Are Clowns Actually Creepy?
I don’t understand why they terrify Americans. My US friends all seem to have a great fear of clowns when there are surely bigger things to worry about; the guns thing, irrational behaviour (like the woman who just shot up a McDonalds for leaving bacon out of her burger), Fox News, US Customs & Excise (if you’re a visitor), all those cars – but not clowns. Yet films like ‘Poltergeist’, ‘Killer Clowns From Outer Space’, ‘It’ and ‘Shakes The Clown’ (Strapline: ‘The king of Alcoholic clown movies!’) have demonised mute blokes in make-up. Do people still think of Wayne Gacey?
Adding to that fear here comes ‘Clown’, a mid-budget horror film from the Weinsteins and newbie director Jon Watts, with Andy Powers taking the titular role of a building manager who dons an old clown costume for his son’s birthday party when the original clown cancels. The problem is that he can’t remove the suit. An excruciating scene in which he tries to pull off his red nose is something from a gothic fairytale. Sadly, the gothic elements aren’t followed – rather, there’s a tame backstory about the suit belonging to a demon ‘from Iceland’. Why Iceland? Wouldn’t one of the Balkan or Eastern European countries have made more sense, or did they just pick a place that sounded, you know, foreign?
Happily, though, there are a few smart ideas at work; rather than running into the shadows, our red-nosed hero tells everyone what’s happening to him. His wife and friends all try to help, to no avail – and of course the suit comes with a curse that has a nicely nasty way of being lifted. If Joe Dante had directed, he’d have stuffed the movie with clown references and clips. Here we get a couple of fun sequences, one in a horrible burger restaurant full of hyperactive screaming kids, but there’s nothing too creepy, bloody or suspenseful, and the overall tone could have been dialled up a notch. I can only think that the R rating was arrived at because of the concept involving frightened children.
‘Clown’ is at least something different; its monster makeup is fresh although only fleetingly seen, and it sits in among those eighties movies like ‘Maniac Cop’ and ‘Fright Night’ which wring new twists from familiar patriarchal figures. On balance, the Dutch ‘Saint’, which has a demonic Santa Claus riding across rooftops, is better, but Watts could be a director to watch.