Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mr. Clowniverse Conquers the World of Modern Art

As someone with a mild case of coulrophobia, Fear of Clowns is both a thundering disappointment and an astounding masterpiece. On one hand, it’s a dreadful mess of ineptitude. On the other, it presents such a laughably designed villain that I may well be cured of any unease I had attending circuses and children’s birthday parties.

Quick Plot: Artist Lynn Blodget has recurring nightmares about clowns and car accidents, but that pretty much has nothing to do with the rest of the film. She’s a young mother in the midst of a messy divorce from her oily psychiatrist husband. An unstable personal life is no roadblock to an oddly successful career painting surreal (by motel wall standards) pictures of clowns. Like any professional artist, Lynn has a successful gallery opening in The Frame Game and leaves halfway through with the handsome (by low budget movie standards) stranger who buys her most expensive work.

His name is Tuck and he’s made a fair fortune designing roller coasters. Little known fact: the roller coaster business is more lucrative than the dot come industry could ever have dreamed of temporarily being. But I digress. Much like the film does more often than not.
Lynn returns home to find a snarling clown at her door. With a half growling smile and a blood red nose, Shivers (Mark Lassise) could almost be frightening...except he’s wearing this:

Now. A muscular clown, in theory, is a menacing villain. Anybody with even a mild case of coulrophobia would find his carefully painted face unsettling, so the idea that he could then beat you to death with his white gloved hands should maximize that fear to the extreme. But you know what? I don’t care if you’re Hugh Jackman or Jason Statham: no man should be forced to wear puffy pants, a frilly collar, pancake makeup, and...no top. No matter how tough his tits may be, Shivers is a bare chested clown. Just...no.
Anyway, Lynn’s fainting spell catches the attention of homicide (“yeah, that’s when somebody dies” wait: no it’s not) detective Peters, a gum snapping slickster she’d met previously when questioned about the family that had been murdered next door. Don’t worry about that plot thread: the writer certainly didn’t. Peters doesn’t believe Lynn’s visions of intruding funnymen, but maybe that’s because he’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and concentrating too hard on channeling the spirit of Bruce Campbell. 
Back at the gallery, Lynn accepts a commission job to paint a husky voiced old man’s dead clown father. Later red herrings will reveal the subject to have been a convicted child molester. And that’s all we learn about that.

In case you haven’t guessed it yet, there’s a whole lot going on inside Fear of Clowns. Writer/director Kevin Kangas apparently was under the impression he was making the straight-to-DVD equivalent of The Usual Suspects. Between Lynn’s divorce, creepy client, and icky stalking suitor, there’s enough to establish her character without two murderous maniacs and at least three unfinished subplots thrown in the mix. IMDB lists the running time as 106 minutes, while my Netflix disc jacket claimed an even 2 hours. I drifted in and out of sleep while watching the film (shocking, I know), but my dedication runs so deep that I kept waking up to rewind and catch what I missed. Hence, I can’t tell you which is the right length but I’d be prone to side with Netflix simply because the film felt more endless than the director’s cut of Return of the King. Either time is longer than Fear of Clowns should have been, but even the given amount couldn’t resolve all the ambitiously plotted stories. 
Fear not, those still wondering about the lukewarm romance of Lynn and Tuck and the whereabouts of the escaped Shivers: there is a sequel. Praise Bobo.
High Points
Perhaps a film that makes such a strong point about its lead character being a dedicated mother should develop its parent/child relationship, but I applaud Fear of Clowns for not subjecting its audience to an inevitably awful performance by a young actor
It’s very kind of director Kangas to cut to a shot of paint ominously sitting on a palette when Det. Peters says the word “greasepaint” to report his findings at a murder site. It’s also nice of Peters to explain that “greasepaint” is something clowns, not painters use. Sensitive touches for the less intellectually inclined in the audience
Low Points
The full body nudity during Lynn’s friend’s death scene feels sleazy and unnecessary in an otherwise tame film

Why does not one character acknowledge the fact that the clown is not wearing a shirt? You’re being questioned by a police officer. “Describe him.” “He’s a clown.” Um, and he's got a ripped body he likes to show off under a floppy spangled collar?
Lessons Learned
$20,000 will buy you a lot of bandwidth
A good detective questions anybody he meets about his/her whereabouts the night of a mass murder. Pity the Starbucks barista, mailman, and housefly he's bound to run into during his day
Being commissioned for one painting will spread the word of your art across the nation
A white clown is not Caucasion: he is clown

