This movie couldn’t be more topical right now, unless it was dealing with the upcoming election, and if it was, its title would remain perfectly appropriate. Chances are, though, it wouldn’t be entertaining, just depressing.
Second only to politics these days, clowns are big news. Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, or you’ve had your head stuffed full of the Limburger cheese of political diatribe, you’ve heard about the wave of clown sightings terrorizing the country. Clowns have been seen waving to little kids from the edges of woods, walking along deserted roadways, and…not much else, honestly, but they’ve still managed to get schools put on lockdown and generate lots of press. It’s free publicity for a movie like CLOWNTOWN, but did the latter have the chops to truly capitalize on it?
My hopes were immediately raised when, in the opening sequence, I saw a mailbox emblazoned with the name “Strode” out in front of a house that resembled not to a small degree the Myers house from HALLOWEEN. The entire prologue, in fact, was an obvious homage to that far superior film. And then the opening credits, accompanied by appropriately eerie music (and enchanting music; in fact the music is probably what I liked most about this movie) and featuring creepy close-ups of clown figurines and dolls, set the stage nicely for an enjoyable viewing experience. Conversely, we all know that stalwart rule, that if a film shows nudity in its first five minutes, chances are that movie won’t be any good.
Thus it was that my hopes, once raised, immediately lowered again as a busty actress got topless right from the get-go. Would the homage to HALLOWEEN and an effective title sequence be enough to overcome the curse of an early boob shot, I wondered?
I mention the homage to HALLOWEEN, and I took it as just that: a deliberate tipping of the hat. The entire movie could be said to be paying tribute to the slasher films of bygone years, although in truth it could also be an unintentional aping of the same. But no, we will give the benefit of the doubt, here, and say that the similarities were deliberate. If viewed as a modern-day return-to-basics slasher film, then, CLOWNTOWN succeeds. It suffers the same weaknesses as those type films, but provides similar levels of enjoyment, too, so there’s a balance achieved. Familiarity can work just fine, provided the execution is there.
CLOWNTOWN stumbles a little in places. The fact that the victims arrive in a town that is completely deserted—yet none of them seems to notice—bugged me, but this isn’t the sort of flick where one ought to yearn too much for realism. The acting, though uneven, is overall adequate, even though I suspect a couple of the actresses were cast more for the size of their bras than their abilities as thespians. (See again my above comment regarding boobies.) The plot? It’s WRONG TURN, except with clowns instead of inbred mutant hillbillies and a small town instead of a forest.
Still, I won’t give it too much grief for being derivative, as I stated above. WRONG TURN is really just THE HILLS HAVE EYES remade, after all, and THE HILLS HAVE EYES is just a do-over of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. There is precious little that is truly original in Horror, and that’s okay, so long as the familiar stories are told in fresh, exciting new ways, which CLOWNTOWN mostly manages to achieve.
But let’s talk about the clowns. They’re the true stars of the show, after all. They’re the selling point. I have to admit that I only found one of the clowns spooky, this being the scarecrow-skinny one with the long hair. He had a sort of Bill-Moseley-as-Otis-from-THE DEVIL’S REJECTS-portraying-the-Joker-vibe going for him. Chunky-bald-clown and clown-in-suspenders-and-KISS-makeup didn’t quite do it for me, nor did the female clown. They were just…clowns. Granted, I don’t suffer from coulrophobia, or I might have found them scarier. If a viewer DOES happen to have that particular phobia, he might want to skip this one altogether, I’d say. There’s plenty of clown action on the screen and, as resulting from strong cinematography, fast pacing, and the aforementioned spooky music, it makes for a fairly unrelenting assault of technicolor greasepaint.
All in all, I enjoyed CLOWNTOWN. It hearkens back to some of the classics of the genre, which should be obvious to you, given how many of those classics I’ve mentioned in this review. Even the closing shot of the film is a deliberate or accidental reimagining of the closing scene of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE—which here gets its SECOND mention in this article! (FYI: HALLOWEEN got three! No, now it’s FOUR!) It isn’t the new standard-bearer of scary clown movies, no, but it achieves a respectable position in the ranking. It’s fun and creepy and silly—all things which any clown worth his oversized shoes is supposed to be, right?
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