Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #458
Number of Views: One
Release Date: November 13, 2014 (Italy), February 27, 2015 (UK)
Sub-Genre: Body Horror
Country of Origin: United States, Canada
Running Time: 100 minutes
Director: Jon Watts
Producers: Mac Cappuccino, Eli Roth, Cody Ryder
Screenplay: Christopher D. Ford, Jon Watts
Special Effects: Raymond Mackintosh, Rosalie Mackintosh
Visual Effects: Cecile Tecson Broas, Michael Morey
Cinematography: Matthew Santo
Score: Matt Veligdan
Editing: Robert Ryang
Studios: Cross Creek Pictures, PS 260, Vertebra Films, Zed Filmworks, Method Studios, Dragonfly Entertainment
Distributors: Dimension Films, FilmNation Entertainment
Stars: Laura Allen, Andy Powers, Peter Stormare, Elizabeth Whitmere, Christian Distefano, Eli Roth, Graham Reznick, Sarah Scheffer, John MacDonald, Chuck Shamata, Matthew Stefiuk, Julia A. Long, Robert Reynolds, Claudia Jurt, Quy Vuong
Suggested Audio Candy:
Insane Clown Posse Halls Of Illusions
The story of how Clown came to be is one pulled straight from the dream factory. In 2010, screenwriters Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford uploaded a faux trailer to YouTube for their upcoming body horror and it swiftly went viral. The thing is, they announced that Eli Roth was on production duties, even though he had no idea about the project whatsoever at the time. While their audacious prank could have backfired in spectacular fashion, Roth was actually flattered by their misguided gesture and praised the pair for having the cojones to do something so evidently ballsy and, four years later, their labor of love arrived on the scene, with none other than Eli Roth on co-production duties. I love this story and, moreover, I dig on Roth even more now, for seeing their steel balls and raising them his own.
Clowns make a regular appearance in horror and these painted nightmare makers are seen as a sure-fire way of terrifying an audience. Recently, Damien Leone’s underrated and downright awesome All Hallow’s Eve introduced us to Art and currently Leone is working on bringing this character back for a full-length version of his 2011 short Terrifier. I couldn’t possibly forget Conor McMahon’s wonderful Stitches, which featured a show stopping turn from Ross Noble. In other news from the big top, Michael Emanuel’s masterful Clowned was easily the most memorable segment from 2012 anthology Scary or Die. In it, the hapless Emmett took a bite from a rabid Pierrot and promptly began filling out his clown shoes. This melancholic fable could effortlessly have padded out a 100 minute running time all on its own but, curiously, Clown tells a strikingly similar tale of terror.
It tells the tragic story of real estate agent, Kent McCoy (Andy Powers), who unwittingly joins the circus after saving the day for his son Jack’s birthday and donning an old clown costume he discovers at one of his properties. The kids take to Dummo immediately, crisis is averted, and daddy can’t wait for Jack’s bedtime so he can make mommy’s flower squirt. All is well and good in the McCoy household but, alas, any celebrations are cut short as Kent discovers that his outfit isn’t quite ready to be taken off yet. His red nose appears to have been sporting industrial adhesive, his wig has hooked into his follicles and dyed all the colors of the rainbow into his top mop, and the costume itself is now acting as a second epidermis. Taking a dump is therefore deemed troublesome and things are about to grow even more disparaging for Kent.
After tracking down the previous owner, Herbert Karlsson, and meeting his seemingly unhinged brother, Dr. Martin Karlsson (Peter Stormare in fine form), he learns the history behind this piece of fancy dress. It turns out it comprises the skin and hair of an ancient djinn named the “Cloyne” and this foul succubus was long ago responsible for luring children back to its cavern to devour and still has a taste for young blood. It isn’t long before Kent realizes that he too is beginning to hanker after a dash of bairn meat. Needless to say, he is mortified, and the model father is only too aware that his own beloved son is little more than a rack of ribs for the snapping.
His doting wife Meg (Laura Allen) offers all the support she can muster, all the while, carrying the seed of Kent’s unborn progeny in her womb, and desperate for things to return to normal. She just wants her husband back and will do all within her power and a little besides to get her significant other back in as close to one piece as possible. We feel dreadful for the McCoys as they’re a nice suburban family and Kent certainly isn’t a monster or, at least, not at the start. As the costume commences dictating his behavior and crying out for fresh kiddiwinks to masticate, he tries everything to cure himself of his ailment.
This culminates in a wonderful Technicolor attempt at blowing his brains out onto the shower wall behind and a similarly amusing failed run-out with circular blades and a rickety chair.
Erasure The Circus
The “Cloyne” isn’t taking any prisoners and eventually it gains itself the majority share although Kent is still au fait inside, trapped in a spiralling phantasm, and running out of ideas fast. After starting with a flourish, Ford and Watts manage to keep us invested through the sedate middle act and still care about the outcome, despite the fact that things are looking decidedly grim by that point. As is often the case with body horror, our protagonist is also antagonist and Powers deals with his transformation admirably. He is aware that he is becoming a danger to children but powerless to resist the cravings any longer. We form a tangible emotional attachment to Kent, just as we did with Seth Brundle back in 1987, and can’t bring ourselves to admit that we know it isn’t likely to end with a lollipop.
The gloves come off for the final act and there’s a gloriously suspenseful scene inside a children’s activity center, within ominous brightly colored tunnels shrouded in shadow, which kicks it off a treat. Downright bedlam breaks out and Clown reaches its bloody crescendo in large confident bounds, without coming a cropper to any of the strategically strewn banana skins which could have taken its legs out. Matthew Santo’s cinematography reminds us why we gave such a wide berth to dark recesses growing up and captures the dark heart of Watts’ direction exquisitely. A fair few of us are coulrophobic and I certainly never placed a clown at the end of my bed after watching Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist for the first, second, and all subsequent times. I love nothing more than to feed my fear and there’s a little of that here to feast upon.
However, this is where Clown stumbles a little. The concept of the “Cloyne” is a fascinating one and the stuff our worst nightmares are made of. However, being freaked out by clowns myself, I’m the first to vacate my bladder when they’re at their most cantankerous. It’s hinted here and, by the end of his cycle, our demon is precisely that, all razor-filled maw and twisted talons. But it’s never actually that scary. Unsettling for damned sure, heartrending occasionally, well-played undoubtedly, but scary…never quite as it could have been. There’s more than enough dark humor and Stormare is off-his-chain as Laura’s dubious final hope, Karlsson, which more than atones for any lack of discernible goosebumps.
Doubling back on myself, Watts still has one last rabbit in his hat. It wasn’t until I laid down to slumber that the “Cloyne” paid me another visit and I do like a film that gets its grimy nails under my skin and commences scratching. I may not have shat during my primary introduction to Clown but I’m only too aware that these merrymakers wait until we’re at our most vulnerable to strike from the shadows and I believe that to be the case here. Time and repeat views will tell whether it could graduate to the next tier but for now Watts, Ford, and their official sponsor, Eli Roth, deserve great kudos just for making it happen.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: No children were harmed during the filming of Clown…on-screen anyhoots. That’s not to say that we don’t get to watch an airborne circular blade exit through one’s spleen. Plus there are plentiful giblets, bone fragments, and gnawed off pinkies. Add a little lower jaw removal and you have yourself a smorgasbord. The effects are mostly practical and there’s more than enough blood for Laura to paint her nursery deep red.
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