Release Date – On DVD 16th October 2017
So let’s get to it right away, and talk about the elephant in the room. This isn’t an original sounding movie, from the rather forced portmanteau title to the particularly eye rolling premise about a clown being possessed by an evil spirit. Also, call me cynical but I also have a sneaking suspicion that this is being released at this time of year to coincide with another horror film featuring dark and twisted versions of a children’s entertainer. But originality isn’t everything, I understand that. Execution and a little style can go a long way to curbing the effects of a clichéd story in which the major ingredients have been liberally borrowed from elsewhere. Unfortunately in the case of Clowntergeist, it’s all pretty shoddy to say the least.
The title of the movie suggests two major influences, but it really could have been called anything. It’s devoid of the inter-dimensional shape shifting nightmares found in Stephen King’s monolithic tome, and it has none of the haunted house fun of Tobe Hooper’s ghost story. There are sporadic signs that other sources have been taken from as things progress, but nothing really forms into a solid direction in terms of just what kind of movie this wants to be. It’s part slasher film, part phobia tale, and part service industry drama. It never fits together or feels satisfying.
The opening of the film sets up a few key ideas – that a ghostly clown of some kind is killing people for one reason or another. He’s left balloons around their house with messages written on them in cheap black marker pens… which is odd. One of them has a date and time on it, to let them know when they are going to die. It’s a strangely nice thing of him to do, as one of the other characters later points out. However this ultra low budget attempt to add some flavour from Hideo Nakata’s Ring and provide a ticking clock just makes the film feel even longer than it really is. There’s never any sense of creeping dread or tension of any kind.
Meanwhile Emma (Brittany Belland) is living with student friends nearby in the same town, while working at an ice cream parlour. Some random attempts at comedy are included early on in the story, but beyond badly acted stoner characters and a weird customer service scene there are no real jokes elsewhere, and the tone is very inconsistent. After being told to close up early by the police because of the first death, Emma soon realises that the killer is now after her and that things are about to get weird. However it never gets spooky or even remotely engaging.
A lot of worn out tropes are quickly introduced, Emma and Heather (Monica Barker) conveniently live in ‘the middle of nowhere’ even though the house doesn’t look that isolated, and a series of false start dream scenes also come along. She suffers both from night terrors and a fear of clowns, so of course her friends don’t believe her when she talks about being grabbed in the night by hands wearing white gloves – or that their missing pet dog is anything to do with it. They even throw in that incredibly tired urban legend about a dog licking its owners hand in the night, which serves no purpose whatsoever in the overall plot.
The antagonist himself is named Ribcage the Clown. It’s never clear if this was his stage name before all the supernatural nonsense began. I like to think so. Maybe his career died because he didn’t understand why nobody booked his act. He commits scary acts such as stealing Emma’s car and parking it back at home, and stealing all the phones in the house. He also scuttles around doing a silly walk in most scenes while making wheezing sounds. Pennywise this is not. There are a lot of pointless jump scares and some moments of gore, but while neon lights for atmosphere are used in some scenes, other times he just appears in broad daylight. We already know from all the jarring text on screen how long it is until Emma is going to die, so why is he showing up at all? Why even hurt other people?
There are a lot of other dumb moments from the father of the first victim Mr. Randal (Burt Culver) looking up demonic possession on the internet, or cars stopping so that a circus announcer can talk through the radio. Sometimes the clown can move around like a ghost, but in others he’s a physical presence that can be stopped with violence. The attempts to set up rules to this whole thing are underwhelming to say the least, and there are no plan making montages or Kryptonite moments. At the end there’s a poor attempt at a plot twist but it doesn’t save the film or make the finale feel any more climactic. Some people might be scared of white and red make-up more than others, but I think everyone can agree this is a tedious slog.