Friday, December 11, 2020

December to Dismember: MRS. CLAUS (2018)

 They say it's the most wonderful time of the year. They also say that suicide rates go up at Christmas. This is not true, it actually goes up in January when you realize that you spent the mortgage on a bunch of ungrateful jerks that you happen to share DNA with. For some reason, Christmas also seems to be the time when lazy VOD grifters entrap genre fans with terrible, no talent productions that serve only to make them want to buy SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 2 action figures to remind themselves that even that shameless cashgrab is better than 99% of the new junk. Case in point, MRS. CLAUS.

Advertised as starring '80s low-budget horror favorite Brinke Stevens, the movie opens on a Christmas pledge night. In a very small Delta Sigma Sigma sorority house that only seems to have only three sisters, chubby pledge Angela (Mel Heflin) is being forced to dip her tongue into some murky toilet water. As if that wasn't bad enough, sorority super-bitch Amber (Kaylee Williams) hands her a black dildo (though it took a rewind to see it since it quickly flashes across the bottom corner of the camera) and says that they need to see her *ahem* use it. I don't understand why Angela doesn't smack the smug bitch in the face with it, but then again I've never understood the appeal of Greek life.

Nope, Angela wilts like a daisy under a blowtorch and makes little jerking motions out of view of the camera. The sorority bitches laugh and tell her that she's still not getting in! This causes Angela to run into a bedroom, crying, sobbing and screaming into a pillow. Apparently the pillow cut off the oxygen flow to her brain as she decides to go into Amber's room, in the middle of the night while she's asleep, stuff the dildo down her throat, straddle her and stab her about a billion times. If this were in a slasher movie in the '80s cocktail-party Freudians like Gene Siskel would have had a field day. Unfortunately it's 2020 and nobody gives a shit. About anything. After this rather excessive outburst, Angela decides to hang herself from the tree in the front yard. This may not seem like such a bad idea after another 80 minutes of this movie.

Cut to present day where the little, nervous sister of the evil Amanda, Danielle (Hailey Strader, who looks absolutely nothing like her alleged sister) is pledging that very same sorority where her sister was murdered. Why? Because it makes her feel closer to her or something. Not only is this plot convenience only vaguely explained, but this is also a cue for Danielle to release her inner  uber-drama queen and be so-very fragile and dramatic. How that po' chil' never suffers from an attack of the vapors, I'll never know.

After a long scene in which Danielle and, the most virginal sorority sister ever, Kala (Heather Bounds) discuss Christmas cookies and boys, Danielle gets an email from a "Mrs. Claus" which is an awkward threatening reworking of "The Night Before Christmas." Naturally, this freaks Danielle out, goes into drama queen mode and it's up to token Black sister Monica (Jantel Hope) to settle down the twitchy little white girl. So let me get this straight. A neurotic little girl deliberately moves into the house that her sister was murdered in, on the very anniversary of that murder, and she's losing her shit because stuff (and people) keep reminding her of this fact and is constantly playing up her reprehensible sister as a saint. Uhhh, am I supposed to like her? I mean, she's the protagonist, but damn, I'm rooting for the killer.

Also in the sorority is Sophie (Daiane Azura), who appears to be a 30-something stripper who is sleeping with annoying jock Grant (Ryan Poole). After smarmily telling her sisters that she's not going to be sticking around for their lame Christmas party (she's kind of a jerk, but she's right), she gets a threatening text on her phone in her SUV and is promptly garroted by someone in a wrinkly mask and a Santa outfit. This leads to Angela's mother, Mrs. Werner (Helene Udy), showing up at the house going all Karen-esque cray-cray on Danielle, claiming that her daughter was murdered by the sister who was murdered by her daughter. Got that? Yes, for some reason, the writer-director Troy Escamilla, decided to make the motivation for the distraught mother of stab-happy Angela, some sort of affected Trump supporter type who screams a whacko theory that her daughter was the murdered one. Why this would be, is never made clear. It almost seems like this is a set up for Danielle to start to realize that maybe her sister wasn't a saint after all. You know, like a character arc? Yeah, that's not the kind of movie that this is.

After everyone except slothful sister Madison goes to run errands in anticipation of this epic Christmas party, Madison gets some texts and finally gets off her ass to check out the tree. For some reason she finds some hair decorating the Christmas tree (yeah, I don't know either). Even worse, she turns around to catch a plastic sword in her gut, which amazingly causes her to gush blood in a reasonably decent effect. I say reasonably decent because I just watched KILLER CHRISTMAS (2017) which couldn't be bothered to do anything remotely like that. We also get a subplot about Tyler (Jace Greenwood), a gay podcaster who whines about the evils of sororities, yet still decides to go to the DSS party. Maybe he's just going because it is going to prove his theories about sororities being a waste of time. As it is, he pretty much just shows up so that Monica can put the moves on him only to find out the totally obvious fact that he's gay. Why? I don't know! Monica takes off, leaving him outside to be murdered by our Santa slasher by having a large candy cane shoved down his throat. C'mon man, no punchline here. Too easy.

