Coulrophobia (fear of clowns) is something from which at least one of your friends or family members will claim to suffer. The general consensus is that clowns are scary, not funny, and that they should all go away and live in a cave somewhere. And yet, the only really noteworthy example of this common phobia being represented in genre cinema is still the TV movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT (currently being remade, god help us all).
Last year, the Eli Roth-produced Clown generated an enormous amount of buzz, thanks to a cracking trailer (as well as the wunderkind director’s stamp of approval, of course) but, thus far, the film has only received a DVD release in the UK, and a theatrical in Italy, with no solid plans for anything stateside as of yet. Although this isn’t particularly strange, it’s not exactly the best sign either.
Clown follows family man and real estate agent Kent (Andy Powers) who, stuck for ideas when the entertainer for his clown-obsessed son’s birthday party cancels, happens upon a dusty old suit in a house he’s renovating and, without giving it a second thought, throws it on to take his place.
When Kent awakens the following morning, he finds he is unable to remove the suit, nose or wig no matter how hard he tries. And, soon enough, he finds them welded to his body as his skin turns white, his hands and feet expand and he begins puking up rainbow-coloured gunk (he also has an insatiable hunger that cannot be satisfied).
Clown actually started out as a fake trailer, subsequently coming to fruition as a feature after supposedly catching Roth’s attention. Unfortunately, the trailer itself actually makes more of a mark than the finished product. It’s a shame, because Powers does a decent job in the lead role, contorting his body and adjusting his voice accordingly. Laura Allen, on the other hand, is given short shrift as his wife, while young Christian Distefano mostly cries and looks scared as the confused son.
The real star of the show, as it turns out, is Peter Stormare (recently spotted kicking ass in 22 Jump Street) who steals every scene, in the kind of role made popular by the great Jeffrey Combs. Whenever his weirdo Karlsson is onscreen, Clown pops and, really, considering the way in which the movie limps towards its inevitable conclusion, he’s done away with much too quickly–the story could’ve benefited hugely from more of his fascinating back-story.
Anything that is “presented by Eli Roth” must be approached with caution. After all, this is the man who brought us both Hostel and The Green Inferno, so consistency and subtlety aren’t really his forte. Whether or not you believe that he “discovered” Clown, there’s no denying it’s an exciting prospect and it makes sense that both he and the Weinsteins (also credited as producers) would get behind it.
Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the fact that, in spite of its best intentions, and with respect to Powers’ commitment, Clown isn’t scary. There’s a TV-movie fuzz to it (interesting, considering director Jon Watts background is mostly in television) that makes everything feel a bit muted and, although it starts off strong, brooding and tense, as the narrative unravels the shocks get less and less. In fact, the most uncomfortable scene takes place early on, when Kent’s wife has to forcibly remove his nose, to excruciating effect (and naturally, it’s in the trailer).
There’s a tragicomic edge to the proceedings, because Kent is a clown, complemented by some nice spots of black humour, and the underlying suggestion that the whole thing is a metaphor for pedophilia is interesting. When he starts to change, Kent initially does everything in his power to resist his horrible urges, only eating a kid once he’s been accidentally killed. However, when he does give in–most memorably, in a zippy sequence set in a Chuck E. Cheese, the money shot of which is a rush of blood and a severed arm seeping down a twisty tunnel slide and into a ball-pit–it isn’t to enough of an extent for it to really hit home as it should.
The SFX are great, but once Kent has gone full demon, so to speak, the effect is a bit ropey and, while they try to misdirect us with the ending, genre fans will easily work out the conclusion before it happens. And, although the message about how far parents will go to protect their kids is strong, it’s not communicated effectively enough throughout for it to make much of an impact aside from a shrugging “well, makes sense really”.
Clown is an impressive feat, especially given its allegedly humble origins, but sadly it’s not nearly as rough as it needs to be to justify its existence. It simply doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t shock or disturb, or even suggest as it should. Casual horror fans may be spooked, but enthusiasts won’t find much to hold their attention here. All things considered, a theatrical release–both here and across the pond–would be the best thing for it, because Clown is the kind of film that, thanks to a bad-ass trailer, will kill with the multiplex crowd.
WICKED RATING: [usr 4.5]
Director(s): Jon Watts
Writer(s): Christopher D. Ford, Jon Watts
Stars: Peter Stormare, Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Christopher Distefano
Studio/ Production Co: Cross Creek Pictures
Length: 100 min.