Monday, December 24, 2018

December to Dismember: MERCY CHRISTMAS (2017)

Warning: The following review contains spoilers.

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the blog, poor reviewers were having a slog. Actually, I feel quite guilty about this. While Tom is having his synapses singed by the like of every low-rent Krampus feature known to man and RED CHRISTMAS (2016), I’ve had two entertaining movies this season. First was the enjoyable horror-comedy MASSACRE ON AISLE 12 (2016) and now I have the equally enjoyable horror-comedy MERCY CHRISTMAS (2017). Going 2 for 4 so far for me is considered a great success. Either the Movie Gods felt I needed a reprieve after enduring ONCE UPON A TIME AT CHRISTMAS (2017) and ELVES (2018) - a film so bad it rocketed into my top 5 worst films of all time - or Tom has been very naughty this past year and is being punished accordingly. Probably a bit of both.

MERCY CHRISTMAS wastes no time grabbing the viewers attention as it opens with a bald guy waking up in a room covered with blood and screaming for help. Cut to two days earlier where said bald man is introduced as Michael Briskett (Steven Hubbell), a milquetoast corporate numbers man who loves Christmas. While everyone is enjoying the company Christmas party, Briskett is in his cramped office finishing up his workload for the boss, Mr. Robillard (Cole Gleason). The boss shows up and is impressed, but not impressed enough to accept Michael’s invitation to his Christmas party. What he does do is mention he has more financial reports and he wants them by the day after Christmas. “Turn the geek’s speak into people speak,” he says before bolting on his hapless employee. Instead of a white Christmas, Michael is going to see one in the red and black.

We then cut to a series of kidnappings done by a hulking hooded guy. He kidnaps Katherine (Whitney Nielsen), a bartender; Eddie (D.J. Hale), a guy scalping tickets on the street; and an old man eating a bowl of Jello. Busy night as the guy throws them all into the back of the truck. We jump back to Michael in his office as Mr. Robillard’s secretary, Cindy (Casey O'Keefe), drops off the reports. Looks like Michael is going to have a rather somber holiday as the next day no one shows up to his Christmas party. However, he gets a surprise knock at the door as Cindy shows up and mentions she spotted the invite on his desk the night before. Amazingly, the two hit it off thanks to their love of all things Christmas. When Michael mentions his mother spends her Christmases away from him (“My mom goes on a cruise...kind of a gift to herself every year.”), Cindy invites him to spend the holiday with her family. Now why the attractive Cindy has taken an interest in the rather rotund Michael is a mystery. That is unless you have a dark sensibility or have seen Anthony Perkins’ LUCKY STIFF (1988).

Driving up to her family’s place, Cindy mentions they’ll be spending Christmas Eve with her father, grandmother and two brothers. Once at the house, we meet patriarch Abe (David Rupprecht), Granny (Gwen Van Dam), brother Bart (Ryan Boyd) and surprise guest Phillip (Joseph Keane), a former beau of Cindy’s who works with her father. Strained romances aside, they seem like a lovely bunch and sit down for a nice delicious meal of ribs. The yuletide spirit is overflowing and the food is chow-down delicious. It is the living embodiment of Michael’s Christmas dream, but it is about to turn into a Christmas nightmare. You see, the second brother Andy shows up right when Michael is about to give a toast and he is Michael’s boss. But eating dinner with his bossy boss is the least of his worries as the eggnog is spiked with more than Jack Daniels this year. Michael zonks out and wakes up tied up in the basement with the other three kidnapped folks. If you haven’t guessed it already, the family likes their Christmas dinner Hannibal Lecter style and Briskett is what is one the menu.




Apparently expanding off of a 2010 short film that also starred Hubbell, MERCY CHRISTMAS comes from director Ryan Nelson, who co-wrote the screenplay with Beth Levy Nelson. While many might see the cannibal twist coming (hell, they ruin that surprise on one of their posters with the tagline “Dinner is served” over a bound Hubbell), their screenplay still delivers a pitch black horror-comedy with some surprises in it. One of the funniest aspects is how the family is like any arguing brood during the holidays except that they are cannibals. At one point, Andy is upset that Bart has invited his finance Denise (Dakota Shepard) to join them for Christmas dinner because she is a police dispatcher and could expose their lifestyle. The two men have a heated argument about it, the only difference with a normal family is they are arguing while cutting up Phillip’s corpse. It is also hilarious to see and hear David Rupprecht, the former host of the ‘90s game show SUPERMARKET SWEEP, as the father who loves to banter about basketball while cauterizing someone’s wounds with a home iron. Unlike most low budget horror features, everyone in the cast is great in their respective roles. The two standouts are Hubbell as our lead and Hale as one of the other trapped victims. Both men perfectly balance between drama and comedy. I particularly liked this rapidfire exchange when they are planning a way to escape.

Eddie: Mike, what’s the upstairs like?
Michael: It’s pretty nice. It’s all done up for the holidays.
Eddie: I didn’t ask for a travel report, bitch! Are there windows?

Their dynamic together works great and that is perfect for the finale which sees Eddie literally has Michael’s back. In one of the Nelson’s most absurd (and funnier) ideas, Michael straps the now legless Eddie to his back and they slip out of the house. But once they realize these people need to be stopped, they soldier back in and become a four armed, four...eh, make that two legged ass kicking machine. I should also commend the filmmakers for not skimping on the Xmas details. Yes, it is another shot-in-Los Angeles affair, so we won’t be getting snow but they don’t use that as an excuse to not fling as much festive flair on the screen. From Michael’s Christmas sweaters to Christmas lights galore, it helps set the mood just right. And for a low budget film, they pulled off one of the most impressive things I’ve seen this year. When Eddie eventually becomes legless, I was absolutely convinced Hale was a real life amputee. Turns out he isn’t and it was done with some very impressive computer digital work. Clocking in at a breezy 80 minutes, MERCY CHRISTMAS ended up being a pleasant and entertaining surprise.

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