Coulrophobia – fear of clowns. If the blood spattered, scarred face of Ross Noble killing off a bunch of generally unpleasant teenagers is not enough to induce this illness, you can probably consider yourself naturally immune. Not only is this one of the goriest movies I have seen recently, it is also one of the funniest as well. Marrying slapstick humour with an out-and-out horror movie may not be a new idea, but it has been done exceptionally well here.
Ross Noble plays Richard “Stitches” Grindle, a sleazy, jaded children’s entertainer, eking out a living somewhere in rural Ireland putting on third rate shows for bratty kids. He is a proper clown though, he has his painted clown-face on an egg – something he “Had to do when I joined up”. Let’s be honest, trying to entertain a bunch of hyper, sugar fuelled ten year olds would be most of our vision of hell, but he does his best, with balloon animals, juggling, rabbits out of hats, that sort of thing. The kids manage to ruin every trick, pouring their drinks into his hat, throwing ice cream at his ventriloquist’s dummy and poking fun at his unrecognisable balloon animals. This he can handle, but things take a turn for the worse when one of the kids ties the laces of his clown shoes together and another gives him a shove to trip him up. He stumbles into the kitchen and ends up falling into an open dishwasher, fatally wounding himself on a kitchen knife. Cue the first of the blood baths, as party boy Tom (Tommy Knight) goes to investigate what has happened to the hapless clown and discovers him with the knife sticking out of his head and blood spurting everywhere. At least it was a party to remember! A little later, young Tom visits the grave of Stitches in the nearby cemetery and discovers that he was part of a sinister black magic clown cult and just maybe he is not quite as dead and buried as might be imagined.
Spool on six years and anxiety pill popping teenage Tom is persuaded to have another party. His (single) mum is out of town for his birthday and his attempt at organising a small gathering for his closest friends soon turns into a full on shindig, with all the participants from his previous party – and who were instrumental in Stitches humiliation and death, in attendance. So, we are now set up for the inevitable killing spree. The brattish ten year olds are now a fairly typical mixture of teenagers, with a combination of testosterone fuelled boys still working their way through that awkward phase, blossoming girls losing their puppy fat, their inhibitions and in some cases their clothes, coupled with the early developers, now attempting to hold sway with a mixture of bullying and condescending comments. We all know that kids can make or break a horror movie. Make them too cute and you feel bad when they die. Make them too mature and they become little more than adults you don’t care about. Here, they come across as natural teenagers with a bit of a nasty streak and you find yourself looking forward to their gruesome and creative ends.
Clown humour makes for some great killing scenes. Forget about the more obvious methods a clown might use and just be impressed by the originality of the ideas. Writer and Director Connor McMahon has a very sick mind, tinged with more than a hint of silliness, and this is where a lot of the humour comes from. You don’t often laugh at someone dying an excruciating and humiliating death, but trust me, you will here, and without guilt either. You kind of feel the kids deserved it, and the way the deaths fit around the tricks they played on Stitch during that fateful performance all those years ago is funny and well observed. A few flashbacks help to remind you who did what originally and this makes the story a cinch to follow.
Be warned, this is not a film for the squeamish. Unlike a lot of budget horrors, the prosthetics are simply brilliant and the practical special effects really very good indeed. OK, so the CGI lets things down – I could have done better with an afternoon of Adobe After-effects, but by far the majority of the effects are real and this is always a good thing. There is a bit of unnecessary animal cruelty – not real of course, but it feels a bit shoe-horned in to the plot. There are some living “nightmares” that Tom has early in the film that probably earned the film its 18 rating just on their own. Trust me, one in particular will have you wincing and involuntarily crossing your legs.
The pace of the film moves things along effortlessly, travelling from the original party to the present day without a stumble, while the present day shindig scene feels quite like the teenage parties many of us dimly remember from our past. The young actors all do a fine job and no doubt enjoyed making the film, while Noble’s street performer skills come to the fore, with his perfect comedy timing really used to good effect. The budget nature of the film is only really seen in the lack of locations. You can count these on the fingers of one hand, but it does not seem to matter in the whole scheme of things. Not everything is perfect. Some of the continuity is a bit dodgy and you get the feeling that there was quite a lot of ad-libbing and creative editing to make it sort of fit afterwards at times.
The English actors – Noble and young Tommy Knight feel a little out of place in rural Ireland, but I guess we all live in a free Europe now, so it is not beyond the realms of possibility. The local talent sometimes appear to have a wider spread of ages than the plot might suggest and some of the party back scenes feel a little forced with dozens of kids all dancing to a different beat. One of the clever visual crafts of the film is how Stitches can move surreptitiously through the party throng, just targeting those that brought about his demise. We see just occasional glimpses of him – reflected in a mirror here, or just the swish of his coat disappearing through a doorway. All very clever stuff for building up the tension.
As the body count grows, there are soon only a couple of the original partygoers left alive and it is up to them to return Stitches to his grave before he starts on the innocent bystanders. The finale cleanly gathers the plot points together and is satisfying gory, with the same comic undertones we have seen all the way through. As with all good horrors, we get an epilogue that leaves things open for a return… So, on the surface this is a good, funny, gory horror film. If this is your thing, you will find much to enjoy here. Some will find the gore and language not to their taste, but after all, this is an 18 certificate horror flick and even the packaging pulls no punches. It is not without its problems in terms of CGI and continuity, but these do not detract too much from the movie as a whole. The standard of acting is generally high, and even if Nobel is not the scariest monster in the world, his grumpy, lethargic, almost morose style is absolutely spot on. Certainly one of the better comedy horror flicks of the last twelve months.
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