Directed by Jon Watts
Clown, about a man turning into a child-eating clown, is disturbing and thus incredibly effective. It’s one of those troubling horror movies that, though it follows certain conventions, wades into frightening, disgusting territory and provokes incredibly upsetting feelings within the viewer. On one hand such feelings may make it easy to write off this movie as sensationalist and inhumane, but isn’t it also that same degree of discomfort which horror movies try to capture?
I was so excited for this movie to end, and I considered my mixed feelings on the material and its execution while I was watching it. My own apprehension about what was about to play out onscreen, however, has only to do with the story’s intentions and not with the lack of skill with which it was undertaken.
Clown is a silly horror movie with one of those incredibly simple premises. When the hired clown for his son’s birthday doesn’t show up, Real Estate Agent Kent (Andy Powers) dresses up in a clown suit he finds in storage at one of the homes he’s selling. The next day the suit, nose and hair won’t come off, and pretty soon he realizes the suit is reaching inside of him and turning him into a demon that hungers only for the blood of children.
So yeah, it’s f*ckin’ horrifying, and yes, children do die in this movie.
The gut response to such a story and even such a premise is to squirm, look away and then probably look down upon the movie for even being made. I felt that too, but this is also an entertaining movie that delights in its own silliness, and the horror side of it, well isn’t that what horror movies are for?
Clowns are of course well-covered territory. They are creepy to adults and sinister to children, but at one point they were surely harmless entertainers. The kids in this movie like clowns, and the initial appeal of a clown as a monster (Stephen King’s It) plays on the idea that it is meant only for children.
These are characters that speak differently to children, that can reach out to them in a way they can’t to adults. I think this speaks to the general horror of many fairytales and fables in general, where certain things that might sound strange to adults are just accepted at face value to children. To children who, for the most part, just soak up the world around them, it must be harder to differentiate between ordinary and grotesque. It’s not until later that we learn to discern between such things and learn what to be afraid of, etc.
So I guess that’s the interesting thing about clowns, that they connect to the idea that fear (and the accompanying emotions) is often learned. At what age are we afraid of the dark, or of heights? What the f*ck is fear, anyways?
So I can feel myself looking too deeply into this, but there is a wonderfully chilling moment in one of the more wonderfully sinister moments in the film in which a girl calmly tells another boy, “don’t go up there,” as calmly as a barista saying, “don’t order the Dark Roast, it’s not as good as the Colombian.”
It takes place in one of those plastic tube mazes at a Chuck E. Cheese. The boy crawls through (like Danny cycling through the Overlook Hotel) looking for his brother. We know already that the possessed clown demon is in there feasting on children. The boy doesn’t even notice the bloody handprints as he crawls deeper into the labyrinth, and that’s when he comes across the girl, with her placid warning. She seems to know what’s going on, but she reacts with none of the expected fear. She just accepts it as it is, “don’t go up there.”
And holy f*ckin’ sh*t that sent a chill down my spine.
So if a movie like Clown could make me feel that way, it worked, right? It’s still not exactly a comforting watch, and some of the mundane parts of the movie do feel stripped from a Lifetime melodrama, but overall it’s fun, sensational, horrifying and grotesque. It’s a horror movie that leaves you feeling horrified when the movie ends, because no one wins, and none of the characters feel virtuous, which they shouldn’t, because it’s a horror movie.
My main gripe about many horror movies, or maybe just the few that I’ve watched, is that they insist on happy endings. The Ritual, a recent Netflix movie, is one of them. It’s eerie and disturbing until it isn’t, until we see the monster clearly and the cowardly protagonist becomes heroic and conquers his demons. A horror movie, it seems to me, should remain horrifying throughout.
In Clown innocence is lost and no one is ever the same. Even the third act protagonist, Meg (Laura Allen), Kent’s wife who must protect their son from her husband/clown abducts a child as she’s headed down a dark path, all in the name of saving her husband’s life. She stoops to disturbing levels and shows that there’s a darkness in all of us, somewhere. And I think that’s what horror movies are trying to do anyways, so why don’t they just see it all the way through?
So Clown, a wonderful little B movie I never want to see again.
Up Next: Life During Wartime (2009), Venom (2018), City Heat (1984)