Friday, October 21, 2011

Before there was Jeepers Creepers...

... There was Clownhouse.


This is a movie that I don't believe many have seen. Day #7 of my 30 Day Horror Movie Challenge.

Clown doll - Poltergeist
Ever since Poltergeist, I have had an immense fear of clowns to the point where I almost want to claim that it is coulrophobia which is defined as an overwhelming fear of clowns. I went to a circus once and sat white knuckled as I held onto the arms of my chair, closely watching  the clowns and one in particular... the bald one with the tiny hat on the side of his head. My kids and friends get a kick out of this fear of mine, because I can basically handle everything else.
Bozo the Clown

At one point in my childhood, my mother thought it would be a nice touch to my bedroom decor to add a small red-framed picture (probably purchased at K-Mart) of 5 or 6 clowns all in a row. The front clown was always so happy looking, a not-as-colorful version of Bozo. Beside him was a version of Emmet Kelly and a few more down from that was a strange similarity to Cookie the clown, Bozo's sidekick.
Cookie the Clown
I hated that picture. And one of the happiest moments of my life was when the glass inside the frame broke. Several times, since becoming an adult, I have looked for the copy of this photo to give as a gag gift for a one of my sisters' baby showers. They are not huge fans of clowns either.


It was one of those rare instances after I had my license, my sisters and I decided to rent a video (Go ahead and laugh. I said video) one night because our mom and dad was going to be out - probably to the annual TAP (dad's job) dinner in September. We probably went to Kroger - remember when they had a video rental station? Being a family of girls who thrived on intense and scary movies, we would always make a bee-line for the Horror section. The hard part in choosing a great video was always finding something that we all would agree on... naturally. Jess always preferred the more babyish horrors & horror comedies like Beetlejuice. Mandy liked more sci-fi sort of horror like Alien or Aliens. I was all about the blood and gore (at the time) like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street. And depending on the mood, someone would always want to rent something we've already seen... and that someone was usually me. If it's not broke, don't fix it, I always say. However, that night, we saw a cover of a movie that chilled us to the bone. A movie we had never heard of before and had never made it to the big screen (which is usually a bad sign this day and age). Frozen in our positions, we stared at the sinister cover of a clown peeking behind a door. {{shudder}}

Pennywise the Clown - It (Tim Curry)
Clownhouse is a movie written and directed by Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers, Powder). Like I said, it never made it to the big screen and I have never heard of it before. It was a gamble. Could there actually be a movie with a SCARY clown in it since Poltergeist? It was only a novel at the time, so Tim Curry hadn't put on the funny red nose yet. And Killer Klowns from Outer Space is not in any shape or form, what I would call scary. My intelligence drops a moderate percentage at just the mention of that stupid movie. And for the record, clowns that try to look scary are not scary to me. It's the ones that appear trustworthy and happy. Those are the ones that make my blood turn cold... and little Casey Collins (Nathan Forrest Winters) agrees.
l-r: Randy (Rockwell), Geoffery (McHugh), Casey (Winters)
Casey (Winters) is the youngest of three boys and suffers from extreme Coulrophobia. "You never know what they really are," he claims, referring to hiding behind the make up and smiles. Casey and his two older brothers are left home alone for the weekend - too close to Halloween for my taste. Much like the three of us girls were that night while my parents were at a company dinner. The middle brother, Geoffery (played by Brian McHugh) is like my middle sister, Mandy - the peacemaker. He allows Casey's fear to show and like a good big brother, comforts him while attempting to explain away his fears. Then there's the obnoxious, older brother, Randy - Sam Rockwell's film debut (Charlie's Angels, Cowboys and Aliens). He's a bully, constantly picking on both younger brothers, but especially Casey. Randy makes the plans for the night, and the three of them go to.... (drum roll, please).... the circus. On the way there, they see vehicles with sirens heading toward the "mad house" and they note that there is trouble. So there's the plot-line: 3 lunatics escape from the nut home and disguise themselves as 3 clowns from the local circus. Simple enough. It's been done in a roundabout way over a million times.
Cheezo the Clown - Clownhouse
But this movie is more than just a killing spree. It's a game of cat and mouse.Have you ever found yourself walking along and sense that someone is following? That their evil presence, trailing closely behind you is practically tangible? Your imagination runs wild and without confirming your worst fear, you just run.


Emmett Kelly, Sr
Salva's brilliant use of shadows on the walls and shapes moving in the background of a scene prove the perfect formula for a good scare is anticipation and motivation for using your own imagination. Special effects are overrated and this movie clearly represents that. And though it's no "Halloween Theme" (John Carpenter, composer), the music score (Michael Becker & Thomas Richardson) belongs in a clown circus from hell. The model use of all the right chord progressions and melodic interval jumps. Creeeeeeps. Meeeeee. Oooouuuuut!

My sister Mandy was fortunate enough to find this movie in DVD in the last 5 years and all three of us have passed it around, enjoying the same sort of fear that fell onto us over 15 years ago. Recently she's been unable to find it... but I'm not too concerned that a clown has taken it. I'm watching it before Halloween & it will be returned promptly. *wink, wink*

Director: Victor Salva
And for a bit of background information on Victor Salva: For those of you who don't remember, Salva's movie Powder became a big target for boycotting because of a previous conviction of child molestation that was on Salva. Salva confessed to the allegations in 1988 mainly because he had no way around the videos he taped of the molested kid. Leading this large boycott, was none other than the victim, Nathan Forrest Winters... little Casey Collins. Maybe that's why Winters never went on to do anymore film work and why Clownhouse never hit the big screen in 1989 - to avoid the media coverage.




But to end this blog on a more cheerful note, I leave you with the teaser trailer.


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