Horror Double Feature: Clown and Mercy

Today’s double slice of Netflix horror goodness runs the gamut from scary killer clowns to…well, scary killer grandmas. I never said it was a particularly wide gamut, did I? On we go.

So, back in 2010, cheeky monkey movie-writing-and-directing dudes Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford made a fake trailer for a fake horror movie called Clown, which to the surprise of no one, was a poignant, tasteful, and poetic tribute to the grim determination of the men and women who survived the Great Depression.

Just kidding, it was about a child-eating clown demon.

Anyway, these two scamps had the large brass cojones to put, “From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth” right there in the credits of their trailer, even though Eli Roth had absolutely never heard of these miscreants in his entire life. But there is a lesson here, folks: Namely, that sometimes if you’re ballsy and sneaky enough, you can sometimes get what you want, whether you really deserve to or not. Point being, this little stunt they pulled got back to the actual Eli Roth, who was amused by their brazenness and intrigued by the concept of the fake movie, so when Watts and Ford decided to make Clown for real, Eli Roth agreed to be one of the producers.

The 2014 film has a fairly straightforward premise: Main character Kent McCoy (Andy Powers) is a realtor as well as a lovable husband and dad, and he has booked a clown for his clown-loving son Jack’s (Christian Destefano) birthday party. Unfortunately, there is a mix-up at the clown-renting establishment, and the party clown can’t come. Kent (very fortuitously) stumbles across a clown suit in the property he’s been fixing up for sale, and he slaps that bitch on and entertains all the kids at his son’s party, Dadding like a boss. His wife Meg (Laura Allen) is so pleased with him that she even gives him a little clown lovin’ later that evening, which is frankly a sentence I thought I’d never type, but here we are.

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The problem arises on the following morning, as Kent slowly begins to discover that the clown costume refuses to come off. The rainbow wig has grown into actual hair, the clown white cannot be scrubbed away, and the bulbous red nose takes most of his actual nose with it when Meg yanks it off with one of her dental tools. Kent has also developed an unbelievable appetite, and his stomach makes disgusting gurgling noises as if he’s still hungry even after he’s eaten everything in the house (and left a giant mess in the kitchen for his poor wife to clean up, I might add. MEN, amirite?).

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Kent’s condition begins to deteriorate rapidly, and when he eventually tracks down the brother of the previous (deceased) owner of the suit, a man named Herbert Karlsson (Peter Stormare), he discovers that, obviously, the suit is not a costume at all, but the skin and hair of an ancient child-eating demon called a clöyne. Herbert has a scary hand-drawn book about the critter, as you would, and he informs Kent that the only way to get rid of the demon is to behead the person wearing the suit, which in this case would be Kent. Kent is shockingly not down with the beheading, and fights his way out of Herbert’s shop, but he soon begins to realize that the demon is quickly taking over and that he suddenly has an insatiable desire to eat children. Don’t we all? (No.)

In order to protect his family, he goes into hiding at one of his more down-market properties, but the hunger is beginning to gnaw away at him (heh), and at some stage he decides he’s going to have to kill himself. As grim as that sounds, it’s actually pretty hilarious watching clown-Kent trying unsuccessfully to blow his brains out with a pistol and getting nothing but a gaudy spray of rainbow-colored blood on the wall for his efforts, and then rigging up a super-elaborate rotating-saw contraption to try to lop his own head off (which unfortunately only succeeds in breaking the saw blade, which flies off and kills a nearby child, which Kent then eats).

Oh, and I forgot to mention that apparently, the clown curse can be broken if Kent eats five kids. Meg figures this out by discovering that Herbert had once worn the suit and turned into the demon himself, but had reverted back to normal after his cancer-doctor brother fed him five terminally ill kiddoes. The Make-A-Wish Foundation, this ain’t.

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At the climax of the film, clown-Kent goes on a bloody child-munching spree in a Chuck E. Cheese’s, of all places, and his devoted wife Meg, who still believes that Kent can be saved, actually kidnaps a young girl she sort of knows with the intent of her being the fifth sacrifice that will bring Kent back to normal. But Kent has other plans, and wants his own son Jack to be the fifth kid, which of course Meg is not on board with, leading to the final showdown between mallet-wielding Meg and kiddie-snacking clown-Kent.

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As a movie, Clown is obviously not a grand artistic statement or anything, and yeah, killer clowns are kinda played, but I actually thought this flick was a lot of fun. The premise is amusingly ridiculous, the clown transformation is well-handled and delightfully squicky, and you have to give props to a movie with the stones to kill and mutilate children with such wicked glee. As body horror goes, I’ve seen way grosser, but the gore here is nicely done and should satisfy fans of blood and guts.

The humor is also rather subdued, which I liked a lot, as I think it made the movie funnier than it would have been if they’d gone over the top with it (I swear, I laughed for five minutes at that rainbow blood when Kent shot himself in the head, and also at that framed black and white photo of the kid that had been picking on Jack…as the God of Hellfire pointed out, “Look, it’s his bully portrait”). Besides all that, the main character of Kent remained believable and even sympathetic up until the end. Like I said, not a deep metaphorical horror story or anything, just a big, dumb, fun flick to watch with your friends while cramming popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, and delicious children into your mouth-hole.

