‘ClownTown’ is unintentionally juxtaposed to Rob Zombie’s latest genre offering 31, due to the sharing of the killer clowns theme and the close together release dates. It is a low-budget independently produced straight to DVD/VOD release (with a limited theatrical release in some US cities). It is technically competent defying the stigma of its label by having better production values than you might expect as it is well shot, edited and scored.
To an extent it also does what it says on the tin if you are looking for a late night beer n’ pizza horror flick for some passable entertainment with stalking and slashing killer clowns action in a backwoods setting. However, the big problem with the film is its lack of originality and logic with Jeff Miller’s abysmal screenplay relying too heavily on genre conventions as the clichés pile up to groan inducing proportions not bothering to explain the back-story satisfyingly that results in a generic and predictable yet confused mess.
A group of young adults made up of two couples - Brad (Brian Nagel), Sarah (Lauren Compton), Brad’s best friend Mike (Andrew Staton who also serves as the production’s stunt coordinator), and Jill (Katie Keene) are traveling through small town America on their way to a concert. After being pointed in the direction of a short cut by a local sheriff when visiting a diner Jill finds her phone is missing. With the group thinking she may have left it back there, Sarah calls the number and a man answers who gives them the directions of where to meet him so he can give the phone back. They find themselves in a seemingly deserted town called Clinton. After waiting a while the man does not show up, so they decide to leave but this is when the town’s only inhabitants - the psycho clowns - make themselves known and stalk the group of friends in their thirst for blood.
I wanted to like the movie more than I did because there are aspects worthy of note. Director and Editor Tom Nagel (younger brother of Brian) manages to build some genuine suspense, tension, cinematographer Ken Stachnic slickly shoots it and moodily lights it, the Halloween-esque soundtrack composed by Holly Amber Church is subtly creepy, and the night setting of the deserted town provides effectively the feeling of isolation for the protagonists while in mortal danger. All this comes together to generate an eerie atmosphere harking back to the early work of John Carpenter.
The characterizations of the group are likable mature personalities going against the grain of the usual annoyingly obnoxious teenagers in modern slashers. The acting is patchy which is only to be expected of a small production of this nature but overall the cast achieve in what the thin material asks of them. The clown villains are convincingly fiendish due to the combination of the actors’ performances and the freaky special make-up effects by David Greathouse and Beki Ingram. Although the set-pieces are hit and miss. The execution in their staging and build up is capable and the SFX work is solid but for the most part the camera frustratingly cuts away from the gory goodness.
The aforementioned terrible script is the real albatross around the neck of these proceedings though. I do not have a problem with the worn out premise of big city strangers endangered by the inhabitants of the foreign to them land of the countryside, but screenwriter Miller just fails to do anything fresh with it. There are no tweaks to the formula with new twists and turns and we can see most of what is going to happen coming a mile off... I bet you can see the sheriff’s connection in all of this. Furthermore, to make matters worse the backstory of the clowns makes zero sense. Another old trope is employed when a strange old hermit named Frank (an embarrassingly over the top Greg Violand) relates the tale about how it all started with a twisted family. Why the other psychos are clowns is never explained though and their taking over of the entire town forcing its residents to leave is flat out fucking ridiculous. They also have no motivation to lure the group of friends to their town making the plot device of the missing phone to get them there unnecessary when it would have worked better if they had of just taken a "wrong turn."
It is what it is - a watchable mixed bag of mediocrity. I can only recommend it for at least a one-time watch or as I said something you can stick on once in a while late at night with beer n’ pizza if you are the type of horror fan who has no problem lowering their standards for a bit of harmless genre fun. Other than that, it is best avoided. Zombie’s 31 is the better effort because while not brimming with originality it offers the polarizing auteur’s usual unique spin on things with his eccentric vision. Even better than both of these killer clown flicks is John Watt’s rather good 2014 debut ‘Clown’.
While ‘ClownTown’ is not completely awful it sure is not good either and this is a shame because there was potential here for a better entry into the clown horror sub-genre that is extremely lacking in creativity. Director Tom Nagel showcases his skills behind the camera and I was particularly impressed with how well he edited and paced the opening sequence… that also has boobs. Give Nagel a better screenplay and I am sure he will produce a more quality movie.
** out of *****
Dave J. Wilson
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