Your friend will never believe that you played shuffleboard with the wealthy art buyer who drives a Porsche
Don’t get all ‘apoplectic’ on your soon-to-be ex-husband. You’ll only inspire him to take you for everything you’ve got in the divorce and send homicidal clowns in your direction
Winning Disclaimer
“No animals were harmed during the making of this film. We wish we could say the same about the children.” This is buried in the end credits, leading me to believe that perhaps Lynn’s son had indeed originally played a larger role before being brutalized by clowns, commercial actors, or the sheer poor quality of the film he was in. Perhaps I could credit the filmmakers for having a sharp sense of humor and enough confidence to stick a joke in a place few people would see, but based on Fear of Clowns, I just don’t think anyone associated with the film is that smart.

There’s a lovable badness to Fear of Clowns that makes it oddly watchable, even when nothing onscreen makes any sense or offers any scares. I enjoyed noting how actress Jacky Reres had to kill screen time while waiting for a sound cue, or why the clock that should have read 11:05 had a minute hand on the 2 and the hour hand just a hair before the 11. Still, this is not a film to spend money on, despite the extremely thorough making-of featurette that shows the scariest part of the entire process (including the finished product) was making a face-cast of one of the female victims. If you love those awful but somewhat competent boxes usually in stock at Blockbuster and always available on Netflix, give it a whirl. Then come back and tell me if any of the nineteen subplots are resolved in the sequel.


  1. "no man should be forced to wear puffy pants, a frilly collar, pancake makeup, and...no top. No matter how tough his tits may be"!!! Hysterical. I love the idea, too, that as cops question people, no one says anything about this guy being shirtless. I just HAVE to see this.

    Great write up.


  2. Thanks JM!

    I don't think his toplessness is mentioned once in the entire film.

    Please watch and review. I need further proof that I did indeed see these things on film.

  3. Intersting... will check out. Though I can't watch clown movies alone. I think Clownhouse was the most bizarre/creepiest of the clown films.

  4. Clownhouse gets me for a lot of reasons, mostly because 1) it's so minimalist and well staged and 2) its horrific backstory makes it a horror film in real life, with the onscreen action serving as its own disturbing metaphor for what was happening between the actor and director.

    As for Fear of Clowns, good luck finding someone to watch it with you! And honestly, I think it can help your coulrophobia. The image of a man standing in full clown garb sans shirt is just too funny to be even the slightest bit scary.

  5. It's the raver pants that really pull the entire shirtless ensemble together. I love the ridiculously over sized weapon he carries too, almost less frightening than if he were to carry a little instrument of death, like a knife. I'll have to check this one out someday, no rush, but I can't resist a jacked shirtless clown, but who can?!

  6. Yes Matt, his weapon is medieval and marvelous, and he wields it like only a jacked shirtless clown can. I think I neglected to mention that he gets to talk to a tape recorder and himself for a nice 5 minute scene, so you know...lots of depth there.

    There's a chance this one is on FearNet, so you may even be able to save yourself a Netflix mail away. I'm all for you watching Fear of Clowns, but I feel bad encouraging anybody to devote any time out of their lives to do so.

  7. I bought this one for five bucks at a closing store sale and watched it with a friend....Yeah,she IS still my friend .Had to laugh at your review because I fell asleep,too.It felt like a very long episode of Law & Order.

  8. Man, $5 could have bought five egg rolls, four cans of Campbell's Soup, three avocados, two subway rides, or pack of multi-colored pens. It cannot, sadly, buy back the 100+ minutes you spent on Fear of Clowns.

    You know, I didn't think about Law & Order but you have a good point. Law & Order, but with a shirtless jacked clown.

  9. A lot of people have pointed out funny lines in the review, but no one has mentioned the one that made me laugh.

    "A white clown is not Caucasion: he is clown"

    I'm starting to think this has the quality I've been looking for in a tombstone inscription. Great review, Emily, and for however bad you made it sounds, i still have to see it.

