Hurry, hurry, hurry. Step right up, horror fans, and prepare yourselves… the killer clowns are coming. They’re coming in droves. Tons of them. Probably in the same little car. With the phenomenal success of It, the harlequin horror subgenre is about to see an explosion of low budget releases trying to cash in on the current coulrophobic trend. Released just four days after It, one of the first out of the greasepainted gate is Clowntergeist. High Octane Pictures sure didn’t waste any time, did they? It’s got all the prerequisite notes you’d expect from a post-buster, even down to the ubiquitous red balloons. But does it deliver the goods? Well, yes and no.
Synopsis: Emma, a college student with a crippling fear of clowns, must come face to face with her worst fear when an evil spirit in the body of a clown is summoned terrorizing the town she calls home. One by one Emma and her friends receive a balloon with the exact time and date of when it will appear to kill them written on it. After receiving her balloon, Emma realizes that she has two days left to live, and must fight against the clock to find a way to survive.
This movie has quite a few things going for it. First and foremost, it looks great. In fact, Clowntergeist is much better on a technical level than most movies on this budgetary tier (not backyard, but not big studio). The colors are vivid (and show a Giallo influence), the sound is good, and the editing is effective. Director Aaron Mirtes definitely has some chops. It’s well shot, with the standout moment being a hallway scene that features a simple but ingenious lighting setup, well-built tension, and a perfectly executed pay-off. The acting is also pretty good. Aside from one notable flat but not quite cringe-worthy performance, everyone is on point. I would wager that Eric Corbin, who plays Ribcage the Clown, has done some time in haunted attractions over the years. His bizarre, gorilla-like characterization brings to mind some of the techniques I’ve seen haunt actors use to creep audiences out.
It’s just a damn shame that a very game director (who, as co-writer, shares the blame) and cast didn’t have a better script to work from. Given the setup and tools the movie possesses, a much better story could have, and should have, been told. Ribcage’s victims find balloons with the day and time they will be killed scrawled on them. That’s a killer plot device! The movie makes a half… no, we’ll say quarter-hearted attempt at using this countdown to build some suspense, but the way they go about it is clown shoes. The characters are dumb. Frustratingly dumb. Like, the IQ of circus peanuts dumb. But a great many horror movies over the years have survived less than stellar plots and idiotic characters. How? Usually by serving up the prurient delights we all love. Sadly, for those whose tastes skew towards the graphic, this one will leave you cold. No nudity, no sex, and not enough of the red stuff to give its flaws a pass based on gore alone.
Clowntergeist – which is a godawful title, by the way – isn’t a bad movie. The only real problem is that it lacks intensity. But if you’re in the mood for something light that still as a firm grasp on all the classic horror tropes, give this one a shot. It might not set the world on fire, but it’s got a couple of surprisingly original ideas, good acting, and hits all the right spots to be satisfying. Most importantly, it’s fun. Absolutely worth a rental. A purchase? Maybe not so much. 6 red noses out of 10. Nathan says check it out.