As if a recent spate of scary real-life sightings isn’t enough, clowns have been invading theaters and TV screens, too. From Pennywise in It to the sinister joker in Circus Kane to Twisty (and more) in American Horror Story, they’re everywhere—threatening, it seems, to steal the last of our innocence and torment our dreams. We could mull how the resurgence of this disturbing symbol coincides with the penetration of U.S. politics by pranksters. But thankfully, before cynical temptation can take us there, the rare vocal stylings of Puddles Pity Party turn our collective frown upside down.
Now, wafting in on the box office helium high of It, a new indie called Clowntergeist carries the low-budget promise of still sicker and more subversive merrymaking. The flick even swipes the key floating visual from that bigger, slicker major-studio horror effort for a hook.
“…compared with Pennywise’s innovative mugging and morphing, this killer clown’s getup is strictly Ross Dress for Less.”
The murderous would-be mirth begins when several small-town residents receive red balloons upon which are inked the date and time of their deaths. College student Emma (Brittany Belland), who suffers from extreme coulrophobia (fear of clowns), is among the giftees; she’s forced to confront her worst visions—and defeat her newly discovered 48-hour expiration date—as others begin dying around her.
Behind the one-ring display of mostly tame, barbecue sauce-smearing, black tempera paint-spewing mayhem is Ribcage the Clown (Eric Corbin), a villain who pops up shockingly but moves in strangely constipated fashion when in pursuit. Half-baked exposition offers that the character is demonically possessed; however, his capacity for supernatural violence is, if not limited, very inconsistent. And compared with Pennywise’s innovative mugging and morphing, this killer clown’s getup is strictly Ross Dress for Less.
“…Clowntergeist loses the courage of its rip-off convictions well before the midway point.”
Even the saddest clowns have some capacity to sell. But Clowntergeist loses the courage of its rip-off convictions well before the midway point. It fails to sustain suspense or any sense of menace, or—beyond a throwaway line referencing It and clever end credits—take a solid stab at self-reflexive humor. The inconvenient element of law enforcement is killed off unconvincingly rather than handled logically. And that continuity should apply not only to action and set detail but to character emotion is ignored: hard to imagine anyone tripping over a disemboweled corpse one moment and functioning calmly the next.
All of this is frustrating because Clowntergeist isn’t a complete technical loss. Writer-director Aaron Mirtes exhibits enough stylish competence in cinematography, lighting, sound and editing to suggest that his next project, with a stronger script, better actors and a few more bucks, will have potential.
If your festering jester fetish just cannot be denied, skip this bargain-basement Bozo and Google “Pogo the Clown” instead.
Clowntergeist (2017) Written and directed by Aaron Mirtes. Starring Brittany Belland, Aaron Mirtes, Monica Baker, Eric Corbin, Burt Culver, Caity Runger, Madeleine Heil, Sean Patrick Murray, Johnjay Fitih, Tom Seidman
3 out of 10