Sunday, 22 March 2015


Creepy killer clowns seem to be very much the 'In' thing right now. There have been plenty of terrifying greasepaint-wearing nightmares in Horror, as I have discussed here on this blog. It's not just in this feature that the bane of coulrophobes has reared its ugly head, but a few  movies I have reviewed I have also featured monstrous clowns.
And now I turn my attention to Jon Watts's Clown. Conceived as a fake trailer which Watts ballsily attached horror heavyweight Eli Roth's name to, the concept proved strong enough to attract not only Roth's attention but his backing as a producer.
After a long journey to screen (and it still isn't available to US audiences) the dvd has arrived here in the UK.
Was it worth the wait? Or will Roth and Watts end up looking like jokes?
Read on...

CLOWN (2014)

Dir: Jon Watts
Starring: Andy Powers, Laura Allen, Peter Stormare, Christian Distefano, Chuck Shamata, Eli Roth

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here, but read on at your own risk.

Estate agent/realtor Kent (Powers) is a busy but loving father and, when his wife Meg (Allen) calls him on the day of their son Jack's (Distefano) birthday party with a problem, he does what he can to fix it.
It seems the clown hired for Jack's party is unable to attend, but, as luck would have it, at that exact moment Kent discovers an old clown costume in the attic of the home he is trying to sell. Desperate to save the day, Kent dons the costume to entertain the kids at the party and is a roaring success. After a long and exhausting day, he carries Jack to bed before falling into a deep sleep on the sofa, still wearing the clown costume.
The next day he awakens to find that he is unable to remove the costume, the wig, the make-up and even the red nose. When physician Meg helps him remove the nose she actually tears the skin and flesh on his face, resulting in an ugly wound.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Kent starts to experience a ravenous hunger. Confused, he decides to track down the costume's previous owner, the brother of the deceased man whose home held the costume. When he meets Herbert Karlsson (the awesome Stormare), Karlsson tries to put his mind at rest... and then promptly attempts to kill him.
Narrowly avoiding death, Kent is then told the story of a Northern European demon, The Cloyne. Horrified he hears about the creature's vile appetite and the only way in which it can be defeated.
Will Kent believe him? Can the Cloyne be appeased? And what does this mean for Meg and Jack?

THE BEST BITS (minor spoiler warning): Coming from a Grindhouse-style fake trailer, I expected Clown to be cheap, schlocky OTT fun... I couldn't have been more wrong.
Clown plays it alarmingly straight. Sure there is the darkest black vein of humour running through the centre of it, but it plays out very much like The Fly — albeit with rainbow-paint blood instead of regurgitated digestive juices.
The film manages to take this somewhat goofy concept and imbues it with some real creepiness.
The Cloyne make-up and effects are horrifying, making the creature seem suitably monstrous. Its M.O. is evil — needing to take and devour five children (one for each month of winter — I can only assume this is a Scandinavian legend) to be sated. There is also pretty damn great amount of gore, including some extremely taboo dismembered children and gallons of blood.
The first scene in which a hapless child approaches Kent (after we know what the Cloyne's influence is doing to him) is almost unbearably tense and uncomfortable to watch.
That isn't to say that the movie is entirely po-faced — there are plenty of laughs to be had, first in the reaction Kent's clown appearance garners from others, then in the grimness of his plight and the desperate measures to which he and others sink to rectify it.
Both the humour and the horror are brought to life by an impeccable cast.
Powers carries the bulk of the film and he does a grand job. Early on he's likeable and sympathetic, portraying just enough earnestness and the bewilderment that you can't help but be drawn onside. As an aside, I noticed a passing resemblance between his friendly clown persona and CBeebies superstar Mr Tumble! However, as the demands of the role shift to more menacing, Powers is more than up to the task. Scowling and glaring hungrily towards potential victims, he transforms into a truly chilling villain. This is fantastic work, I can't wait to see more from him.
As Powers moves from protagonist to antagonist, Allen takes over as the lead. She's a very capable actress and you can't help but feel for her as the events of the film unfold. She also has fantastic chemistry with both Powers and Distefano (himself a very talented young actor in a movie that achieves that rarest of feats — assembling a cast of believable youngsters!). This chemistry is vital in getting an audience to buy into the threat and turmoil that the family face. Luckily the three really do feel like a genuine family unit.
Of course, the most recognisable name among the cast is the always brilliant Stormare and, once again, he rocks.
His is an interesting character but he is given the bulk of the exposition work. Thankfully he handles it like a champ. It helps that the backstory and mythology of the suit are compelling but it also shows a level of shrewdness that not enough filmmakers display. The stereotypical expert who turns up mid-movie to explain what the Hell is happening can bring proceedings to a screeching halt. Using an actor who is a talented and interesting addition to the film overcomes a lot of the problems with what I've come to call 'expo-dump' characters. It's done equally well in Dark Skies, Hatchet 2, Behind The Mask and Rob Zombie's Halloween
But back to Stormare — he pretty much steals every scene he's in, often adding a touch of wry humour and always nailing the darkness that his character requires. Karlsson is somebody that has survived the Cloyne, not overcome it. A part of him was broken by that experience and he is still haunted by it. This is a complex character brought to life wonderfully by an incredible actor.
I've mentioned darkness and humour time and again throughout this review, mainly because these are the two strongest points it has. A lot of this comes from the storyline (expertly spun by Christopher D Ford and director Watts) but also in Watts' camerawork. Combined with some atmospheric cinematography by Matthew Santo, the film drips with creepiness and danger. Nowhere is this more evident than the standout scene in which a regular children's indoor play area is turned into a nightmarish labyrinth as the Cloyne stalks terrified kids. From the inherent silliness of a child dragged under a ball pool with sudden and startling ferocity to the claustrophobic, almost Aliens-like crawl through the tunnels, this entire sequence shows you EVERYTHING that works in Clown.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): My biggest problem with Clown is that for all the imagination evident in its premise, there is very little in the way of surprises in the plot.
It's an entirely linear story and pretty simplistic. Don't expect any shocking twists or turns - there are none. Like, at all.
Earlier I said Clown was reminiscent of Cronenberg's The Fly. Well, if you've seen that movie (and if you haven't, you need to immediately!) you will know EXACTLY how this one's going to pan out. It's entirely predictable and familiar. This could be due to a deliberate attempt to homage the 'body-horror' classics that have gone before. I'm cool with this, but could have done with a flash of inspiration or the unexpected here or there.
One thing that may upset viewers is the way that Clown is entirely happy to not only endanger its children characters but bloodily dispatch of them. It never goes so far as to show the Cloyne tearing its victims apart, but we are given plenty of bloody aftermath shots. I'm a father (so probably more susceptible to scenes like these) and I thought the film was edgy and pushed the boundaries without ever overstepping then. However, if you are very squeamish about this sort of thing, you may want to skip Clown.
Finally, some people may find the basic concept of Jon Watts' flick just a bit too daft (although quite why they'd have read this far is beyond me!). True, it is all a bit silly, but it is handled pretty much as wer as it can be. I was impressed, and I'm willing to bet that plenty of you will be.

THE VERDICT: Wow, Clown was a real shock! This is a far more polished - and scary - flick than I had any reason to believe it would be. I would definitely recommend it, not just to those looking for a fun flick but to proper horror fans as well. With a cracking cast and sinister scares, Clown most certainly is not fooling around!
UK readers, check it out. US readers, stay patient, this one is worth the wait.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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