Coulrophobia is Alive and Well in CLOWNTOWN
**This review is (relatively) spoiler free**
Clown horror has become an odd animal of its’ own over the last decade or so. Harkening back to well before Stephen King’s original IT film, greasepaint-centric horror films seem to delight and terrify horror fanatics everywhere and, if this past year has anything to say about it, it shows no signs of slowing down.
The Eli Roth produced CLOWN proved to be quite delightful (and popular), followed closely by Rob Zombie’s 31. And starting September 30 th , caulrophobics and caulrophiles everywhere can nestle in snugly for Tom Nagel’s CLOWNTOWN, which marks his feature film directorial review.
I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the upcoming film which stars Brian Nagel, Lauren Elise, Andrew Staton, Katie Keene, and Jeff Denton.
The plot of CLOWNTOWN is simple enough; a group of friends en route to a concert become stranded in a seemingly abandoned town and find themselves mercilessly stalked by a roving gang of violent psychopaths dressed as clowns.
Despite the simplistic plot, this film isn’t one to be missed. While sometimes the acting can be spotty and sure, the story leaves a few things here and there to be desired (primarily a clear backstory as to why “ClownTown” is even a thing; there’s a reference to a train wreck and flashback to some creepy preteens early in the film but – it’s left relatively unclear), CLOWNTOWN remains a gem amongst the smattering of B-Films that seem to continuously ebb and flow in and out of the collective horror-viewing consciousness.
For me, the thing CLOWNTOWN did most effectively was plant its’ roots.
From the start, it’s apparent that 80’s-throwback horror is its’ home and it relishes in all of the well-worn tropes and themes given to us by that golden era of slasher cinema. From lighting style to the Carpenter-esque stings and musical cues – it’s no secret where CLOWNTOWN is coming from; and that’s definitely not a bad thing. Observant viewers will notice that most, if not all, of the grease painted maniacs pay homage to another film or franchise. The first “clown” we see, for example, is a child that looks not too dissimilar to a young Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s classic HALLOWEEN. For lovers of classic, silent horror – there’s even a character painted up to resemble Conrad Veidt a la THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.
Those subtleties, at least for me, made up for all of the run-of- the-mill situations and spotty dialogue that seemed to run rampant throughout. The kills are remarkably fun and tend to be just gory enough to satisfy even the most seasoned of audiences. From the very first (which involves a crowbar and well placed gasoline) to the last, I found myself near-giddy (there’s clearly something wrong with me) at the various creative devices used to kill off our unsuspecting trespassers.
Another huge positive was the overall design of CLOWNTOWN, from the aforementioned character choices, to the lighting, to the atmospheric effects, to the wonderful camera work – I was pleasantly surprised at the care and obvious calculation that went into each and every design choice made. It seems as though most of the problems lie with the characters who speak. While that may seem like a sweeping generalization, the less-than- impressive acting and dialogue left much to be desired. The clowns, who were almost completely silent, were wonderfully atmospheric and creepy and I really wish I’d gotten to see more of them. David Greathouse particularly stole the show with his delightfully disturbing character work.
Unfortunately, the script was CLOWNTOWN’s biggest downfall. Which, honestly, was my only complaint with the film in its’ entirety. That said, script issues are a pretty major thing to overlook especially when the market, currently, is saturated with other (admittedly better written) clown-based fare. While it may be unfair to compare CLOWNTOWN to other “bigger” productions like CLOWN and 31 – it’s almost impossible not to given the common themes. CLOWN, particularly, packed more of a punch especially when considering dialogue and still told an equally ridiculous and far-fetched story. Again, script problems are hard to overlook. Nearly every line of spoken dialogue felt over-acted or forced and it was remarkably hard to keep myself invested in these protagonists due to that. Half the time, I was eagerly awaiting their untimely demise; I just wanted them to stop talking.
That said, CLOWNTOWN is far from the worst indie/B-Horror film I’ve seen. The good tends to make the bad worthwhile and makes the film overall enjoyable. It’s hard to not wonder what this film could have been with a larger budget and more backing because there was a whole hell of a lot of good to be seen here. Tom Nagel clearly has an eye for film and knows what he’s doing. I would not be surprised to see him name gracing larger-budget, A-list films in the future.
CLOWNTOWN hits theatres this coming Friday, September 30 th and will be available on DVD and Video on Demand as early as October 4 th .
This reviewer gives CLOWNTOWN 3 Good Guys. Check it out for yourselves and leave your opinions/reviews in the comments!
Feel free to follow and insult Ian Donegan on Twitter @ianjdonegan; his confidence needs to be lowered a bit.