I find no shame in admitting that clowns were top two as far as my biggest fears growing up go (the other being Jaws living in the diving well of my local swimming pool, of course). You could try to one-up me and claim you were more afraid of clowns than I was, but you’d lose. At a very young age, I fortuitously turned on the television during a daytime re-airing of the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s It, and was lucky enough to be treated to the shower scene where Pennywise emerges from the drain. I was a wreck. From that moment on, clowns had it in for me. There was no doubt. One way or another, a clown was going to get me. I would have recurring nightmares of a clown sucking me into my closet. I threw a hysterical tantrum in an ACME where a clown was giving out balloons. I made my entire family (of six, mind you) leave a Burger King in disgrace because a clown happened to be there and I was surely his dinner. A family “friend” once chased me around a Blockbuster Video with the It VHS box, and if you had heard me, you would have thought he’d ripped my arms off. And it certainly didn’t help that the murderous clown episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? featured a young, tortured boy named – you guessed it – Sam. Even Nickelodeon knew I was doomed.
As with most adolescent fears, my coulrophobia (I had to look that up) subsided with age. One Halloween, I finally sat down to watch It with a few friends and saw not only how tame it was, but how enjoyable Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise the Clown actually is, and I was set free. I even sought out more creepy clowns, just to make sure I was fully cleansed. Poltergeist. Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Killjoy. I did them all, and much to my surprise, I emerged unfazed. In fact, I felt cheated that something I was so cripplingly afraid of was entirely undeserving. Save for Poltergeist, none of these films were much good, and despite Curry’s great performance, even It is decidedly weak.
Fast-forward a decade, and my brother shows me the trailer for Clown, Eli Roth’s stab at a truly scary killer clown movie. Those unfamiliar with Eli Roth may recall him as “the Bear Jew” in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, or as the director of the first two Hostel films or even my personal favorite, the original Cabin Fever. Interestingly enough, it turned out that Eli Roth wasn’t attached to Clown at all – the trailer’s makers, Jon Watts and Christopher D. Ford, put Roth’s name in it without ever even meeting him, let alone asking for permission, a bold move that paid off. Roth saw the trailer, and decided to back them after all. He told Deadline.com, “I loved how ballsy they were, issuing a trailer that said, ‘From the Master of Horror, Eli Roth.’ Some people thought I’d made the movie, or that it was another fake Grindhouse trailer. The first thing they said was, ‘Thank you for not suing us’…I really felt these guys deserved a shot, and that people are truly freaked out by evil clowns.” 5 years later, thanks to Roth’s support, Clown has finally been unleashed, and boy, does it deliver.
I had an absolute blast watching Clown. I can’t reiterate this enough. It’s just campy enough to work, but not so much that it crosses into B-movie territory. It’s clear that writers Watts and Ford knew that an evil clown movie is inherently absurd and that if it were made to be overly serious and dark, it would inevitably turn out a disastrous joke. Instead, it toes the line between fun and scary with impressive finesse. Creative quirks abound (rainbow blood being my personal favorite), and there are enough great one-liners to keep you smiling despite the brutal images on the screen. Clown is certainly gory (it’s a Roth production, after all), but nowhere nears the torture-porn goriness of some of his other offerings. Considering the acts of violence occur mostly toward children (clowns eat kids, duh), they are nearly all suggestive and never shown. I was thankful for this, because such depictions don’t typically sit well with me. I also think this may be a reason the film seems to be having trouble finding distribution, but that’s just speculation. Roth himself said, “I’d like to apologize in advance…to the MPAA, for what we’re going to put them through to get an R-rating.”
I’ll keep the story brief – Clown is about a man named Kent (Andy Powers) who finds an old clown costume in the basement of a property he’s preparing for sale. He wears it to surprise his son on his birthday, only to find that he can’t get it off. He worriedly tracks down the property’s previous owner (played fantastically/hilariously by the Coen Brothers’ beloved Peter Stormare) who informs Kent that “it’s not a costume – it’s skin…and hair…of a demon.” Kent’s transformation is slow and gruesome. He retreats from his family and learns that he has only two options – devour five children, or death by decapitation. Talk about a rock and a hard place. I won’t ruin any more, but I will say that his attempts at suicide are some of the film’s greatest moments. And that he goes to a Chuck E. Cheese. Yeah. This movie’s really good.
As a formerly vehement clown-fearer, I can tell you that Clown does everything right. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it doesn’t complicate things, and it doesn’t pull any punches. It may not be genre-defining or pretentiously artisanal, but it is outrageously entertaining, and I’ll be waiting impatiently for it to receive US distribution so I can see it again.