Monster Movie Madness Presents:
Review by Rob Smales
Welcome to Monster Movie Madness, where we take a look at flicks and films dealing with threats and things that aren’t exactly human. Hell, most of ’em aren’t human at all—and those are the really fun ones!
Can you smell the rancid greasepaint? Hear the out-of-tune calliope howl? Did you see the little car come sputtering and juddering around the corner, gears grinding like tearing metal and farting black oily smoke that smells suspiciously of brimstone—only to see it stop and vomit forth six . . . eight . . . no, ten full-grown men sporting day-glo hair, polka dots, and squirting lapel flowers? I hope you have your coulrophobia under control, because that’s right, it’s time to send in the clowns this month at Monster Movie Madness. One clown in particular, in fact, as we push PLAY on CLOWNTERGEIST (2017).
Written by Brad Belemjian (story) and Aaron Mirtes (screenplay)
Directed by Aaron Mirtes
(Warning: this review may contain spoilers.)
The film opens with a teen girl (Caitlin Rigney) spitting blood into the bathroom sink.
Her father, Mr. Randal (Burt Culver), calls through the door that the doctor will make her feel better. An overlay reads Mᴀʏ 28ᴛʜ 7:22 ᴘ.ᴍ., 90 ᴍɪɴᴜᴛᴇs ᴜɴᴛɪʟ ᴛʜᴇ ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ. Randal sits on the couch and picks up a crossbow, because that’s what you do when your little girl is spitting up blood. Above him, clinging to the ceiling, are dozens of red balloons he either doesn’t see, or ignores.
The girl flees the house, leaving behind a red balloon with 5–28 9:17 ᴘ.ᴍ. scrawled on it in Sharpie. She calls her uncle Ted from the car, getting permission to stay at his house. He won’t be there, but reminds her not to touch anything. She arrives at the empty house, and the power goes out.
She gets back on the phone with Uncle Ted, who tells her the breaker panel’s in the basement. She picks up a camp lantern (I always keep them scattered about the house, you know, just in case, don’t you?) and heads into the basement. Things around her keep moving on their own (doors slamming, chairs moving, etc.), and though she gasps, she doesn’t actually freak out, or, you know, leave.
Reviewer’s note: this is where I decided the girl was just too stupid to live, and stopped rooting for her.
She resets the breaker and, strangely, though no one was home when she got there, most of the lights in the house come on. She goes upstairs and finds a life-sized clown statue standing in one corner. She calls Ted again to ask permission to cover the clown statue because she has this thing about clowns. Uncle Ted tells her to get out of the house, he’s calling the police. She asks why. He tells her they don’t have a clown statue—whereupon she is attacked from behind by the pancake makeup and big red shoes of death.
I knew she was too stupid to live!
So much for the prologue. The main film opens with Emma (Brittany Belland) and Heather (Monica Baker) giving their third roomie, an obvious stoner girl (played by Madeleine Heil, looking like she’d tell Tommy Chong he needed to relax and discover the wonders of weed), the boot. They revel in having the place to themselves again, discuss looking for a new roommate, and discover a clown shirt the stoner left behind. Emma throws the shirt away, stating that she hates clowns.
They go to work at the local ice cream shop. Pops (Tom Seidman), an old man who drives an ice cream truck, shows up to get his special order of fifty clowncicles—because, you know, clowns. The sheriff (Johnjay Fitih) arrives and asks Jonah (Sean Patrick Murray), the boy in charge, to close early and announce to the customers there is now an 11:00 pm curfew because of the manhunt: a high school girl was found dead about an hour earlier, and they’re looking for her killer. Heather’s freaked out, but Emma actually seems excited. Jonah thinks it’s all being blown out of proportion, and no big deal.
We return to Randal, still wielding that crossbow, and hearing his daughter’s voice upstairs saying spooky things. Her voice distorts as he climbs the stairs, finally disappearing when he pushes open the bathroom door to find the sink half filled with blood, a red balloon floating on the surface.
We rejoin Heather and Emma back in their house, which is apparently out in the middle of nowhere because horror movie. In the middle of the night their dog, Sammy, comes in the room with Emma. She goes back to sleep, but wakes a while later to pull her hand away and tell Sammy no licking. Sammy apparently continues licking her dangling hand below camera level. Emma pulls away again—and the camera pans right to show Sammy sitting out in the hallway.
There’s a sudden crash and Emma flips onto her back, throwing the covers over her head. Footsteps approach, and then a clowny hand thrusts up under the covers to grab her face. An instant later it’s gone, as if it were all a dream . . . except for that loud growling coming from the hall. Emma goes to investigate (why she hides under the covers from a crash elsewhere in the house, but silently gets up to investigate after being face-grabbed I have no idea), and finds the lights on in the bathroom. Above the sink floats a red balloon bearing the Sharpied message Gᴏᴏᴅʙʏᴇ Sᴀᴍᴍʏ, while in the sink is a bloody meat heap with a dog collar mixed in; another balloon rests atop the mess with the current date and time. Emma cries out and backs into the hall, and a clown hand comes from behind to give her the old familiar face-grab.
