We open at the Strode household, where a cute young babysitter is telling her doe-eyed wards a scary story before bedtime. With the little ones shipped off to bed, the babysitter begins to unwind (read: get naked). But what’s this?! Standing before her, one of the children – dressed in a clown costume. The babysitter is promptly murdered. And yet somehow, we are not watching Halloween, the Halloween remake or a Halloween sequel. Nope, this is the opening of ClownTown, which is more beholden to the slasher classic than even its own remakes or sequels.
Meanwhile, on their way to a country music gig, four pretty young things find themselves stranded in a small rural town after one of the girls loses her mobile phone. They aren’t as alone as it first seems – attacked and hunted by a gang of armed, murderous clowns, the two couples face a desperate, brutal fight for their lives. Which also happens to be the gist of Rob Zombie’s latest Hillbilly-‘em-up, 31. But we’re not watching that, either.
The Carpenter influence is strong throughout; it’s an action-based horror film that recalls the machinations of Assault on Precinct 13 and Escape from New York. It’s unfortunate that the film’s release comes so close to that of Zombie’s 31 though, because, in spite of its flaws, it is a vastly superior film. For while 31 is very much of the Rob Zombie playbook, chock full of the director’s tics and habits, this more workmanlike effort has less baggage and is more concerned with simply being an effective horror film. Where 31’s heroes are grubby, annoying hicks, ClownTown’s are simple but likeable. Where Zombie’s clowns are too gross and dirty to look like clowns (barely a full tub of greasepaint among them), these actually look the part and, as such, are far more terrifying as a result. Authentic, inappropriately happy clowns will always be more unsettling than those actually designed to look scary. Nothing is less bleeding scary than a clown actively trying to be scary.
It seems perverse to reward ClownTown for having less of a directorial stamp than the singularly auteur-driven 31, but here we are: the action is coherent and fun, the characters clean and relatable (if irritating, in some of the most grating shrieking since Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre). The scares and gore largely work, and the clowns actually look scary, but when the action is at its peak, you’ll scarcely notice.
ClownTown is a fun, nasty, low-budget little horror romp that delivers exactly on its promise – terrifying murder clowns running amok in small town America. It doesn’t really deserve to be, but it’s the best Innocents vs Murder Clowns movie you’ll see this year.
CLOWNTOWN / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: TOM NAGEL / SCREENPLAY: JEFF MILLER / STARRING: BRIAN NAGEL, LAUREN ELISE, ANDREW STATON / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 30TH (US CINEMA), OCTOBER 4TH (VOD, DVD)