Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #160
Number of Views: One
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Country of Origin: Ireland
Running Time: 86 minutes
Director: Conor McMahon
Producers: Julianne Forde, Brendan McCarthy, John McDonnell, Ruth Treacy
Screenplay: Conor McMahon, David O’Brien
Special Effects: Aoife Noonan, Ben O’Connor
Visual Effects: Declan Dowling
Cinematography: Patrick Jordan
Score: Paul McDonnell
Editing: Chris Gill
Studio: MPI Media Group, Tailored Films, Fantastic Films
Distributor: Signature Entertainment, Dark Sky Films, Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment
Stars: Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Shane Murray Corcoran, Thommas Kane Byrne, Eoghan McQuinn, Roisin Barron, Hugh Mulhern, John McDonnell, Tommy Cullen, Lorna Dempsey, Jemma Curran, Ryan Burke
Suggested Audio Candy
Crimi Clowns “A Clown Like You”
Shamus has got some serious explaining to do if you ask me. Ever since spending six minutes with Tate Steinsiek’s Clown short recently, I have revisited my illogical fear of these painted performers and, as a result, sat down with Conor McMahon’s cult movie Stitches with hopes high and fears renourished. I had heard the grapevine whispering about this and all signs were pointing to pay dirt. Its reputation proceeded it, after opening Frightfest to rousing response, McMahon’s film steadily built up a head of steam and is already considered by many as something of a golden fleece. Indeed, it took all of the time our caustic clown requires to sow his oats in his trailer-park trollop and step out of his wayward cliff-side caravan to make me feel fully justified in my decision.
Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle is a jaded joker who falls foul to the business end of a precariously placed kitchen knife during young whippersnapper Tommy’s eleventh birthday party. Proving how thankless a task it is attempting to tame a rabble-rousing room filled with Irish public schoolchildren, he is whittled down by the youngsters prior to his unfortunate “mishap” and vows to take his sweet revenge over every last one of them. In the shady words of the chieftain of the black magic clown cult responsible for his resurrection, “If a clown dies before finishing a party, he can never rest in peace and the joke is never as funny the second time round.” With those words still ringing in our ears, we fast forward to six years later and the pledged rising of this resentful ribald.
Right off the bat, we know we’re in safe white-gloved hands as McMahon sets the tone for the next 86 minutes. The clown in question is played by popular stand-up comedian Ross Noble in his big-screen debut and takes less than no time convincing his addressee that he is the right man for the clown shoes in question. Belligerent and jaundiced, Stitches possesses an indifference which Noble captures exquisitely and he makes it his feature from the first honk of that roving red nose. Ultimately the whole affair rests on his ability to sell us his character and he haggles us down like a Turkish rug salesman from the offset.
Young Tommy (Tommy Knight) is now about to turn seventeen and still coming to terms with his ordeal. Desperate to set aside his anxiety for one night and woo his long-term crush Kate (Gemma-Leah Devereux), he allows his best friend Vinnie (Shane Murray Corcoran) and a few close buddies to arrange a party for the festivities.Of course, it isn’t long before everyone in Ireland knows about the upcoming party and that includes a certain embittered clown with a humongous chip on his shoulder and every intention of exacting his foul revenge in the most hideous manner imaginable. The more than capable young cast apply themselves with great vigor, notably the three adolescent leads who are uniformly excellent and also Thommas Kane Byrne whose flamboyant Bulger reminds us that we all knew a kid precisely like him back in school. There is a rich vein of black humor running through the piece and this isn’t exclusive to our cantankerous clown either although the last laugh is usually his.
The tone is portentous for sure and an ominous black cloud hangs over proceedings, assisted by a grim overcoat which stretches across every square millimetre of McMahon’s film. Stitches isn’t scary per se, but that’s not to say it’s not atmospheric. Indeed, depending on your stance towards clowns, you may well find a multitude of nightmare-making moments within its bag of tricks. But you’ll laugh from your belly too as our gag man trundles uphill on a three-wheeled tricycle before grumbling to himself, picking it up and sulkily stomping off-screen. Moments such as this are plentiful and Noble fits his clown shoes particularly well.
The dispatches conjured up by McMahon are implemented fastidiously by SFX team Aoife Noonan and Ben O’Connor and they go the route of practical effects wherever possible as opposed to too much crass CGI. Thank the heavens, their decision is an astute one as the grue in Stitches is truly of the uppermost echelon. Deep red like Dario Argento’s bath water, it sprays like the custodian kitten and spatters across the screen with no restraint whatsoever. We are given an eye-witness account of every appendage plucked, front seats every time, and the coulis flows without so much as a smidgen of inhibition.
Meanwhile, our gnarled clown shuffles about like a malignant penguin throughout, using his bright red hooter as a mobile spy-cam to lead him to his next sorry victim. One priceless scene features an inimitable rendition of eighties power ballad (I Just) Died In Your Arms by Cutting Crew as one hapless sufferer is cradled to sleep while his cranium is hollowed out via ice-cream scoop. The whole time our leading clown is absolutely in his element, clearly relishing the opportunity to grab himself a party bag. His twitchily delivered wisecracks may not always hit the target but don’t fall far from bullseye for the most part and this is further bolstered by Noble’s evident aptitude as a funny man. Speaking of which, there are parallels to Simon Sprackling’s 1994 film Funny Man in style, tone and overall sheen which are more than welcome in my book.
It is actual fact that, as a final rite of passage, eggs are smashed as a clown reaches their final curtain and this custom lends credence to the notion that a painted egg embodies our joker’s blackened soul. This and the clown’s Illuminati that gathers in a decrepit mausoleum each dusk to contemplate parties to crash. This is perhaps the component that leaves the darkest taste in our palates, the concept that so many of these hellish harlequins have both their own exclusive egg and ax to grind, provokes a rather eerie despondency within the viewer. Let’s just say it may well be your last visit to the big top in quite a while.
Considering the modest €600k grant afforded by the Irish Film Board and other diminutive pockets of funding that helped to bring Stitches to our screens, what McMahon achieves is nothing short of astonishing. While the sound turns of the entire cast are commendable and the grue is virtually peerless, it’s the whole package that dazzles bright. Thus, whilst it offers little new to the party, it never once leaves us with egg on our faces and a joke is always funnier when at some other poor bastard’s expense.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Roll up! Roll up! Welcome to the greatest show on Earth. Wince as an adolescent member is torn from its pubic origin and tied to a balloon, howl as limbs are twisted off at the root and heads drop-kicked over balconies, hurl as umbrellas are plunged through the back of skulls with punctured pupils still dilating as we hurl, yelp as balloon pumps are used to over-inflate barnets and clap like a seal at the marvellous balloon-shaping skills of Stitches using one victim’s freshly pulled intestines. For dessert, one scoop of cerebral matter or two? And where would you like your kitchen knife? In the eye socket? Fabulous.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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