She opens her eyes and it’s morning. Emma’s completely hysterical and trying to call the police. Heather is suddenly the cool-headed one, trying to calm her friend and telling her it was all a dream. But one wonders: where’s Sammy?
It looks like the killer clown has chosen a new playmate.
Okay. It’s opinion time.
I’ll try not to be harsh.
When I saw CLOWNTERGEIST scroll past in my VUDU feed, I thought Terrific! The first in a slew of films clutching firmly to the greasepaint-and-red-balloon coattails of IT (2017). I rented it, streamed it, watched it . . . and I was right.
What I was hoping when I pushed PLAY was that it would be a decent hastily-made clown film.
If my little interjections during the recap of the prologue above didn’t clue you in, I was disappointed—and the prologue perfectly encapsulates why: characters doing and saying things that don’t make sense, or are out of demonstrated character, simply because they serve the plot.
What makes me angry about this film—and I actually am kind of pissed off about it—isn’t the obvious coattail riding; it’s the kids. When the prologue was over, and the main story began, and we met Heather, Emma, and Jonah, I had a moment of lightness in my heart. I thought—for a good ten minutes—that this was going to be one of those movies that rose above my expectations, that despite my fully intending to bag on the thing, it would turn out to be a decent (if low-budget) film that I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would (see my review of OUTCAST  for one of those).
Brittany Belland, Monica Baker, and Sean Patrick Murray were the bright spots in this movie. They delivered their lines believably, and acted with emotion. When seeing just the kids together—and the girls had more scenes together without Sean, sorry Sean—you could forget you were watching actors and think of them as people. Never having seen them (to my knowledge) in anything else, I couldn’t tell you whether they were acting the characters well or if they were simply being themselves and feeling comfortable in front of the camera. I can tell you, however, that whatever they were doing was working.
It goes downhill from there. Burt Culver, if you’re reading this, I understand from your filmography you’re an experienced actor, and for that I’ll offer you an out: with the dialogue you had to work with, I can’t imagine anyone giving a really believable performance. Burt plays Mr. Randal, if you’ll remember, the prologue victim’s father. Randal spends the early part of this film urging the police to find his daughter’s killer; then, once he’s identified Emma as Ribcage’s (yes, the clown, played by Eric Corbin, is named Ribcage) next victim, trying to protect her from her supernatural assailant and keeping her from winding up like his daughter.
But why, I hear you asking, does he hassle the police to find his daughter’s killer if he already knows who it is?
I don’t know.
Why is he toting a crossbow around, instead of a gun?
I don’t know. (Possibly something having to do with permits while shooting a film?)
Why, if all he ever talks about is his daughter, does he never, ever say her name?
This is true, and kind of a pet peeve with me about this movie: for the first seven minutes (the prologue) this film is practically a one-woman show. Then the girl’s father spends all his time trying to avenge her in some way. She’s a topic of discussion throughout the film, but even between the kids she’s always referred to as “Mr. Randal’s daughter.” Who does this? Sharon Tate, JonBenét Ramsey, even Baby Jessica; we tend to speak of the victims as people. Floopdoodle Randal would have sounded more natural to me than saying Mr. Randal’s daughter all the time!
Here’s an example of poor Burt’s dialogue—about his nameless daughter, of course—from when Randal stops in at the ice cream shop roughly twenty-four hours after his daughter fell victim to Ribcage’s clowny bloodlust:
“She was having a very bad week and she, I don’t know, she was talking about nightmares and paranormal encounters.”
She was talking about nightmares and paranormal encounters? That sounds more like notes about dialogue than dialogue itself. Can’t Randal (who also lacks a first name, by the way) say anything specific, or personal about young Floopdoodle? It’s like he’s relaying a conversation someone else had with her and just told him about. So much of the dialogue is stilted and awkward like this I kept pausing the movie to talk to the screen, mocking the characters and asking them why they said a particular thing. Unfortunately for Burt, Randal’s dialogue was worse than the kids’—and please, don’t get me started on Pops.
The characters are written just as awkwardly, simply doing things simply to funnel the plot toward the climax. Heather starts out as the easily-flustered and panicked one, but when Emma starts to panic, someone needs to tell her what to do, so Heather’s suddenly the calm, collected one. Until Jonah’s around—then she can go back to being flustered. Of course, once Jonah goes away . . .
Plot, dialogue, special effects—it’s like I said earlier: Brittany Belland, Monica Baker, and Sean Patrick Murray were the bright spots in this movie, but instead of being the pedestal holding them up, the rest of the film was quicksand sucking them down, and the other actors became casualties along the way. There are going to be a bunch of IT tagalongs, and there’s nothing we can do about that; all we can hope for is that the writers and directors take more care than this; if they do, they almost can’t help putting out a better film.
CLOWNTERGEIST (2017): I just watched it so you don’t have to.
There. Now that I’ve bashed a clown, maybe I can find a nice mime to attack . . .
If you’ve got a film you’d like to shout out about, a monster movie you feel the world’s just got to see, please, let me know about it in the comments below—or if you’re shy, you can always shoot me a line through the Contact Us page.
I’d love to hear from you.
I do love me some monster movies.
© Copyright 2018 by Rob Smales