Director: Damien Leone
Screenplay: Damien Leone
Review: David Stephens
Clowns. Creepy bastards. Whilst they’ve always been a popular subject for plenty of horror films, they’ve had a bit of resurgence recently. No prizes for tying that to the huge success of the rebooted Pennywise, winningly played as a wonky-eyed monstrous harlequin by actor Bill Skarsgård. So prepare for more of the jocular maniacs to haunt the genre in months to come, with such delights as “Clownado” on the horizon. (NB: We’re not making that up. Check Indiegogo.) If you regularly check out other genre sites (Traitor!!), especially the US-based ones, you’ll have seen the disturbing visage of Art the Clown grimacing at you in plenty of promos. But the hook-nosed and black-lipped character is not a rip-off of the Stephen King film. Art has a history dating back from 2008 in a horror short called “The 9th Circle” and 2011’s “Terrifier”, both of which were created by Indie filmmaker Damien Leone. The clown then became something of a cult icon in Leone’s direct-to-video horror anthology “All Hallows’ Eve” in 2013. In that portmanteau film, Art was the sadistic figure that linked the three stories (which included scenes from the short films) and the wraparound story. This new feature length outing from Leone is inspired by those previous works and gives Art the full boogeyman treatment, focusing solely on his killing spree on a Halloween night. After a run on the festival circuit (including Frightfest), the film is now available in the UK on DVD and VOD, and has similar treatment in the US. So YGROY fills up the bucket with confetti and takes a look…
It’s Halloween night and a disfigured young woman is being interviewed on TV, being the sole survivor of the “Miles County Massacre” from a year ago, where a clown murdered several people before being killed. Or was he? Because Art the Clown (sprightly played by David Howard Thornton) is donning his make-up and his tiny, tiny hat for a night on the town. Pausing only to pick up his bag of tricks, he walks into the night. Meanwhile Dawn (Troma veteran Catherine Corcoran) and Tara (Jenna Kanell from “The Bye Bye Man”) are returning from a Halloween party. As they attempt to sober up at a late-night Pizza joint they’re unlucky enough to run into Art. Initially unfazed (it is Halloween after all), his constant leering and grimaces gives Tara the creeps, until he’s thrown out by the owner for writing his name on the toilet wall with his own crap! Stranded by a busted tyre, the girls are then stalked by Art, and the fun night becomes a trial of bloody mayhem and sadism…
If you’re an avowed gore-hound and like the simple things in life, then this one’s for you. It’s a very straightforward slasher with lashings of gore ladled thickly onto the screen with devoted gusto, and a boogeyman that’s untroubled by any kind of backstory or real history. It harkens back to the good old days of multiple “Halloween” rip-offs and backwoods stalkers. Except this death-dealing nut-job looks like a Pierrot Clown and obviously enjoys his work far, far too much. He’s like the world’s most dangerous mime, or Marcel Marceau with a bloodlust. The character of Art has been basically re-packaged and re-booted for a slightly wider audience, whilst keeping the extreme Grindhouse violence of his past. But is there room for this type of boogeyman in a time when Victor Crowley returned, the “Halloween” franchise is back, and horror is big at mainstream cinema again? (*cough*Pennywise*cough*)
Well, yes there is. There’s something unique and watchable (if not attractive) about Art. Thornton absolutely nails it with a wordless performance full of wonderful nuances. Looking (and acting) like a cross between a Mr Punch puppet and Michael Myers; he never makes a sound but comes fully alive with extravagant facial expressions and exaggerated movements. Constantly smiling, frowning, or leering, he commits atrocities whilst making tah-dah gestures, cry-faces, tippy-toes, or jazz-hands. It makes for a villain that is hideous and scary, but also charismatic…despite being a complete bastard. This neatly contrasts with a shit-ton of violence and extreme gore, created with some very neat (if low-budget and not always convincing) practical effects. You need to be prepared for multiple wounds, eye-gouging, limb-removal, decapitated heads as Jack-o-Lanterns, and a person cut down-the-middle painfully with a hacksaw. If that’s not the bag you’re into, best move along. You get the impression that if the average UK Daily Mail reader looked up from their gardening and realised that this was being sold in most high-street supermarkets, they’d probably call for a ban. For the rest of us however, this is an unashamed sojourn into wonderfully sick entertainment, made by people who know their audience.
As mentioned, there’s not really much more to the plot than Art killing people on Halloween. There is the barest bit of exposition at the start and end of the film, but the clown’s origin and purpose remains wilfully ambiguous. Beyond Johnson himself, Kanell plays her role well, but you get the impression most of the cast are wearing red-shirts under their other clothes. Nonetheless, the narrative does throw a few curveballs to those expecting the usual predictable scrapes in a slasher. There are some unexpected deaths and some real WTAF sequences, including possible homage to “Silence of the Lambs”. The jump-scares are there (some good, some predictable) and the overall theme is one of real nastiness and uncompromising violence. In terms of criticism; the ending is pretty guessable, the Good Guys have that bloody annoying habit of never finishing off the Big Bad when they have ample opportunity to do so, and Art pops up miraculously behind characters a few too many times. Also, if you’re not into films like this, then you won’t be into a film like this… oddly enough.
However on the basis of this offering, there is definitely possibilities of Art turning into an ongoing horror boogeyman, with more films filling out his murderous antics and maybe exploring his devilish beginnings. If you’re into uncomplicated gore-fests with a unique and cruel villain, then this pretty much fills that position. It will be interesting to see if Leone continues to expand the core fandom for the character and carries on escalating his presence in a possible franchise. We’ll have to wait. In the meantime, this will produce further nightmares for those with coulrophobia and a nasty tasteless treat for the rest of us. This Art might go on…
DVD Extras: A 20 minute behind-the-scenes feature that showcases the cool prosthetics FX, plenty of cast shenanigans, and shameless product placement.