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Jack Be Nimble

Movie Reviews

[NightStream ’21] Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century: ‘Jack Be Nimble’

NightStream features a New Zealand tale about two siblings.

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Listen to the latest episode of the AIPT Movies Podcast!

Strange and Fantastic Tales of the 20th Century is a look back at the weirdest, most memorable, and most off center movies of the 20th century. From head turning horror to oddball science fiction, this column examines the films that will leave a lasting impression for centuries to come.

There are always creepy connotations in fairy tales and nursery rhymes. A history of disease is recounted in “Ring A-Round the Roses” and a sinister royal monarch is said to be the topic in “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”. “Jack Be Nimble” is often said to be about a pirate. Whatever the rhyme, these joyous songs taught to children tend to be laden in grim meaning. Like nursery rhymes, we know that fairy tales are much darker and violent than their Disney counterparts and tend to go hand in hand with nursery rhymes.

Garth Maxwell’s 1993 horror film is about a brother and sister torn apart when they are each adopted by very different families. Dora is raised by a loving family while Jack is raised by an abusive couple that uses their children to tend to the farm. Murderous inventions, excessive wind blowing, and some really unsexy sex set the tone in this week’s strange and fantastic adventure, Jack Be Nimble


Jack (Alexis Arquette) and Dora (Sarah Smuts Kennedy) are siblings who are sent to an orphanage after their mother has a breakdown. Dora is adopted by a loving couple, but she has trouble fitting in. She grows up loving and missing her brother. Jack grows up in an abusive home. He is slapped across the face one night when he asks for a cat. This initial slap is the first of many to feature a loud smacking sound that is pretty hilarious. 

Jack and Dora learn to cope in their own ways. Dora develops psychic abilities after a bully knocks her over a ledge. Jack invents a machine that hypnotizes his adopted family, allowing him to talk them into killing themselves.  Once they are reunited, they embark on a mission to get answers from their birth mother and to outrun Jack’s terrifying and hideous sisters who have never seen a hairbrush or shower in their lives. 


JACK BE NIMBLE, Alexis Arquette, 1993

Maxwell’s direction is intriguing. Shots focus on wind blowing through clothes, curtains, or trees several times throughout the film as chaos or revelations unfold. The film also has a bleak look to it. Scenes between Jack and his family are sort of gray and dreary, making the film seem set in decades past. Life for Dora appears more modern and bright. Dora is learning to manage her psychic abilities with the help of Teddy (Bruno Lawrence), a significantly older man with whom Dora begins an affair. 

Mess up your hair, cozy up to a cat, and watch this deranged little ditty about Jack and Dora.

Nightstream takes place virtually from October 7 – October 13

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