Horror fans sure do seem to love to hate clowns, don’t we? Even those who can appreciate the “traditional” sort of clown that we see at the circus, at kids’ birthday parties, or in old-fashioned TV shows have to admit that when the lights go down, there’s something irrefutably unsettling about a clown. Especially in horror movies. From Poltergeist and Stephen King’s It to Killer Klowns from Outer Space and the recent Irish import Stitches, lots of horror film employ clowns to deliver childhood fears through a darkly amusing messenger – and the new Canadian indie known simply as Clown looks to keep those cinematic traditions alive.
Kent (Andy Powers) is a likeable middle-class dad who chooses to don a clown costume for his kid’s birthday party – and then quickly comes to realize that the he can’t get the damn thing off. The white paint, the rubber nose, the tacky outfit, and the rainbow-colored wig simply refuse to come off. Nothing seems to work, and Kent’s about to go off the deep end when he crosses paths with a mysterious man called Karlsson (Peter Stormare), who fill us in on the story. This is no ordinary clown costume, of course, but some sort of demonically-possessed relic that turns its wearer into a ravenous devourer of children. The only person who can prevent Kent from turning into a monster is his loyal wife Meg (Laura Allen), but is she willing to provide the demon with the youthful souls it demands?
For a premise that starts out pretty silly (a guy can’t get a clown suit off?), Clown quickly gets rolling as a colorfully unpredictable – and rather impressively gruesome – horror story that taps into the simpler appeals of “clowns in horror” but also offers a few compelling ideas on the secret history of the comedic creatures. Although Clown is most assuredly a horror film, co-writers Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford use various sorts of humor to keep the proceedings from ever becoming too grim or overwhelmingly nasty. (This is a movie about a demonic clown who aims to kill children, don’t forget.)
The two leads deserve a lot of the credit for the tonal balance; Powers does a great job portraying a guy being devoured by a supernatural wig, for example, and that’s not an easy thing for an actor to pull off. Ms. Allen is also quite good, particularly as the film progresses and her character takes a more pro-active interest in her husband’s horrific transformation. And it sort of goes without saying that the always-amusing Peter Stormare makes the best of his moments as a former clown with a haunted past – and maybe a few helpful tips on how to kill the damned clown suit.
Extra credit to cinematographer Matthew Santo, Tony Gardner’s make-up crew, and editor Robert Ryang for keeping a tenacious balance between dark humor and outright horror. Based on its premise alone, Clown may sound a little silly, and even once the premise is laid out, you may wonder why this isn’t a short film instead of a feature, but the more open-minded horror fans will have no problem appreciating this unexpectedly novel exploration into why we hate those damn clowns so much.
Scott Weinberg (@ScottEWeinberg)