With a strategic VOD release date just days after the It remake, Clowntergeist knows it isn’t expected to tread new ground. With the assumption that clowns are scary, that horror movies about clowns are terrifying, and that a plot need only come second in narrative storytelling involving scary clowns, Clowntergeist is self-assured, which is good, but fails to convince its intended audience that it’s fit for consumption.
Quick rundown: a demon-possessed clown stalks a small town killing innocents, narrowing in on one college girl in particular, Emma. Emma is so terrified of clowns that she can’t even enjoy clown-shaped popsicles. The clown, Ribcage, has various supernatural tricks at his disposal, though most of it breaks down to opening and closing doors from a distance, manipulating electronics, and making the lights turn all sorts of spooky colors.
There is not a lot of depth here, which makes it harder to write about in a thorough way, though I’ll try. The trope of the killer clown can be played in two ways: serious or comedic. The tone of Clowntergeist is as straight-faced as can be—not even the kills have the slightest edge of humor to them. Ribcage isn’t visible for much of the time, appearing seconds before a cutaway or leering through a window. When he’s in full view the costume is a generic clown costume with obligatory gritty, smeared make-up. As he stalks Emma and those around her we don’t learn much of his backstory until the very end (spoiler: demon clown was an inside job). This itself isn’t bad. Remember: it’s a movie about an evil magic clown. That being said, Ribcage the Clown could be Ribcage the Anything since he’s only clownish in appearance. This itself is sorta bad. Nothing really ties back to him being a clown except for his costume and his fondness for balloons (upon which he writes the names of his intended victims and in one instance fills with guts). If nothing really ties back to him being a clown, then what’s the point of him being a clown?
Now that I’ve whined about clowns for half a paragraph or so, the rest of the movie is easy to parse. Emma and her bestie Heather, the two leads, have some pretty weird exchanges, especially when they know that the killer is a demonic circus entertainer. At one point Emma wants to escape, but Heather argues that she should use herself as bait instead so that the father of Ribcage’s first victim can kill him. Heather actually says that if she’d been asked she would willingly play the role of bait. This is a weird conversation, even given the movie’s subject, and during the second half these sorts of exchanges become the norm. There’s also the matter of Ribcage’s composure; his go-to stance seems to be that of a curious monkey. His victims do a great job of being scared while he fails to be scary. It’s just weird. But the effects are great, especially the gore shots. But because it plays more on the psychological than the violent, these gross-out moments are few and far between.
If you’ve been following the promotion for the film in the previous months then you’ve no doubt seen a line comparing Clowntergeist to Poltergeist and It. I think I’ve made it clear by this part of the review, but let me make it clear: this is not the case. Poltergeist, a definitive horror movie, has a sense of logic to its terror that adds to the tension. The dread of Pennywise in It plays off of childhood and parental fears (some of which don’t even involve clowns specifically!). It is related only in the loosest sense. What Clowntergeist does have going for it is its pace. It moves so quickly you’ll think you’re watching an episode of Night Gallery rather than a feature-length movie. If you’re looking for no-brainer popcorn flick, and you have an irrational fear of clowns, it may very well scratch that spooky itch. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
Poltergeist meets IT in Clowntergeist, premiering on VOD September 12 from High Octane Pictures!
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