It’s called “coulrophobia,” the film tells us, and it’s a phobia of clowns. Why are clowns so scary? John Wayne Gacy was a clown, and we’ve also seen such demonic clowns as Shakes the Clown, Homey the Clown, and, one of my favorites, Doink the Clown, a wrestler in the old WWF. How could I forget the diabolical Pennywise from Stephen King’s “It?” The message is clear: there’s something about clowns that the public finds inherently evil.
In the film “Fear of Clowns,” a surprisingly entertaining low budget horror film from Baltimore-based writer-director Kevin Kangas, the symbol of evil is a clown named Shivers. His target is a pretty young artist named Lynn(Jacky Reres)who suffers from the aforementioned clown phobia and yet is driven to draw clowns, almost out of morbid curiosity. Pretty soon, you guessed it, Shivers appears out of her drawings and starts killing everyone around her.
All of this might sound a bit silly, but Kangas, whose previous film, “Hunting Humans,” I haven’t seen, shows a sure hand in developing a creepy atmosphere around the characters and, as Shivers begins his rampage, the film develops some nice chills, no more so than when Shivers is framed in darkness since clowns aren’t nearly as frightening in daylight.
Although described as a “no budget” horror film, “Fear of Clowns” has solid production values and Kangas does a good job of giving the Baltimore suburb in which the film is set a creepy personality. The performances are surprisingly good too, especially Jacky Reres who does a good job of making you care about her character. She’s the kind of fresh face that you want to know more about and she’s also a good screamer, in the tradition of Jamie Lee Curtis.
At 113 minutes, “Fear of Clowns” is about twenty minutes overlong, and the film has an uneven first act and an overlong ending sequence, which is set in an abandoned movie theater, both of which demand some merciless editing. There’s a stronger ninety minute film, inside of “Fear of Clowns”’ current form, desperately trying to get out.
I suspect, like most independent filmmakers, Kangas probably felt an obligation to include all of this extra footage out of loyalty to his cast and crew, most of whom probably worked for free, but there are a lot of unnecessary scenes, and scenes that go on way too long, that don’t belong in the film. I enjoyed “Fear of Clowns” and with some ruthless editing, I think I would enjoy it a lot more.
These criticisms aside, “Fear of Clowns” is an enjoyable little surprise, a fun time-waster, and not in relation to its low budget, but because the film is, on its own terms, more successful than such other bigger-budgeted horror films like “Gacy” and the silly House of 1000 Corpses. It does what many other horror films fail to do: it entertains. “Fear of Clowns” is no masterpiece, but it’s fun.
“Fear of Clowns” is also a nice calling card for Kangas who shows a real director’s eye with this film, a nice sense of the macabre, and I have a feeling that Kangas’ next film will be something special.