Lionsgate // 2003 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // August 10th, 2007
Cram it, Clown!
According to legend, a child uttered those words to beloved clown Bozo on live television.
According to a different legend, a circus train was on its way to a small Florida town during a hurricane in 1954. They were crossing a bridge when it collapsed, sending the train into the bay. By the time the storm cleared, there were a lot of clowns trapped in a train car at the bottom of the bay. The car and the bodies were never recovered. Sometimes at night, you can hear calliope music coming off the water.
Now it's 50 years later, and another hurricane is heading for this same small town. And people are hearing that calliope. Have the Dead Clowns returned?
Apparently so, and now they are zombies, but this cheapo indie gives us little reasoning for their sudden appearance, almost nothing in the way of scares, and no fleshed-out characters.
We spend the first 25 minutes watching people do not much of anything while the storm brews (illustrated by clips of hurricanes that look like they were taken from a VHS recording of The Weather Channel). Since they are all in different places, there are no interactions and therefore no back stories. We get the clown legend and a 30-second slasher fantasy induced by a line of cocaine, and then we finally see some murky shots of the clowns leaving their watery graves.
We then see a character we've never seen before, some blonde woman. She hears the calliope music, turns, and sees two of the Dead Clowns in her house. But these guys don't have clown faces, they have seaweed all over their heads. We only know they're clowns because we see their big, floppy feet as they follow her up the stairs very slowly. Courteously, the woman does not scream or run, she just saunters up the stairs as though she's trying to avoid a buttinsky neighbor.
As some clowns go after a nearsighted woman and others attack a guy in a wheelchair, it becomes depressingly clear that we're not going to be seeing clowns who look like clowns. Some have rock heads, some have skull heads, there's the occasional rubber nose, fright wig, and funny pants, but the all-out, white-faced, red-lipped clown look that has terrified children for centuries is nowhere to be found. What's the point of a scary clown zombie movie if the zombies don't look like clowns? Why not just call it Dead Clam Diggers or Dead Orthodontists? I can't believe the budget didn't allow for clown make up, which in an emergency can be simulated with a jar of Marshmallow Fluff and a can of V-8.
As the zombie clowns press ever forward, things become quite gory, but the victims stay curiously silent. Apparently, the sight of the undead in fright wigs and polka dots isn't enough to make these hardy Floridians holler. And it seems someone's been loading OxyContin into their water supply, because they are impervious to pain. Pull out some entrails? Barely a whimper. Gouge out an eye? Didn't even wince.
Oh, and at around the 50-minute mark, we learn that these clown zombies don't just kill people, they eat them, too, but since it comes so late, it's more like an afterthought. It's also not consistent: A plump British woman, who could have easily fed a family of four clown zombies, is merely left for dead, while the above-mentioned eyeball is gobbled down like an oyster.
And let's not even get started on how the clown zombies are brought to hand.
This is just a silly, sloppy gore movie that takes a promising idea and drops the ball almost from the get-go. Director/writer Steve Sessions (Malefic) does not use the clown motif at all. These are just garden-variety zombies armed with hammers, knives, and other tools, rather than malevolent clowns attacking with tiny parasols or poisonous squirt flowers (though we do see someone get stomped by a big floppy foot). I didn't count one solid scare or jump -- no clown zombies leaping out of closets or suddenly illuminated when a candle is lit. The decision to film most of the actors by themselves merely prevents any character development, and casting Debbie Rochon (Chicago Massacre: Richard Speck) in a completely silent part is just a waste.
The film is very low-budget, but Lionsgate doesn't do half-bad with the transfer, which is letterboxed and probably looks as good as it is going to look. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1. Music and hurricane sounds come through nicely, but there are times that the dialogue (what there is of it) is drowned out. This could be a problem with the original mix. The only extras are trailers for Dead Clowns and other Lionsgate offerings (some of which are clown-themed).
This should have been an exercise in terror; instead, it was tedious and derivative.
Guilty, guilty, guilty.
Now, cram it, Clown!
Review content copyright © 2007 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.00:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R