Almost Mercy (2015): Almost Perfect Horror

Bill Moseley in Almost Mercy
The 2015 horror film Almost Mercy, directed and co-written by Tom DeNucci is one of those independent movies that could be considered almost perfect. Every single thing about the film works. The quirky plot, the music, the acting, the casting and the ambiance all come together to make this little film a veritable feast.

Starring Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Danielle Gulden and Jesse Dufault the film follows two misfits in a small Norman Rockwell town, on the surface, who become friends amidst their own personal suffering.

Gulden clearly owns this film. Her performance and voice over fits perfectly the character of the “strong twin” and at the end, with its surprise reveal, we believe her wholeheartedly. Jesse Default, with his “blasted” good cheer and slightly off-kilter expression convinces just as thoroughly. Kudos to the casting directors on this film, the young actors who portray Emily and Jackson as little children are spot on.

Eva Senerchia has only just started in the business and she has no difficulties playing the younger Emily. She has the expression of world weary acceptance that one sees in young neglected kids down pat.

It is Danielle Gulden who sells the film however. Her wry delivery as she recites events is brilliant. She is, despite her diversionary focus on Dufault’s character, the main protagonist. Her journey has insured that she is the sage messenger who reveals the truth behind everything in the end.

Horror icons Moseley (House of a 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects) and Hodder (Jason, Hatchet) play two “respected” members of the local community and the only complaint about either actor is that they do not have more to do in the film.

Moseley can be truly terrifying in whatever role he plays. Case in point being the 2010 thriller/horror film The Tortured. Moseley plays child murderer John Kozlowski who only really appears at the start of the film. Dressed in a child’s dress for what can only be a two minute or less scene, Moseley as Kozlowski could induce nightmares in the most mature audience member. More Moseley may not have been in keeping with the film’s message but more of this man is never a bad thing.

*Sidenote* Kudos to Bill for a majestic underplaying of what was essentially the “village” priest with a predilection for young male flesh.

The film comes dangerously close to entering taboo territory when it looks like Jackson will start a Columbine type massacre. This, had it actually been included as part of the film, would have killed the genius behind the music, the pacing and the clever dialogue of the players.

Cinematographer Sam Eilertsen does a brilliant job framing each shot and then editing the film without a misstep anywhere.

Rather tellingly, in the scenes where Hodder’s overbearing physical education coach is telling off young Emily for not bringing her gym clothes to class, a giant banner emblazoned with “Bullying” is just above and behind the child. Since these encounters take place in the same area where Coach Elwood picks on Jackson, the placing of this poster/banner is ironically brilliant.

The scenes with young Emily and Jackson and their “adventures” together are overexposed. Too bright, too saturated with color and difficult to view. The set pieces where Jackson is picked on in the gym dressing area, where three other boys gang up on him and whip him with towels is hazy. In both instances, it shows that the memories are perhaps incorrect, uncomfortable to remember or even altered from the reality of each situation.

Almost Mercy is a splendid gem of a film. Feeling like a more serious version of Bobcat Goldthwait’s 2011 satirical comedy crime film God Bless America crossed with the awkward coming of age film Ginger Snaps sans the werewolf and menses fixation.

DeNucci has excelled at what is his third time in the director’s chair. His background is exclusively in horror and this latest offering shows that this is his area of expertise. The script, the actors, the storyline and the feel of the film, right down to the choices of songs for each set piece, are almost perfect.

This is a 5 out of 5 star horror film. Streaming on US Netflix at the moment, horror fans should stop whatever they are doing and watch this film…Now.

The Devils Rejects (2005): Zombie Western Horror

Rob Zombie wrote and directed this sequel to House of a 1000 Corpses. After the financial success of Corpses Lions Gate Entertainment were eager for Zombie to make another film.

Rob had an idea for a sequel while filming Corpses about the sheriff’s brother coming after the Firefly clan in an act of deadly revenge. With the idea in place Zombie began to craft The Devil’s Rejects  with the aim of making the film less comedic and more horrific.

Rob stated that he wanted it to feel a bit likeThe Wild Bunch , Bonnie and Clyde and Badlands. The influence of all three films can be seen in the final cut of Rejects.

The Devil’s Rejects opens with the Sheriff’s brother, Sheriff Wydell (William Forsythe) surrounding the Firefly house with a posse of lawmen. After telling the besieged family to surrender or die a prolonged shoot-out ensues with every one in the house being shot to rag-doll ribbons.

Otis (Bill Mosely) and Baby (Sherri Moon Zombie) manage to escape, but Mother Firefly is captured by Wydell. Otis and Baby after murdering a nurse to steal her car hide out at a motel.

At the motel Baby starts flirting with Roy (Geoffrey Lewis) who part of a country music band and when they head back to Roy’s room, Otis shows up and they take the entire band hostage. What follows is the hardest part of the film to watch.

Gone are the comedic undertones that make Corpses so amusing. Otis and Baby have grown p as it were and they set upon the band member with vicious and horrific acts of violence. Otis rapes Roy’s wife Gloria (Priscilla Barnes) and later kills the two remaining men. He cuts one of their faces off and returns to the motel room with his victims face over his own.

The two contact their father Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and they meet at the motel. After their reunion they all go to the Chicken Ranch, a brothel run by family friend Charlie Altamont (Ken Foree) and his lackey Clevon (Michael Berryman).

Sheriff Wydell has hired two bounty hunters to help track down the remaining Firefly family members, one of the bounty hunters is Danny Trejo, they catch up with them at the chicken ranch.

The cast list of The Devil’s Rejects reads like a horror-thon reunion. P.J. Soles, Michael Berryman,  and Kane Hodder all make appearances in the film.

With his second feature Rob Zombie has fine tuned his cinematic and horror skills. Focusing more on the evil side of the Firefly brood, he has toned down the hilarity that was present in his first film. He also gives the characters a chance to show who and what they really are.

The interaction between Baby, Otis and dad, Captain Spaulding is touching, funny and revealing. That this family unit is dysfunctional is obvious and just as apparent is their love (however strange) for one another.

Yet despite the more horrific nature of the film and it’s lead characters, we are fond of the backwater Dionysian family and when the film ends to the music of Lynyrd  Skynyrd’s Free Bird we are sad and a little touched.