HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still can not forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore….our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection. With Bryan Singer’s remake having been postponed till next year, Dr Lenera looks at the original movie, a cult favourite which should appeal to all those who enjoy movies like Jason And The Argonauts!
HCF REWIND NO.34. JACK THE GIANT KILLER 
AVAILABLE ON R1 DVD
DIRECTED BY: Nathan H. Juran
WRITTEN BY: Nathan H. Juran, Orville H. Hampton
STARRING: Kerwin Matthews, Judy Meredith, Torin Thatcher, Don Beddoe
RUNNING TIME: 94 mins
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
England, the Middle Ages. The evil sorcerer Pendragon wants the throne of Cornwall from King Mark, and, visiting the palace, presents his daughter Princess Elaine with a magical toy jester called Cormoran. That night, Pendragon breathes a spell on the toy and it grows into a giant which abducts Elaine, but before it can reach Pendragon’s boat, a brave farm lad named Jack slays the monster and rescues Elaine. Mark makes Jack Elaine’s protector and entrusts him to safely guide her to a convent across the sea. However, Pendragon learns of the plan and sends his witches to intercept Jack’s ship….
Jack The Giant Killer is a charming, fun but also rather macabre fantasy adventure movie that for much of the time plays very much like as if it were one of the Ray Harryhausen/ Charles H. Schneer films which have a sizeable cult following to this day. In fact, it is partially a remake of the classic The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, which wowed audiences in 1957 with its non-stop action and groundbreaking special effects. Producer Edward Small had been one of the people who had turned down the Sinbad film, so five years later hired that film’s director Nathan H. Juran, hero Kerwin Matthews and villain Torin Thatcher and embarked on a very similar project. Harryhausen understandably turned the movie down so Jim Danforth did the stop motion effects. Largely considered too juvenile for adults but too scary for kids, it wasn’t a box office success and its UK release was held up till 1967, when cuts were made for its ‘G’ rating. Worse than that, the film was widely re-released as a musical, with dreadful songs dubbed over when characters are just talking; supposedly this was because Columbia Pictures, who had released The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad, threatened to sue Small. Luckily the original version is the one most widely seen these days.
Of course Jack The Giant Killer is ostensibly based on the rather gruesome fairytale of the same name, but bears little resemblance to it; for a start, there are only two giants and only one is killed by Jack. The 7th Voyage Of Sindad Redone it is then, at least in part. The pace isn’t quite so fast, [though the movie still moves at a fair clip] and the spectacular stuff is mostly restricted to the opening and closing reels, rather than being dotted throughout the movie. Cormoran’s dispatch makes for a tremendous opening, and the final section sees a two headed giant battle an octopus-like sea creature and Jack fight a dragon.
Interestingly, a surprising amount of the rest of the film is rather dark, and you can understand why the staid British censor of the 60s didn’t want it released as a kid’s movie. There is a real sense of evil concerning Pendragon and his variety of hideous witches. These witches can possess people and the only way you can cure them is to drag them to a mirror and force them to look in. At one point Elaine is bewitched, looking like a cross between Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent and Evil-Lyn from He –Man And The Masters Of The Universe, and best of all there’s a really vivid and scary sequence, which UK cinema audiences weren’t allowed to see, where the witches attack Jack’s shop, howling like banshees and photographed through coloured filters so they glow really menacingly. One has a huge mouth blowing wind while another has a glowing skull, the sight of which approaching the heroine in her cabin would still scare many young kids. Awesome stuff, but thank goodness there’s an amusing leprechaun for some light relief, whose role is mainly to get Jack out of tight spots writers Juran and Orville H.Hampton have trouble getting him out of.
The stop motion animation is fine and overall the effects are quite impressive for the time considering this movie had a much smaller budget than Sinbad. Some of the matte work looks overly obvious these days, but quite a bit of ingenuity is employed. Pendragon disappears very impressively [an effect that is still employed today], the doll of Elaine that is carried off convincingly moves like a real human, and one breathtaking shot has Jack and Elaine move in front of Cormoran, something even Harryhausen didn’t achieve, at least until the roping sequence of The Valley Of Gwangi, which was done using some different techniques. Sadly the monster models, which were not made by Danforth, are variable in quality. The two giants are okay, even if the first one is basically a Harryhausen cyclops with two eyes [ it even has hairy legs], but the dragon looks awkward and the sea monster just looks like something somebody made from plasticine in about two minutes, it has so little detail.
Kerwin Matthews is rather too old for his role but is a likeable hero, full of sincerity, while the scenes between him and Judi Meredith as the heroine have a low-key romantic charm. They don’t get many scenes together, but have a certain chemistry when they do. Of course the film is almost stolen by Torin Thatcher’s Bela Lugosi-like performance as Pendragon, the actor taking the opportunity to improve on his similar performance in The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. He’s a wonderful villain with his menacing delivery and sinister looks. He gives the impression he really could cast a spell on you. The score by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shafter is a little unimaginative considering the subject and imagery but does have a pleasant love theme. If you’re a fan of old-school fantasy movies you really must see Jack The Giant Killer [despite the print on the R1 DVD being very faded]; it’s hardly a neglected classic, but it’s tremendously enjoyable and never dull for a moment. In fact, I’ll wager that it’s more enjoyable than the upcoming remake……….