Anything for Jackson

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Horror films tend to be populated by sexy young things, but in Anything for Jackson the two protagonists are a pair of people in their 60s, played to the hilt by Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy.

Actually, Anything for Jackson is more trad than it at first appears, because the couple in question aren’t actually the good guys, they’re a pair of Satanists – “Glory be to Satan” they chant at the coven where they meet their fellow devil-worshippers – who have kidnapped a heavily pregnant woman and plan to use her child as the receptacle for the spirit of their dead grandchild, Jackson.

It’s a Rosemary’s Baby from the point of view of the bad guys, in other words. But what a generally amiable pair Mr and Mrs Walsh are – he’s a kindly doctor, she’s a housewife who keeps a tidy home and is always ready with a snack or a hot drink. But they do have this big-bellied woman, Shannon (Konstantina Mantelos), handcuffed to the bed, and plan to steal her child by using a thousand-year-old book of magic spells, which will help them invoke the correct spirit, or deity, or whatever.

This is a nicely written and well played horror movie with a simple premise and a few nice ideas to freshen up a familiar premise. One is that general air of domesticity already mentioned, another is the way that it’s little unforeseen events that start presenting the couple with problems, everyday stuff they just hadn’t reckoned on – like the neighbour who keeps turning up to shovel the snow off their driveway and just won’t take no for an answer, because he’s a good neighbour. The Walshes have soundproofed their house to be on the safe side, but even so…

Another neat bit of spin is the figure of the character who explains it all, the loremaster who always turns up in films of this sort. Usually it’s a crusty old guy in a bookshop, a professor, a forgotten expert in a cobwebby museum, or someone similar. Here it’s a proper nutjob, a young death metal fan who lives in his mother’s basement, and becomes pivotale as the film progresses. He’s played with an unhinged fervour by the excellent Josh Cruddas.

And there’s also the fact that things just don’t go right as regards the spells either. The house starts filling up with the wrong summoned spirits, like the woman who sobs as she uses a wire to saw one tooth after another from her bloody maw or the old-school ghost in a white sheet who just kind of stands there going “wooo”.

A demon saws a tooth from her mouth
How demons entertain themselves

There’s plenty of gore, and if that’s the sort of thing you like director Justin Dyck and co-writer Keith Cooper keep it coming, escalating the rhythm of the OMGs until things slide into bonkers territory, which is where Dyck and Cooper obviously always wanted to go.

That’s why the playing of McCarthy and Richings is so crucial. Theirs is a goofy homeliness that’s entirely at odds with the rest of the film, a stillness that emphasises the gore and Satanism.

If you’ve ever seen any of those TV movie Christmas films (like A Christmas Village or Christmas with a Prince), brightly lit Hallmark/Lifetime-style numbers turned out at speed seemingly to give TV stations something to put between the adverts, then you might be surprised to learn that Dyck directed most of them and Cooper wrote a few. Anything for Jackson is either a nice little palate-cleansing bucket of blood to wash all that overlit niceness away, or it’s what they actually really enjoy doing.

Dyck had already finished two more Christmas movies (with more in the works) by the time Anything for Jackson hit screens. The world does not really need more Christmas movies so let’s hope he can put them on hold long enough to reteam with Cooper for another mad, fun journey to the dark side. Less Santa, more Satan!

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

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