TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CLOWNHOUSE (1989)

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CLOWNHOUSE (1989)

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Clownhouse is a late 80s horror written and directed by controversial director Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers) and appears to have gone direct to home media back in the day. This is my first time seeing it and I wasn’t overly impressed. This is also the film where Salva was charged with sexual abuse of his young star, Nathan Forrest Winters, which makes it a bit uncomfortable to watch, too…for all the wrong reasons.

The story is of three brothers, oldest Randy (Sam Rockwell) who is a bit of a jerk, Geoffrey (Brian McHugh) who is the practical one, and youngest and most sensitive, Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters), who has a strong fear of clowns. Of course, the circus comes to town and Casey reluctantly goes with his siblings. Unknown to the three brothers, though, a trio of inmates has escaped the local asylum and after the show, kill and take the identities of the circus’ three clowns. Now Casey’s worst nightmares come true as the inmates discover the three boys home alone and lay siege to their house. Can Casey overcome his fear of clowns and survive the night?

All controversy aside, this is actually a dull movie. Director/writer Salva gives the film a leaden pace and despite a story ripe for horror fun, rarely makes good use of the premise. Aside from Casey’s fear, there really is no reason to have it’s three psychos dressed like clowns. It may be the only thing that gives them personality and menace because, they never speak, their actions are random and they are not very good at the whole stalk and kill thing. The kids outwit them constantly. Salva tries to make a serious Halloween-like horror out of this, but gives us none of the suspense or chills, unless clowns really spook you. They do make effective horror villains, but otherwise, I never had a fear of them, personally. The three young actors all perform with a monotone delivery, with Rockwell especially giving no indication of becoming one of the most versatile actors around. The characters aren’t especially endearing either, so we really aren’t that emotionally invested as the three psychos lay siege to the house. The characters also do dumb things such as stay in the house, once the creeps are inside, when they have multiple chances to leave and make a run for it. Casey actually calls the police, but emphasizes that the intruders are clowns and thus his call is dismissed by the cops who know of his fear. Just tell them there are three men trying to enter the house and leave their mode of dress for the police to discover. It’s just dumb and doesn’t help a film already devoid of the scares and suspense needed to make it work. Aside from the fact that Salva does have a decent visual style, there is none of the tension, atmosphere or intensity of his Jeepers Creepers and as far as the slasher basics, very little body count or gore.

Some consider this a cult classic, I find it fairly forgettable. If it wasn’t for Salva’s indiscretion with one of his young cast members, there really wouldn’t be much to say at all about this flick. The film totally drops the ball on it’s clown theme and doesn’t really deliver any of the horror goods, aside from some nice visual shots. There may be some 80s nostalgia, but otherwise, there is very little atmosphere and Salva gets very little intensity out of his cast performance-wise. Even his clown dressed villains are stale and evoke little fear or threat. And when you can’t make clowns scary, there is definitely a problem.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 psychotic clowns.

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REVIEW: KILLER LEGENDS (2014)

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KILLER LEGENDS (2014)

Just a short while ago, I took a look back here at a very disturbing 2010 documentary called Cropsey about the real-life disappearances of five children in Staten Island and the urban legend it spawned. Now from Chiller TV, the director of Cropsey Joshua Zeman, is back with a new and equally unsettling documentary taking on four more classic urban legends and the real-life crimes that inspired them. Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills travel across the U.S. and dig deep to find the truth that inspired some of America’s most chilling campfire tales…and truth is always scarier then fiction.

Zeman and Mills first travel to Texarkana to investigate a series of brutal murders of teens at a popular make-out spot that occurred in 1946 and inspired not only the urban legend of the “Hookman” but the chilling horror classic The Town That Dreaded Sundown. We get another chilling investigation into a series of attacks and murders by a man dubbed “The Phantom”, a crime spree that was never solved and even more unsettling is how the town is still haunted by these horrific events decades later and it has provoked some equally disturbing customs from the residents.

Zeman and Mills then travel to Houston, Texas to investigate the murder of a little boy poisoned by tainted Halloween candy and quite possibly the case that started the popular fear-inducing Halloween urban legends of candy filled with glass, razor blades and poisons…of which there are actually no recorded incidents aside from this sad tale. We learn of the death of 8-year-old Timothy O’Bryan in 1974 and the intense police investigation which culminated in the arrest, conviction and eventual execution of the “Candyman”, the man who poisoned the Pixie Stick that lead to Timothy’s death and the start of these scary Halloween tales. Even more shocking was the man’s name was Ronald Clark O’Bryan…the boy’s own father. Proving the most frightening ghouls and goblins are the ones living in our very own backyards.

The duo next take us to Columbia, Missouri to tackle the popular urban legend of babysitters being stalked by unknown fiends with the heartbreaking rape and murder of young Janett Christman in 1950, who was sexually assaulted and strangled while babysitting for a local family. We are treated to an investigation that finds how the popular urban legend was fueled by the possibility that the same man may have committed a number of similar crimes and was never caught…though some unfortunate individuals were blamed for his heinous acts. Even more chilling is their research points to a man who was questioned, but never connected to the crimes…a man some of the victims knew as a neighbor and friend. This segment was particularly disturbing to think that someone got away with murdering these poor young women and actually might have lived among them in plain sight.

Our final segment is sure to send goosebumps rippling up and down arms with a story touching on the fear of clowns and some really creepy clown cases and tales from the windy city of Chicago. For decades Chicago has suffered reports of clowns driving around in white vans trying to lure children inside and even more disturbing is that there are actually police reports and eye-witness accounts of this occurring…and the reports suggest there were more than one of these ‘clowns’ stalking the city. Thankfully, no children were abducted…that we know of. It’s a case that has never been solved. We also get an in-depth look into a city that was home to the world famous Bozo The Clown show and to perhaps the spookiest clown creep of them all…John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted of killing over 30 people. Where did the fear of clowns originate?…Chicago apparently!

All these stories are given some very thorough investigations by the documentary filmmaker and his researcher. We get some bone-chilling facts, shocking crime scene photos, interviews with those involved and visits to some of the actual locations which these real-life crimes and occurrences took place. It’s very informative and the information provided can really be unnerving as we find the true start to some popular urban legends and the movies they inspired. And Zeman and Mills take us on this journey of discovery, eagerly trying to get to the bottom of these cases from which some of our culture’s scariest bedtime stories have spawned. They dig deep and it’s not only fascinating, but also quite horrifying that, in most cases, the perpetrators were never caught, or worse still, the wrong person was charged or suspected of the crime. And what better way to start an urban legend than an unsolved real incident! Zeman and Mills are more then happy to give us some hauntingly all-too-real facts that will make one sleep with a light on, far more effectively than any movie or bedtime story. A very effective and disturbing documentary that chills and informs equally.

3 and 1/2 stars.

three and one half stars rating

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