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Original painting for Kill Giggles by author of review Justin Borne Boring.

Jaysen Buterin’s ‘Kill Giggles’ (2020) Flips the Script On The Serial Killer Clown Genre – Movie Review

I was really looking forward to attending the Mad Monster Party in Concord, NC, this past Saturday for myriad reasons, but it was the premiere of Kill Giggles (2020) by writer, producer, actor, short-film director Jaysen Buterin (The Decapitator 2010 short film), in his first full-length directorial debut, that was tickling my naughties. 

I recently got to know Jaysen a little before the convention on social media, and got to meet him briefly at the premiere. I have to say I really like the guy. He is very passionate about his work, a skilled professional in many areas, charismatic, kind, and wonderfully weird.

Unlike Jaysen, I love clowns—especially evil ones—so I was intrigued when I heard the premise surrounding Kill Giggles. It is a premise he makes no effort to obfuscate, one where the clowns are not the usual terrifying personification of demonic evil. Rather, they are the originally-intended, cheery, happy characters that make people laugh. In Kill Giggles, it’s the clowns who are prey to a twisted madman. 

Initially, I was 10 minutes late to the premiere because of scheduling issues, but Jaysen was kind enough to proffer me a link to the first 10 minutes of the film. Now, I am not going to spoil anything, but the first 10 minutes really does set up the movie. Kill Giggles is filled with horror and film veteran cameos, quotable tongue-in-cheek characters, a fresh plot, and some enterprising clown-kill scenarios. Not only is the story born out of a cold and colloquial narration from our murderer with a penchant for snuffing clowns, but the very first five minutes are hilariously disturbing. This is intentional.

Dos Santos in drag.

Lead character and clown executioner Tommy dos Santos (Michael Ray Williams: Doctor Who: The Ginger Chronicles 2016-2019), and his therapist, Dr. Courtney Lee (Felissa Rose: Sleepaway Camp 1983), fade in during a therapy session. What we learn in this scene is dos Santos is a very clever, aloof and chillingly cool-tempered lunatic who is capable of pulling the wool over his therapist’s eyes. I was immediately impressed with Williams and Rose’s acting and interaction. Williams consistently impressed me with his performance style throughout… deadpan one minute, a rage of furry the next, and a loving boyfriend in between. The fractured personalities work well together and illustrate Williams’ character with bold colors and depth. I had the pleasure of meeting Williams after the premiere as well, and I feel certain that he is on the rise.  

Dos Santos

With the sinister stage set for maniacal mayhem, Buterin begins to pay off generously in dead clowns. While the kills are inventive and aspiring, the cutaways and suggestive camera shots deprive the viewer of what could be some great clown kills. I realize that budget concerns are always an obstacle in indie horror, so I can more easily forgive poor FX than camera misdirection. Case in point, the challenging rodeo clown kill, and Kinky Dinky’s (Shane Terry: Bloody Ballet 2018) unfortunate flight.

Rodeo Clown

Kill Giggles suddenly takes an unexpected turn and introduces a love interest, Eden di Prima (Ellie Church: The Bad Moon 2018), whom I believe embellishes the cast line up. Tommy, looking strangely like a punk rock State Farm agent with a floppy mohawk, seeks to charm Eden. As the two embark on an unlikely romance, I was encouraged by the onscreen chemistry between them. Church brings a lot of talent to the duo and holds her own in every scene.

Eden di Prima

Unfortunately, this also is where things begin to meander a bit, and the story becomes overly complex and convoluted. Buterin admirably and ambitiously endeavors to weave an intricate story tapestry that includes dos Santos’s backstory surrounding: his coulrophobia (fear and hatred of clowns); the ongoing clown kill spree; the investigators in charge of the clown case (whom I liked); the fragile relationship between dos Santos and di Prima; and the emergence of di Prima’s father and former alcoholic clown, Malcolm Fossor, aka Giggles the clown (Vernon Wells: The Road Warrior 1981).  

What disappointed and mystified me was that everyone involved with this film somehow missed a grand opportunity to tie dos Santos’s vital and intrinsic coulrophobia to their headlining actor, Vernon Wells, and the film’s title character, Giggles the Clown. Instead of some insane, wild, catastrophic, unforgivable misdeed having been perpetrated upon—or in front of—a young dos Santos by Giggles the clown (which – you know – would have made him want to Kill Giggles, as well as a 100 other clowns), we are unceremoniously presented with a poorly shot, weirdly incoherent, tired old Batman backstory flashback that amazingly has nothing to do with Giggles the Clown at all!   

A young dos Santos

I presume Buterin was trying to be obtuse here, but it scuttled the ship. This was also a missed opportunity to get more out of Wells’ cameo, on the cheap, with just one more, little flashback scene. Wells is great in this, even in the short time he is on screen, with noire-ish, edgy dialogue and his sexy, gravely, Aussie voice. I have been a big fan of Wells for a long time, and while it was likely a budgetary constraint, he was underutilized. I know having Rose and the wildly talented Judith O’Dea (Night of the Living Dead 1968) in cameos was a lot of fun, showed they still have sharp acting skills, and was a great nod to the horror genre, but maybe that money would have been better spent on a little more time with Wells. He is far more recognizable, doesn’t require a shameless autograph scene to cue you in as to who he is, and is largely indispensable to the story… or at least, he could have been. Also, I believe this arch would have streamlined things and trimmed some of the flashback fat that contributed to a rather long run time.

Vernon Wells as Giggles the Clown

Towards the end of the movie following a dead clown montage that’s a lot of fun, we arrive at the climax. There is a big reveal scene with dos Santos and di Prima that doesn’t quite land, and a confrontation explodes between the two which culminates in a twist ending. While largely predictable, the twist was well-executed and entertaining.  

The cinematography in Kill Giggles is quite good but spotty, and I think as the DoP sharpens their teeth on larger projects, the results will be far superior. The quality of the film is better than I expected, along with the audio, which is usually a sticking point for me. The lighting is one of my favorite attributes with the colors accentuating the clown milieu in many ways. The writing, at its core, is decent, but they need someone with hatchet hands to come in, chop the tripe, talk hard truths and simplify all their wonderfully crazy ideas.

Vernon Wells at the bar

Jaysen is a talented director and artist with many facets of strength that will carry him far in the indie horror film industry. This is his first full-length movie, and while it has some faults, it was enjoyable and an impressive debut. I can’t wait to see what his next project looks like as he hones his skills.

I painted the top image for Kill Giggles because I wanted to pay tribute to Jaysen and everyone involved for their accomplishment. I truly hope to see more of these guys!

About TheNastyMan

I’ve been drawing, painting and writing about horror and monsters my entire life. This outlet keeps me from painting my face like a clown, sewing saw-blades to my hands and twirling through the streets like an inhuman death machine. Thank you horror!!!

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