“It’s not creepy, it’s kitschy.”
— famous last words of another desert clown-cult victim
Clown Fear (aka, Circus Road during production) is an affable, ‘70s retro-grindhouse flick that tears down the tents of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes and rips you through a Tobe Hooper Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired fun house—with a side-organ order of Steven Chiodo’s Commander USA’s Groovie Movies classic, Killer Clowns from Outerspace. Except these aren’t celestial clowns: they’re terrestrial. But for you modern-horror dogs: Rob Zombie’s House of a 1000 Corpses—only not so serious. But we’re also feeling a bit nostalgic for those good ol’ southern folks from Hershell Gordon Lewis’s 2000 Maniacs—only the clowns aren’t ghosts and Clowntown, U.S.A. is real and doesn’t plot-twist vanish into the wilds of Nevada.
“Hee-hee-hee! It makes me think of León Klimovsky’s Vampires Night Orgy*. You know, instead of stranded motorists with vampires, we got FUBAR clowns.”
“Hey! The Marvolous Mervo from Bill Rebane’s Blood Harvest*? I figured you’d show up. You’ll never let me rest, will you? “
“So, R.D., since Circus City is built over an ancient coalminer cemetery, any chance we’ll get a Paul Naschy-styled out-of-left field zombie siege, like in Horror Rises from the Tomb*, only with with zombie-clowns?”
“No, no one will ever match a Paul Naschy FUBAR joint. But we’ll add that to the review. Thanks, Merv. You’re the best horror clown ever, by the way.”
“Hee-hee-hee. You still have to keep your fingers crossed and hope no puppets or friggin’ stringless marionettes show up, R.D. Your suck-up is for naught. I know how you are with puppets.”
Oh, shite. Pampers alert.
Anyway, Carlee (screenwriter Sadie Katz) is a runaway bride (the wedding fell apart amid her “cheating” being exposed) who decides that a Las Vegas road trip with her bridesmaids Amber, Mia, and Nicole is in order. (Tiffani Fest, of the recently reviewed Rootwood and For Jennifer, stars as Amber.)
Yep, they wreck the car in the middle of FUBAR, Nevada, near one of those old-fashioned theme-motif motels typical of the off-roads in middle and southwest America. You know the type of vaycay spot I’m talkin’ ‘bout, Merv. There were “Indian” and “Cowboy” western-motifs; ones that resembled old country German Tudors with a neon-blazing “Yodel” sign; in New Mexico they’d have an “Alien” or “Atomic” prefix. But we are in the middle of Nevada and this is Captain Spaulding country, with a bunch of inbreds carnies of years gone by who just wanted to be left alone.
So to that end: our daisy duke and bikini-adorned quartet end up at the circus themed Clown Inn (Ha! I bought my first beater from “Circus Cars” back in the day), smack dab in the middle of Conal Cochran’s Santa Mira, Calfornia, of Halloween III. And these clowns, like the laddies pumpin’ out those Silver Shamrock masks, have deep, mythical roots in the region. And what exactly are they? Just your run-of-the-mill witch or devil coven donning makeup, or are they just your run-of-the-mill f’d up redneck off-spring of the coal miners who once lived there? Am I in the lands of Jack Starrett’s Race with the Devil or Robert C. Hughes’s Hunter’s Blood*?
Whatever in the Cirque du Soleil they are, there’s some a-sacrificin’ to be done to satiate their clown-God in a demon-cum-circus themed ceremony. And these four chicks will fit on the ol’ dunk tank and Wheel of Death altar just fine.
The only quirk I had with Clown Fear is, that for a dark-horror comedy, it runs a bit too long at almost two hours (all of these 80-minute indie direct-to-DVDs I watch these days have ruined my patience for anything that’s of a theatrical length). That presents a problem with post-VOD distribution on a SyFy Channel two-hour programming block; a tighter, 80-minute cut would have been to the benefit of this feature film debut by director Minh Collins. But let’s face it: Cable TV is going the way of terrestrial radio: it’s a dying broadcast medium and we live in a streaming world. So my critical piffle about the film’s length is just me being a, well, piffling critic. In fact, eh, I should delete this paragraph. . . .
“Hee-hee-hee, R.D. Nah, it makes you look snobby, like you know what you’re talking about. Image is everything, when writing film reviews, R.D.”
“Excellent point, Merv. You really are Marvolous.”
“Thanks for the suck-up, R.D. But I’ll still be seeing you at 3 A.M. And I’m bringing along the Blue Meanies from Pepperland. I’ve got a new twist for your recurring Yellow Submarine nightmare.”
Oh, shite. Pampers alert.
Anyway, on the plus side: We get a fair amount of blood and gore-kills. The set dressers and designers of the motel rooms, especially the demon-clown-circus ceremony-trial, went all out. All of the clown actors—leads and backgrounds—certainly relish their characters and are a having good time selling the “world” they live in. And for the lonely lads on a Friday night: there’s plenty ‘o skimpy outfits, and boobs, if you want ’em. And for the CGI-rejecting guys like me: the old school in-camera effects play nicely into the retro-grindhouse vibe. Nothing beats an ol’ fashioned prop knife to an eye socket. To quote our victim’s famous last words: “It’s kitschy.”
Mihn Collins currently has two new projects in the pre-production stages: Blackjack Mountain is a family-oriented adventure film. And Asphalt Jungle looks exciting, as it stars Bruce Dern of The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant fame. You can’t go wrong with Bruce Dern.
Clown Fear was released in mid-February as a VOD, PPV, and DVD courtesy of Lionsgate at all of the usual online and brick-and-mortar retailers. You can learn more at the film’s official Facebook page, which offers trailer (the one we embedded for an easy watch either ends up removed or “black boxed” age-restricted. We give up!).
* Retro-film reviews—as off the wall as they wanna be—by R.D Francis. And Clown Fear is pure retro-Drive-In love of the first degree.
Disclaimer: This movie was sent to us by its PR company and, as you know, that has no bearing on our review. Besides: R.D Francis likey this movie.