Next up, a movie from Blumhouse that somehow kinda flew under everyone’s radar, even though its pedigree would have suggested a much wider release and much more hoopla. Mercy, which was dumped straight to VOD in 2014, is based on Stephen King’s short story “Gramma” (from 1985’s Skeleton Crew collection) and stars Chandler “Carl Grimes” Riggs from The Walking Dead.

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Obviously, the movie takes some liberties with the source material, as “Gramma” was a fairly compact, simple tale about an eleven-year-old boy who gets left alone to look after his terrifying grandmother, and after she “dies,” discovers that she might be housing a demon. While Mercy keeps this general outline for the final portion of the film, a whole bunch of characters and plot intricacies are added in to flesh out the story, and not all of these additions were completely necessary, in my opinion.

One thing I did like about Mercy was that the titular grandmother (Shirley Knight) was actually portrayed at first as a sympathetic character, if somewhat witchy, and that her grandson George (Chandler Riggs) was shown as being best friends with her. It is only as the movie progresses, as Mercy gets older and has to go to a home after having a stroke, that Mercy’s demon possession becomes more pronounced and she turns into a monster.

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In brief, George, his mom Rebecca (Frances O’Connor) and older brother Buddy (Joel Courtney) have to move back to Gramma’s house in the country to take care of her after she becomes bedridden and the nursing home can’t handle her bizarre outbursts anymore. George is excited to see his beloved Gramma, since he hasn’t seen her in a year, but he is disappointed to find out that his Gramma is a lot different than he remembered.

Over the course of the film, we discover that Gramma Mercy actually sold her soul to a demon named Hastur when she was young, because she was infertile and desperately wanted children. Indeed, she soon got the children she wanted, but the cost was that her goodness slowly began to erode away, and it got to the point where her husband couldn’t take it anymore and committed suicide (by splitting his own face in half with an ax, no less, which is quite a feat if you’ve never tried it).

George (and his mom, to a lesser extent) wants to believe that the good Gramma is still in there somewhere, but the local priest and George’s drunken uncle Lanning (Mark Duplass of the previously-discussed Creep, in easily the film’s most entertaining performance) believe that the evil has completely taken over, and maybe even that Mercy was always evil. After George is convinced to water down Gramma’s meds with saline solution, thinking the meds are what is making her batshit, she starts acting up in all kinds of crazy ways, doing creepy Satanic chants and killing Lanning (and a few others) stone dead.

The final act of the film follows Stephen King’s story pretty closely, as George’s brother Buddy gets wounded and Mom has to take him to the hospital, leaving George alone with his now completely possessed Gramma, who dies on his watch before various other demonic shenanigans ensue. Much like the original story, we’re not entirely sure whether the demon actually succeeds in getting passed on to George, or whether he ultimately defeats it, though it’s suggested that the latter scenario is the case.

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This movie…I admit I’m kind of ambivalent about it. It looked fantastic, and I love witch/demon stories, especially ones with a bit of a Lovecraftian flair like this one has. The general cinematography was gorgeous and evocative, the “weeping book” imagery was cool and a rad addition to the story, the performances were pretty strong throughout (except Chandler Riggs, who is not bad, but just Chandler Riggs-y, y’know, and hey, don’t hate, I love The Walking Dead). I just thought that the story could have been simplified and streamlined more, which I guess is a pretty weird thing to say about a movie that was only 78 minutes long, but in a way, the fact that it was so short meant that maybe they should have expanded more on a few ideas instead of just giving short shrift to all the extra concepts and unnecessary characters they had rattling around in there.

Like, for instance, as much as I love Dylan McDermott, who was his character exactly in relation to the main family, and why did he need to be in this, and what was the point of the flirtation between him and George’s mom that never came to anything? What was with his character’s apparently Satan-worshipping wife with the scary demonic paintings? What was with the creepy black dog/hellhound deal? Why the crazy aunt escaping from the asylum only to get killed instantly? And was she the one who sent the verbena? And why was it necessary that George have a ghost/imaginary friend? (I mean, I guess I understand that the girl was supposed to be his Gramma’s pure soul before she got possessed or whatever, it just seemed a strange way to get that across).

See what I’m saying? A lot goes on in this thing, and because there are so many characters and plot threads in what is essentially a pretty straightforward demon-possession story, a lot of the tendrils are just kinda left hanging and underdeveloped. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie…it’s definitely not. Hell, it’s not even a bad Stephen King adaptation, and Lord knows there are shit-tons of those. It’s enjoyable enough, and creepy and entertaining as this type of thing goes, but I didn’t feel like it was anything particularly special. Just fair-to-middlin’, as my own (non-evil) Gramma used to say.

That’s all for this installment, so until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.

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