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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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001)

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JEEPERS CREEPERS (2001)

Jeepers Creepers tells the ill-fated story of twin siblings Darry (Justin Long) and Trish (Gina Philips) who are headed home through rural countryside on break from college. On the way they encounter a sinister truck who toys with them and nearly runs them off the road. They later see it again, parked by an abandoned church and the cloaked driver looks like he is dumping something resembling a body into an old storm drain. The twins decide to investigate to see if someone needs help and find a cache of preserved bodies hidden underground. Their discovery triggers a pursuit by what turns out to be an unstoppable mythical creature called The Creeper (Jonathan Breck) who comes out once every 23 years to feed for 23 days to regenerate it’s body with parts from it’s victims… and one of the twins is it’s next meal.

Jeepers Creepers is a fun and spooky Saturday night horror best enjoyed with a brew or two. There are some good scares and some nice FX work and the film moves at a very brisk pace. Writer/Director Victor Silva has an understanding of the visual style a film like this needs and the film looks great and he doesn’t waste time as the story begins right away and never slows down. He builds some suspenseful sequences and gives us some very spooky moments. The Creeper is a very cool creature that is given a very threatening presence and that is always a plus in a film like this. Philips and Long have a great chemistry and work very well together and their brother and sister are very likable and are sympathetic in their plight and we care if this hellish creature catches up to them.

The film is not perfect. There are some lapses in logic… such as how did this elusive creature get a specialized license plate from the DMV?… and the psychic character, Jezelle (Patricia Belcher) brings things down a bit. Her part is badly written exposition and serves only to fill us in on information about our Creeper that we wouldn’t know otherwise. It’s understood why the character is there but, is a bit too obvious and Belcher isn’t winning any awards here either as her performance is weak and forced. Veteran actress Eileen Brennan appears in a small role as an ill-fated cat lady and she would have been far more effective in the role of the psychic, Jezelle then Belcher. There are a lot of suspenseful pursuits and a bloody police station attack that leads to a truly unsettling climax that helps keep the film’s effectiveness despite it’s flaws and leaves one fairly spooked and entertained by the time the credits finally roll. And you should watch through the credits, too.

Not a great movie, but, still a fun Halloween treat or a good part of a weekend spook-fest with friends. The Creeper returned in a sub-par sequel involving a bus full of high school kids and there have been rumors for years of Silva making a third film, supposedly titled Jeepers Creepers 3: Cathedral but, nothing has yet to materialize. The Creeper is a cool monster who has been sadly underused.

3 Creepers!

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