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.
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
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?
$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
“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.