While trying to come up with a theme for this year’s competition, Mr. Bungle came on my iPod randomly. As though the song was sent from the heavens above, I knew that all of my problems were solved. It was settled. 2011 would be (for me at least) the year of evil clowns. Unfortunately there really isn't a "classic" example of the genre like there is for Dracula, ghosts, witches and werewolves. However there are a lot more out there than I initially expected. I'm not expecting to discover a masterpiece but I am hoping to unearth a hidden gem or two. I'll be judging these films on their creepiness (which makes the makeup an important piece of the puzzle) and their ability to startle. I don't normally care for cheap scares but clowns are at their best when they appear out of nowhere.
I’ve admired the idea of colorful smiling nutjobs in makeup ever since reading a nasty little comic book of Boom Boom’s entitled Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. What is so unsettling about evil clowns? Perhaps it's the juxtaposition of seeing a children's entertainer wielding a large kitchen knife. Often clowns are portrayed as sadistic and mentally ill criminals who find your suffering amusing. (See The Joker.) In Clownhouse, protagonist Casey puts it best when he explains his coulrophobia. “Their faces are fake - big happy eyes, big painted smiles. It's not real. You never know what they really are." His older brother Randy, a textbook 80's dickhead, exploits his "irrational" fear and mocks him every chance he gets.
JPX and I enjoyed Clownhouse many years ago and I was pleased to see that it still holds up. I'm not going to mislead you; it is a generic slasher film in almost every sense of the word and it barely deviates from the 80's template. Released in 1989, it is one of the last breaths of a dying genre. There is little gore, in fact many of the kills happen offscreen. You can see each death coming a mile away and there is no question that 12 year old Casey will make it through the movie unscathed.
The plot could not be simpler. Three psychopaths escape a mental institution, steal costumes from the circus and go on a killing spree. Casey's worst fear comes to life and he has to confront it or die. ***1/2 is extremely generous but director Victor Salva (Powder, Jeepers Creepers) did a bang up job capturing the inherent creepiness in clowns that I was searching for. My favorite scene occurs early on, when Cheezo the Clown picks a member out of the audience to participate onstage. Who do you think gets selected?
Great stuff but I have a sneaking suspicion that it's all downhill from here.