Does the Eli Roth-Produced ‘CLOWN’ Live Up to the Hype?

There’s always been something about clowns that has terrified millions of people around the world. Maybe it’s their overly cheery demeanor or exaggerated painted-on expressions, or possibly something infinitely more sinister – you never know who is behind the warm friendly smile and makeup. Whatever it is, clowns have become a staple of the horror genre, with the most quite possible the most popular incarnation being that of Tim Curry as Pennywise the dancing clown from 1990’s IT.  Over two decades after the Stephen King adaptation, it’s horror favorite Eli Roth’s turn to create a monster for the ages.

It’s the day of Kent McCoy’s (Andy Powers) young son’s birthday party, and the professional clown he had lined up to attend has been double booked. Still at work in a house as a real estate agent, Kent desperately searches the property for something, anything, that will pass as a substitute costume, avoiding the disappointment of his son. As if by fate, in the attic he finds the perfect clown outfit. Without a second thought, Kent puts it on and goes home to his elated family dressed as a colorful entertainer. The party is a huge success, and after an exhausting day, Kent falls asleep with the costume still on.

The nightmare begins the following day, when he wakes to find that the makeup, wig, nose and clothing will not come off. Not only that, but he can feel himself changing; his thoughts are becoming darker, and his appetite is growing for more than just food…

Starting life as a fake trailer in November 2010, Clown certainly works better in that slimmer, more streamlined format. The film got the attention of Roth after it including his name in the short without his permission. Instead of becoming annoyed by this, Roth got on board with producing a full-length movie of the short.

Clown begins promisingly enough, wasting little time in getting to the meat of the story – within 15 minutes, the costume is on and it is staying on. But once that’s out of the way, it seems like screenwriters Jon Watts (who also directed) and Christopher Ford struggle to flesh out the idea into a fully-fledged feature, and the pace dramatically decreases. If I was to think of this more optimistically, I’d say it happens so we can truly appreciate the horror of a torturous and painfully slow transformation. But Clown is so tonally inconsistent that it’s genuinely difficult to know how to feel.

Let’s be real here: the setup and premise are pretty ridiculous. That is in no way a criticism, and the impression I got from the faux-trailer is that director Jon Watts knew how silly the idea was – think of the trailers that were included in 2008’s Grindhouse (Machete, Thanksgiving, Werewolf Women of the SS and so on) and you’ll get the idea. However, by expanding the fictional lore behind the costume, the film takes a much darker tone than necessary while simultaneously attempting to maintain a slight comedic nature. Unfortunately, more often than not, it fails to be either funny or even remotely scary.

Clown post image

This is where my main issue with Clown comes into play:  if he’s not going to crack any jokes, or have any kind of fun with the deaths, then why is it a clown in the first place? Other than the appearance, there’s no significant differences between a circus jester and any other demonic creature. Look at other films that deal with clowns and one will notice very quickly that even though they’re evil, they still carry some of the characteristics of the regular, non-murderous kind; take the one-liners and puns by Pennywise in IT for example. Here, ‘Frowny’ is just your average demon – albeit with a rainbow wig.

Despite the flaws of the clown himself, Andy Powers strongly delivers in his role. His transformation is brilliantly conveyed, as he goes from being mildly annoyed and ever so slightly worried by the fact he can’t get the paint off, to feelings of absolute devastation and unimaginable fear as the suit consumes him. Far and away, the shining star of Clown, though, is Peter Stormare as Karlsson, the scientist who knows the true extent of the costume’s power. His presence, though sporadic and nowhere near frequent enough, elevates Clown substantially. Finally, McCoy’s wife, played by Laura Allen, does a decent job of sticking by his side for as long as possible, even though a subplot involving the couple is ultimately rendered pointless.

Credit has to be give where credit is due, though, and even attempting to break through the conventional clown horror themes is commendable. I’m not going to go into it too much because that would spoil a huge part of the plot, but it’s the most likely reason why the flashes of humor never quite connect. That’s not to say there isn’t any fun to be had here: Powers’ attempts at getting the suit off raise a smile or two, and a pivotal sequence in the film’s closing 20 minutes is an unquestionable highlight.

But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Clown could (and should) have been far more memorable. The creature definitely looks impressive, especially when it still has traces of Kent still visible, and everyone on screen gives it their all, but an indecisive tone severely hurts any chance it has at being the definitive clown movie of the decade. While delays for release have most likely heightened expectations, Clown ends up being only a rather decent film. Lower them, and you’ll enjoy it more.

Clown is out now throughout Europe and is slated for a June 2016 US release. 

About Sean Burton

Hailing from a city known for Motörhead's Lemmy and pottery, Sean's exposure to horror came at an early age when he saw an overpriced VHS version of The Lost Boys. Like a true Brit, he's sarcastic, over-opinionated and thinks he's funnier than he actually is. His preferred sub-genres of horror are found footage and gore. Lots of gore.

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