We also get an annoying hipster guy Jake (Drew Shotwell) who is desperately trying to be the coolest dude in the room. Which is really not that hard. Amusingly at one point he heads into the garage with the girl he came with to smoke some pot and sit on a mattress, but for some reason, he spurns her advances with the old "that was just a one-time thing" and "we're just friends" lines. What the hell is with the weird anti-relationships in this movie? Is this Escamilla working through some sort of rejection catharsis? After long bits of what is supposed to be stoner comedy, the two embrace only to get a Christmas garden sign stabbed through their throats ala BAY OF BLOOD (1971), sorry, I mean FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 (1981). Nobody who made this movie has ever heard of Mario Bava.

Hey, you know something. Wasn't there a big name in this movie? Oh yeah, Brinke Stevens! Brinke has been cast as Campus PD Officer Cornell, who stops by to question the kids about the disappearance of Sophie. So yeah, there you go. 

Meanwhile in the alleged party, Grant has decided that they should tell the worst Christmas stories they've ever had. Touchy-feely boyfriend of Danielle, Kyle (Billy Brannigan), tells a long winded tale of his great grandfather having "really, really bad diarrhea," then it's Danielle's turn! Wait, they all forgot, damn, how could they ask her such a thing?! Danielle gently nails herself to a cross and decides to talk about how the death of her sister made her feel: "I felt like I deserved to be haunted by what happened to her." What? Why? Will someone please kill her already?

While the cast is whittled down in some surprisingly unspectacular ways (Monica's beheading is literally done with what appears to be a pink mannequin), and we suffer through over-long attempts at, presumably ad-libbed, dialogue and humor (Grant decides to try to do some clumsy white-boy twerking in the girls' faces). Finally we get down to the final two and [SPOILERS] we discover that it is Mrs. Werner (Angela's mom) running around killing peeps to get revenge for her daughter. Which everybody watching this guessed literally when she made her one, and up until this point, only appearance. The twist comes when we discover that Officer Cornell is actually her sister and she is helping with the killings as a Christmas present to her sister, before she smashes a machete in her sister's head! Wait, what? Yeah, fuck if I know. We also get an epilogue set a year later, on Christmas, in which Danielle and Kyle get another threatening message from Mrs. Claus. The end. [/SPOILERS]

In pro-wrestling there are a subsection of fans who call themselves "smart marks". Essentially this means that they believe they understand how pro-wrestling works. The heels and the faces, wearing the red mask, shoot interviews, they know their shit and wrestling promoters can't fool them. Until they do. In some ways there is a subset of genre movie fans who have no self-congratulatory title, but think they know genre movies. Promoters can't fool them with hyped remakes, spiffy box-art, and clever, high-concept titles. Until they do. Ironically these people can be reeled in sometimes easier than your average schmoe (hi, my name is Thomas...). We want to jump on your bandwagon. We want to say "holy shit, I found this under-the-radar movie that shouldn't be good, but it is!" And as the saying goes, you can want in one hand and crap in the other and see which gets full first.

Brought to us by the marketing tricksters Wild Eye Releasing, who specialize in no-budget digital shot amateur horror with slick box art and catchy retitles (not Uncork'd, but their identical twin), MRS. CLAUS stays true to form. Originally titled STIRRING, as you may have guessed, this has precisely zero to do with Mrs. Claus other than it being a woman in a Santa outfit with a wrinkly old-person mask who uses the name when emailing and texting her victims. It would have been a pretty nifty idea to have the real Mrs. Claus go off her meds and decide that she had enough of this cheery Christmas horseshit and turn into an American equivalent of Krampus, bringing terrible gifts to those who deserve it during the Holidays. But of course, Escamilla really doesn't want to think too hard and just tries to feebly ape his favorite slashers which he, of course, has one of his characters shout about. "Have you guys seen SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT? About the killer Santa who hacks the shit out of the naughty peeps".

You'd think with the hanging in the beginning we'd get some sort of CONJURING (2013) haunted hanging tree goofballery, but no, nobody cares. Hell, it's not even a sorority house, it's just a condo with a very small living room. Of course I can't bitch too much since Will just sat through another one of those "everything takes place in a storage unit" movies.

There are occasional moments where it seems like it could be get on track to be entertaining in spite of it's lack of budget, actors and locations. We get a few decent gore effects in the beginning of the movie (hey, with movies like this, stab and garotte wounds qualify as decent), but then they start resorting to cutting away, or zooming in to crop off areas, so that they don't have to be bothered to do any effects. Grant gets his head stabbed through with something, maybe a wire attached to a tree topper, but with a jiggling camera, jump edits and a close-up of his face makes it so you can't even really tell. And don't get me started on the mannequin, that shit is unforgivable. At least make up the mannequin to look like there is a bloody stump and maybe, I dunno, use a Black mannequin for a Black actor. I know, crazy talk. Unfortunately, most of the movie is pretty much the lamest party (sorority or otherwise) ever with a handful of people sitting in a living room being bored. This takes on a new MC Escher meets Evard Munch level of discomfort when you the audience are sitting in a living room being bored watching people sitting in a living room being bored. Thank god I wasn't tripping on acid. 

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