Impressed by writer/director Victor Salva (Jeepers Creepers, Powder) short Something in the Basement, Francis Ford Coppola gave him $250,000 to make Clownhouse, gave him the same cameras George Lucas shot American Graffiti with and even allowed him to film it in his Napa Valley home. Clownhouse premiered at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival and believe it or not, it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the dramatic category before finally reaching theaters in 1990.
This is where it all goes wrong.
This is a film that has been controversial ever since it was released, as Salva plead guilty to sexually abusing the film’s child star Nathan Forrest Winters, as well as procuring child pornography of said sexual assault. The theatrical release was protested by Winters and his family. This issue came back up when MGM released the movie to DVD before it was pulled from the shelves, making this a hard movie to find.
Casey (Winters) is afraid of clowns and not as brave as his brothers, Geoffrey and Randy (Sam Rockwell!). They drag him along to the circus against his will on the very same night that an insane asylum sends several of its inmates to the very same event, which seems like two of the worst ideas ever. Here’s a third bad idea: seeing a circus fortune teller, who says to Casey, “Beware, beware, in the darkest of dark. Though the flesh is young and the hearts are strong, precious life cannot be long when darkest death has left its mark.”
Fulfilling those ill portents, three of the most dangerous patients get loose, kill three clowns and take their identities. Those very same clowns follow the boys home, turn off the power to their home and kill them.
It’s hard to say which is creepier: the clowns skulking around the house of the obvious fetishization of the lead, who often appears in his underwear or in a bathtub. I’m not being homophobic — it’s strikingly obvious that this movie was made by someone in love with young boys.
Oddly, the movie ends with these words: “No man can hide from his fears. As they are a part of him, they will always know where he is hiding.”
While this movie isn’t available on DVD, you can get a copy from VHSPS.
Bonus: You can listen to our podcast all about this movie.