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.
Lon Chaney is attributed with the quote: “There’s nothing funny about a clown in the moonlight.”
I can get behind that statement. I don’t suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns), but a clown’s place is at a circus or in a McDonald’s. Take them outside of those venues, and they become uncomfortable. At night, they are unnerving.
Coulrophobia is at the core of “Clowntergeist”. The film’s main character suffers from it, which is bad enough. Unfortunately, she being stalked by a clown with a rather nasty sense of humor. So far, so good. Not terribly original, yet it has potential.
The film begins with a young woman spitting up blood in a bathroom while her father (Burt Culver) attempts to talk to her through the locked door. No real context is given for the blood. Abuse? A really wicked case of gingivitis? No idea. Do not expect an answer. To make up for that omission, we are given a subtitle that informs us of the date and time with a note under that stating “90 minutes until the attack”.
The dad goes downstairs, picks up a loaded crossbow, and sits down under a ceiling hidden by dozens of inflated red balloons. The girl packs up a few things, hops in a car, and speeds away alone as her father rushes out to stop her. Still no clue what is happening as she calls her uncle and gets permission to camp out at his house as long as she doesn’t touch anything. The smartass in me asked, “How the hell is she supposed to get into his house, then?” I told my inner snark to shut up.
Shortly after she lets herself in and sits down to play with her phone, the lights go out. She goes down to the basement to reset the breaker switch. Along the way, doors open and close on their own, furniture jumps out of doorways, and ominous music plays. She shakes these things off as if it is just another day at Uncle Ted’s Fun House.
She returns to the living room area after throwing the breaker. To her surprise and horror, she notices a shape in another room. Her eyesight must be better than mine because she recognizes it as a clown. Another call to Uncle Ted. “I know I’m not supposed to touch anything, but can I cover up your statue of that clown?”
“We don’t own a clown statue,” Ted informs her, seconds before the clown grabs her. Hands down, the funniest moment in the entire movie. Yes, I understand it was meant to be scary, but comedy is about timing, and these folks nailed it for those of us with pitch-black senses of humor.
Well, now that we know what “attack” the subtitles were referring to, we are introduced to a new character, Emma (Brittany Belland), and her friend Heather (Monica Baker) as they say goodbye to their unwanted stoner ex-roommate before the two head off to work.
We discover Emma’s clown phobia as she is freaked out by clown-looking ice cream treats picked up by an old ice-cream-truck vendor named Pops, and suddenly Emma is being stalked by our killer clown. Apparently, the clown warns the soon-to-be victims of the date and time he will kill them, so Emma has about two days before she meets the same fate as the girl from the beginning of the film.
This is the point that the film starts to fall part for me. Emma is prone to instant hysterics which makes her come across as somewhat whiney. Not good for your focal character. She is almost constantly bombarded by taunting attacks by the psycho clown. (As an aside, if this is the clown’s usual tactics, why didn’t the chick at the beginning just get the hell out of the house the instant she saw a clown standing in the other room?)
Emma contacts the father of the girl killed earlier, and he offers to protect her with his trusty crossbow and his knowledge that the clown is a man possessed by a demon, so if they can kill the man, the demon will just leave. Really? Why not just possess the person who kills the original host? Or just torment the victim who can’t kill the suddenly incorporeal demon?
Emma seeks out his help, then doesn’t want it because he wants to use her as bait to draw out the killer clown. She refuses to seek help elsewhere; she just wants Heather to pack up and run away with her. Not the best plan when this supposedly real clown can defy the laws of time and space to be wherever he needs to be as well as invade her dreams. Frankly, I would have loved to see Heather bitch slap Emma into a coma and leave her to die. Guess it just wasn’t in the script.
Next, we are given a scene in which the clown is supposedly killed by two crossbow bolts in his torso with one through the heart, AND the body is carted away by the police, yet he comes back. Nothing shatters suspension of disbelief faster than setting up a “rule” and then breaking it. At that point, I gave up caring what happened to Emma.
“Clowntergeist” has a cool title and a reasonable premise that just goes nowhere and bounces from humor to horror in way that yanks you out of the film, though both cast and crew give it every chance.
The upsides of the film keep it from being a complete wash. The filmmakers put together a fairly well-paced film that offers up a few effective moments. The use of lighting using circus-themed colors shows both a nice sense of style as well as a nod to Dario Argento’s “Suspiria”. The camera work isn’t distracting, though it is a bit work-a-day in nature. The cast gives acceptable performances across the board even though their characters aren’t terribly well defined or really given much for the actors to work with as they make poor and/or inconsistent choices.
Other than the weird bit of humor about the clown statue from the beginning of the film, I found a few of other things about the movie that delighted me.
First and definitely foremost is Monica Baker. She gives the best performance in the film as well as showing serious promise as a great character actor. She makes Heather warm, supportive, and fierce in her own way. She becomes a character that I’d welcome to have with me if facing supernatural horrors. Ms. Baker is also quite lovely, so she has the advantage of both talent and good looks. I hope she moves on to bigger and better projects.
Second would be the end credits. I don’t want to ruin the two nice surprises you get during them, but I will say that the end credit sequence is nicely handled and very fitting given the theme of the movie. The second surprise comes as an after-credit bit that has become all the rage after the Harry Potter and Marvel Universe films. These items make sitting all the way through to the very end of the film worth your time.
Finally, there is a goofy thing that happens during a rather gross scene that I hope I am not misreading. At one point, a character gets face full of black bile spit up by the killer clown. The filmmakers can correct me, but it looks like dark chocolate syrup, which is fine. The shot is held just a bit too long because it looks like the victim sticks his tongue out to catch the dribbling liquid just before the edit. Pretty funny if that is what is happening. Yes, I am a bit weird.
Director/writer Aaron Mirtes, with his cast and crew, gi
ve us a film that has enough going right for it to make you hope his next venture into filmmaking continues to progress his obvious talents. “Clowntergeist” is only his second feature, so he is off to a decent start.
If you like horror movies with clowns or you just want to watch something reasonably fun, turn your critical radar off and enjoy a decent, though inconsistent, low-budget film, but do NOT build up any expectations. You will find yourself in for disappointment.