Hard to believe it was just 5.5 months ago that Kevin Kangas cured my coulrophobia with Fear of Clowns , a bizarrely bad horror that, to my knowledge, made history as the first film to ever star a topless clown or at the very least, the first to star a topless clown stalking an artist and never once cited as being a topless clown.
“A thundering disappointment...a dreadful mess of ineptitude...oddly watchable” were just a few descriptions I used. The High Point was the fact that although the lead character was a single mother, the film avoided using an inevitably awful (I imagine The Blind Side ’s S.J. awful) child actor.
I wasn’t, in a word, kind to Fear of Clowns, which makes the virtual olive branch of sorts extended by Mr. Kangas himself all the more impressive. Skim through the comments left on my original review for proof of this filmmaker’s good natured sense of humor and refreshing ability to accept and even, it would seem, enjoy criticism. Based mostly on his support here and general enthusiasm for his own brand of low budget horror filmmaking, I decided it was time to venture into possibly terrifying for any number of ways sequel, Fear of Clowns 2.
Quick Plot: Reprising his role as a Bruce Campbell lookalike, Detective Peters (a refreshingly toned down Frank Lama), learns he is slowly dying from an unpronounceable brain disease (presumably caused by his over the top performance in Fear of Clowns). Bad news, but there’s worse on its way when Shivers, the well-toned, psychotic, and more allergic to shirts than Matthew McConaughy clown escapes from a mental asylum along with two fellow face-painted inmates and a shifty orderly.
Shivers & Co. gear up--sadly sans comically small Volkswagon and instead in a sleek rape van--and head straight to the home of one Lynn Blodgett (still played by Jackie Reyes and still generally referred to by full name, sort of the Liz Lemon of low budget horror). Now a successful artist cornering the market on clown-inspired paintings (poor She’s All That’s Rachel Leigh Cook weeps in envy), Lynn is less than thrilled to learn her single mom (still thankfully sans onscreen child) lifestyle will once again be interrupted by a mentally damaged clown intent on chopping her head off with a medieval style axe.
If you’ve read my review of Fear of Clowns, you probably recall me rarely using adjectives like ‘good,’ ‘effective,’ or ‘scary.’ I enjoyed its bizarre nature and entertaining messiness, but expected less than little from Kevin Kangas’ follow-up. What a refreshing dose of slushee it is that Fear of Clowns 2 is not only barrels better than its predecessor--admittedly not a great feat--but is also well-made and, at times, genuinely freaky.
Much like children, clowns tend to be more frightening when traveling in groups. Few films gave me quite as many shivers--thankfully not Shivers, as there’s no way any gal can handle more than one of those--than Victor Salva’s Clownhouse (a film that sadly disturbs me now for very different reasons). Like that controversial 1988 movie, Fear of Clowns 2 benefits greatly from Shivers’ equally homicidal cohorts. Clarence McNatt lets us imagine Michael Clarke Duncan gone bozo (and Futurama), and his homemade weapon of choice (baseball bat with spikes) suggest serious pain. The highlight of the film for many a viewer will most likely be the unfortunately underused Giggles (Phillip Levine), a creepy pedophile with a nasty laugh and a nastier resemblance to David Bowie.
Shivers once again proves that it’s next to impossible to take a topless clown seriously (when the psych ward director reveals that Shivers stole his costume from storage, I had to note “doesn’t he mean ‘lack of’”?) but Mark Lassise has a tighter hold on his mysterious clown’s insanity. Jacky Reres is solid as Lynn, and Lama takes his previously obnoxious detective into actual sympathetic territory throughout the film.
Fear of Clowns 2’s third act moves the action to a secluded (save for a horny farming family and a randomly fake breasted neighbor) farmhouse where Peters’ N.R.A. member friends hang out for $10,000 and the chance to fire rocket launchers at clowns. Personally, I would organize a national telethon to raise $10,000 to pay for the chance to fire a rocket launcher at a clown, but that’s besides the point. These retired soldiers and S.W.A.T. officers walk tough, but prove less than qualified for clown hunting. Hell, between forgetting guns locked in cars, poor fire extinguishing skills, and a propensity for splitting up, these guys probably wouldn’t survive a girl scout camping trip, but the actors have an interesting chemistry that keeps us invested their fates.
Where Fear of Clowns was an earnest, if complete mess, Fear of Clowns 2 is a surprisingly tight and well-executed little horror movie. Heads roll, then get strung up and worn as accessories. Giggling pedophiliac clowns hide in corners and suggestively tease soon-to-be victims. Characters we care about are put in danger and while they occasionally make decisions that would disappoint a kindergarten teacher in their stupidity, these are real, if quirky people we root for to beat the ragtag insane clown posse on their trail.
Chad Seiter's score is kind of a blast, calling to mind a bombastic circus theme whose only fault is a volume turned too high during a few dialogue scenes
There’s a genuine sense of humor pulsing through the editing, particularly apparent in a quick, under 1 minute cutaway to the offscreen death of a supporting character from the original film
While Lama makes his dying detective something of a tragic hero, it feels as though Kangas missed an opportunity to play a little more with the is-he-crazy potential of a mind-debilitating death sentence
While we don’t learn why Shivers is so anti-shirt, we do learn the roots of Lynn’s coulrophobia. Considering this seemed like such a key character element in Fear of Clowns, the revelation is something of a disappointment
Although the whole numbering your days and driving you crazy thing sucks, brain diseases do offer the one benefit of curing smarminess, bad acting, and a dangerous addiction to Hawaiian shirts
12 beers will most likely impede one’s shooting accuracy
Fear not, muscle men committed to institutions for the criminally insane: there are clearly plenty of opportunities to work out and keep your abs fully toned while imprisoned
When being chased by a long-legged killer, always be sure to pause so has time to catch up. After all, he is only walking and you don't want to be rude
Fashion Tips Imparted
For the Ladies: Earth tones are ideal for blending in
For the Men: Replace Hawaiian shirts with subtler hued suits
For the Clowns: Nothing completes a look better than your best friend’s head dangling like a belt
In Fear of Clowns, we learned that clowns are not classified as white or black. As Fear of Clowns 2 brings us both white and black clowns, has Kangas stumbled upon the answer to ending racial tension in America?
While this not satisfy your average Friday night ticket buyer who thought the Oscars horror montage was nifty and those Twilight kids anti-establishment, Fear of Clowns 2 is enjoyable, particularly for any fan of lower budget horror. Sure, some of the characters have IQs equal to the SPF rating on a topless clown's sunscreen, but this is a vast improvement over its predecessor and a genuinely fun ride. Not currently on Netflix, but you can stream the film over at Amazon for $2.99. Gratuitous female nudity and a Playgirl-ready villain make it the perfect he/she pleaser for any circus themed date night. If you're into that sort of thing.
And let's face it: who isn't?