The Die Hard holiday brutality subgenre is alive and living in New Jersey, as evidenced by the over-the-edge Christmas thriller The Retaliators, directed by Samuel Gonzalez Jr., Michael Lombardi, and Bridget Smith. The screenplay by Darren Geare and Jeff Allen Geare introduces the audience to Pastor Bishop (Michael Lombardi) and his daughters Sarah (Katie Kelly) and Rebecca (Abbey Hafer). While out shopping, the Christmas tree they picked out gets swiped by an obnoxious guy (Brian O’Halloran) who threatens to beat the pastor’s butt.
Instead of retaliating, Pastor Bishop turns several cheeks and backs down. He even delivers a Christmas sermon about the incident and how people should resist being drawn into violence. But then Sarah witnesses some gang activity she shouldn’t have and is murdered by enforcer Ram Kady (Joseph Gatt). Bishop is destroyed and descends into despair. But then Bishop’s old friend from law enforcement, Jed (Marc Menchaca), offers him the best Christmas present anyone could ever ask for: the chance to get revenge in a truly twisted and ugly way.
The thing I like most about cross-genre holiday exploitation is that it can be enjoyed any time of the year as an action or horror picture and then re-enjoyed as a Christmas picture. We need movies like The Retaliators to fight boredom during the dreaded December corridor. After repeated viewings of family Christmas classics, your eyes can start to bleed a little. With these ultra-violent films dressed in wrapping paper, adults and teens can cackle their way through a fresh selection of holiday beatings.
“…offers him the best Christmas present anyone could ever ask for: the chance to get revenge…”
As this entry is from New Jersey, it is more bloody and nasty than usual, which is a good thing. I was constantly surprised by how far the extremes were pushed. The gore is well-handled and matches the depths the story dives into. It also works the Christmas angle well, almost fooling viewers at one point that this is going to be a buttoned-up faith-based affair in the first act. The catharsis of the revenge plot is built up high, delivering delightfully inappropriate kicks. In these types of movies, you get swept up in an anarchistic wave of freedom from social mores. What is done isn’t right, but it sure does feel good. This is also the kind of Anti-Claus cream that Scrooges who feel intruded upon by the season will lap up.
There is stunt casting galore to be enjoyed throughout The Retaliators. Fans of Papa Roach and Five Finger Death Punch get to not only hear their music on the soundtrack but get to see them strut their stuff as villains and such. Legendary Jersey actor O’Halloran from the Clerks franchise is perfect for the pivotal role his obnoxious guy plays. He gets your attention with recognition and resonates throughout the story.
Lombardi nails his part in the bloody cosmic cycle by being utterly convincing as a pious man knocked hard off his pulpit. You have to be impressed with how he handles his transformation into a reluctant instrument of vengeance. Menchaca masterfully underplays his part as a needed counterpoint to the outrageous tone, ironically making his actions all the more frightening. Gatt is a scary f****r’s scary f****r and should be seen more.
Those out there who thrive on the eerie sensation will find plenty of jolts here. In the end, this is a simple revenge tree, but it sure has some wild ornaments. You don’t have to wait until Christmas to open this present, as The Retaliators is the kind of gift that keeps whipping a*s throughout the year.