever dealt with, and they just end up becoming the obligatory “bowling pins” to be knocked down one by one by the killer.

Shame too ’cause these kids are like wet dreams for Freddy Krueger.

Ten victims? Guess who's working overtime, bitches?!
Ten victims? Guess who's working overtime, bitches?!

So here are your contestants for the “Who Gets Picked Off First?” race. On your mark… Get set… Go!

1) Steven Hickey, aka “The Jock” – He’s a major dickhead, and we know that ’cause he wears a football jersey and he likes to toss the pigskin around. Oh, and also ’cause he likes to sexually harass girls. Yet instead of having a heart to heart moment with the rest of his schoolmates about how he once taped Larry Lester’s buns together, and now feels really horrible about it ’cause he only did it to fulfill some deep-seated insecure need to impress his overly-pushy father, he continues to fail at getting at least one of the girls to drop their panties for him.

Not for lack of trying, though.

Chances for survival: Well, he’s athletic, which helps, but he’s also dumber than a box of rocks and gets trapped in the Mirror Maze ride where Railroad Jack pick axes him to death. As someone that’s walked through that ride before many times, I’ve come to learn that it helps if you actually walk, instead of just beating on the glass frantically, when trying to find your way out.

2) Shawn Hickey, aka “The Outcast” – Steven’s brother who knocked up a girl, but isn’t ready to be a father. Seilhamer must’ve felt the same way ’cause the baby mama argues with him at the beginning and then just disappears.

Chances for survival: There are a couple of close calls for him, but he manages to make it to the end all thanks to his plot-hole baby that gets quickly brought up by him in his “redemptive moment”. If he makes it out alive, by God, he’s gonna be the best damn father ever.

And he does… just before he’s killed. It’s okay. Your kid would’ve hated you anyway.

3) Maya, aka “The Quiet One… Meaning She’s Deaf” – She may not be able to hear, but she’s the toughest and most independent character of the bunch, and doesn’t take any shit from Steven’s sexual advances.

Chances for survival: You’d think killing someone that can’t hear at all would be a cakewalk for the killer, but her lack of hearing has given her a heightened sense of sight that is able to detect and pinpoint the killer when he’s like no more than six feet away from everyone. That said, she ends up getting killed since she’s unable to hear Shawn tell her where the carnival exit is.

Dammit, it still comes back to bite her.

4) Andre, aka “The Black Guy” – Steven’s much more understanding best friend, it’s nothing short of a miracle that, as the token black member of the group, he makes it past the first kill.

Chances for survival: He’s black. Where the hell have all you been for the past 50 years of horror films?

5) Sommer, aka “The Kind, Sweet Girl Who’s Apparently Also a Slut” – Maya’s friend, Sommer is sweet, compassionate and caring… and rumor has it, amongst this motley crew, that she’s type of girl that would probably misconstrue Mr. Steele’s speech on fast, non-stop trains by spreading her legs wide open and belting out “Let’s Get It Started”. She has a huge, futile crush on Steven and mistakes a carnival game prize for a marriage proposal, only to be let down by him. Being led on by the dick of the group, you almost feel sorry for her until she turns out to be just as big a bitch by coldly turning down Harold.

Chances for survival: Her mood swings are all over the map, so Railroad Jack could handle her with his eyes closed… Wait… He has no eyes… Arms tied behind his back then.

6) Harold, aka “The Pudgy Bullied Nerd” – Harold is often the target of verbal daggers from Steven (who’s a “lobotomized fucker” according to his Nana). After seeing Steven use Sommer, being the loveable and loyal type of friend that he is, Harold comes to offer her support in her time of need. Of course, he’s also using it to his advantage to score some potential nookie with her ’cause as easy as she seems to be, why not? It could be the only chance he has. Like Sommer, he too is sweet, compassionate and caring… that is, until Sommer refuses to give him what he wants, and then he calls her a whore and hopes she dies of a disease.

Well, that escalated quickly.

Chances for survival: I’m honestly surprised he lasted past the 1/2 hour mark. The boy can’t even jog two steps without needing to catch his breath, so I was expecting the only killer he’d have to face would be a vicious heart attack.

7) Brian aka Casper, aka “The Albino” – Like Harold, he too is often the target of verbal daggers from Steven, and is later on accused by his schoolmates of possibly being the killer, ’cause I don’t know. He’s a freak… and an irritating one at that.

Chances for survival: Well, if he was like Powder, he could’ve easily summoned some lightning or whatever to zap the killer to death. Instead, his whiteness has him sticking out at night like a sore thumb, making him quite the easy target for Jack.

8) Trudy Yoo, aka “The Snooty Bitch” – The nickname says it all.

Chances for survival: About as good as Harold making the Varsity Cross Country team.

9) Tyler, aka “The Seilhamer Just Felt Like Throwing in Another Pointless Character Guy” – Hell if I know who this guy is. Once at the carnival, he disappears, then next thing you know he’s dancing on top of a 60-70 foot Ferris wheel.

Chances for survival: Yeah, you should see that one coming.

10) Jesse, aka “The Troubled Girl” – I guess she’s getting molested by her dad. I don’t really know. Like Shawn and his baby mama, Seilhamer just leaves that little tidbit of character info dangling around with no resolution. Now, we shouldn’t assume that her dad’s a child diddler just ’cause he asks for a kiss. I mean, I think most any dad loves to shower their daughter with love and affection, but typically the honest to God, loving ones don’t ask for it in a “Come hither” voice while flashing a raging boner.

Chances for survival: Pretty high. She stays in the bus the whole time while everyone else is getting killed. Personally, I had her pegged as the winner. It’s a close call, but between getting a pick axe through the head or going back home to Papa Predator, I’m surprised she didn’t dart past everyone else like Usain Bolt to be the first one killed at the carnival.

Damn, could’ve been a perfect strike for Jack. By the way, there’s still a child molester running free here.

Hi, why don't you have a seat right over there, please.
Hi, why don't you have a seat right over there, please.

Oh, well… cue the music.

“Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! … Don’t you forget about me!”

Jack the Reaper is another recycled “Carnival of Horror” slasher film that has stiff performances and a very predictable twist ending. From a character standpoint, these idiots aren’t even worth rooting for in the slightest, and from a set-em-up and kill-em-off standpoint, the kills are too lazy and uncreative to forgive the lack of character interest. Like a sadist’s version of the Energizer bunny, it just keeping going and going and going and going, and when the slasher monster finally shows up, you no longer care; you just hope he kills off all the teens if it means they shut up and stop making really stupid decisions.

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