Night #26: Clownhouse

A review for this coming up just as soon as I hang from this noose…

Clownhouse as a viewing experience depends solely on how you feel about Clowns. If you hate them then this could possibly be the scariest film you’ve ever seen, if you’re largely indifferent to them then you won’t be freaked out by the giggling faces we’re shown constantly.

Three brothers (The oldest is Sam Rockwell – making his film début) go to the Circus one night, but three inmates  have escaped from the local mental asylum (Isn’t that always the case?) and stolen the Clowns identities. When the boys get home they discover they’ve been followed, and the clowns want blood.

In reality I’ve made that summary sound far more sinister than what it is. I don’t know that the clowns want blood, what they want is never really made clear – apart from the fact that they’re mental – and the film makes no effort to explain them, which I suppose is something to be thankful for.

The youngest of the boys has an honest-to-god fear of Clowns. We’re handily explained this when he has a nightmare about them and wets his bed. I suppose you can look at Clownhouse as a film about overcoming your fears, except he doesn’t because he nearly gets his head twisted off. So not only will he continue with his crippling fear of facepaint, he’ll be scared of chiropractors too. I’m not really sure what message this film is trying to send.

Sadly for us, moreso because it’s such a short film, Clownhouse really takes its time to get going. In reality the action only takes place in about the last half hour, though there are some really nice moments to be had. Director Victor Salva (More on him in a second) likes to frame background scares, so we’re always privvy to something our characters are not. His later film, Jeepers Creepers, does much the same thing for its excellent opening half (Before it turns shit). Though to be honest there are only so many times you can watch a clown skulk about in the background, so Salva wisely winds it all up very quickly. There’s an excellent short film to be made from this. You could lose everything else and just tell the story of 3 brothers alone one night and it would make required Halloween viewing, as it is though you have endure half hour of family drama before we go to the worst Circus in America.

It’s an odd experience watching Clownhouse as it was the film where Salva was jailed for molesting his lead actor. I don’t know whether Salva was gay or just had a predilection for teen boys but its hard not to be a little creeped out when we see the bare ass of the actor in question. It’s perfectly acceptable to view the scene as given, but when you’re looking through the lens of a convicted paedophile it’s somewhat harder to reason with it. See also the loving shots of the boys sunbathing during Jeepers Creepers 2. Now I’m all for the rehabilitation of criminals, and indeed there’s nothing to indicate that Salva performed that way before or since, but seeing scenes like that are akin to watching a bawdy comedy about a slutty 13 year old made by Roman Polanski.

Anyway, on that unfortunate note it’s best to end the review I think.


Up next: Slashers!


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