  10. What have I done! Fear of Clowns' viewership has just multiplied to Cathy's Curse levels! If enough people support it, the eager Kevin Kangas may actually complete his trilogy, and that's something now casual blogger should have on her conscience.

    Then again, I'm enthused to read more reviews, so go for it. And I take directly from the script:

    Detective: Was he white? Black?
    Lynn: He was a clown.

  11. Hahahahaha! Your review cracked me up. I have apologized for the mess that is FOC, and FOC2 is a little better, I promise! :)

    And if you don't think I have a sense of humor, witness this:


  12. All right Mr. Kangas: you've convinced me. Although if nobody on camera acknowledges the fact that Shivers is shirtless for a second time, you have a lot of explaining to do...

  13. Shit! Hey, there's still part three of my trilogy! Someone SHALL mention it there and her name may be Emily...

  14. I would be honored beyond Bozo belief...

    But does that mean that nobody-NOBODY-notices that Shivers is still half nude in FOC2? It's a good thing the films take place in such a warm and pleasant climate!

  15. You'd be surprised at how normal the shirtless part is compared to the part where he's carrying around a giant axe chopping people's heads off.

    Also, people are stupid. :)

  16. But clowns often carry oversized weapons for comedic effect. They're rarely, however, pumped up and topless as if ready to pose for a lady's charity calendar!

  17. Clowns often carry oversized weapons for comedic effect? Where have you been hanging out? :)

    Also, I never got into Shivers' backstory but in FOC3 we'll show Shivers at his regular job as a failed Chippendales dancer.

  18. Wow, maybe I'm not afraid of clowns. Maybe I've just only been attending circuses starring particularly violent ones.

    Wait, FOC2 doesn't touch on Shivers' backstory???? I'm all for watching him get outdanced by Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley, but there's REALLY no mention of how Shivers came to be a ripped exhibitionist clown in part 2?

  19. Really? You didn't get enough boring exposition in FOC1 that you want MORE? Jesus, no explanation would satisfy you.

    FOC2 is more of my apology for the boredom of FOC1. After the first 25 minutes of FOC2, it's killing after killing. I think we killed like 18 people in the flick.

    But make no mistake--these movies cost less than craft services on an Asylum movie. (and THAT'S cheap...)

    I think that's one reason FOC1 gets bagged on a lot--people see the slick Lionsgate cover and think the movie cost 5 million to make. Their expectations don't line up with the reality of FOC1 costing 30K. (most of that went to my coke habit)

    I think if FOC came out under a low budget label like Troma, reviews would have been a little more kind.

  20. Well I got plenty of exposition about Lynne's dating criteria and Tuck's book collection, but that still doesn't explain why she's being stalked by a schizophrenic clown with a well-worn gym membership! If Shivers had some kind of tragic run-in with an art gallery or was a rejected painter like Hitler, I feel the need to know.

    It's definitely a valid point you make about the illusion of budget. Fans--particularly of the horror genre--love an underdog, so anything made for peanuts tends to get a pass by many a filmgoer. I think many a horror nerd has blacklisted Lions Gate because it now has this reputation as a cash cow milking factory with the annual steamrolling of Saw, but from my understanding, they've also made it possible for a lot of low budget indies to be seen.

    I'm assuming then that FOC2 has a slightly larger budget? And if there's a solid relationship, then a good deal of that money would finance an even higher rate of your coke sniffing? In that case, I once again MUST see FOC2 to evaluate its effect.

  21. Yes, FOC2 has a slighty larger budget. Most of that went to the hookers, I'm sad to say.

    But we did have a burning car and an explosion(unintentional). So there's that. You can see videos of that stuff at:

    FOC2 should be available for streaming/download through Amazon soon. May also be on Netflix in a couple of months.

    If you watch it, you may never be the same again...

  22. I'm sad that you're sad, not because the budget went to the hookers, but that you're sad about it, which leaves me to believe they were overpriced.

    That explosion...looks great! Hoping the rest of the budget didn't then have to go to pay damages for the poor guy on camera.

    My anticipation for FOC2 is growing with each day. I'm fully expecting to have either renewed my coulrophobia from FOC2's fear factor or be inspired to quit my job, start hitting the gym, and join the local faction of the nearest badass clown posse.

    Keep me updated!