31 Days of Halloween — Day 18: ClownTown (2016) — by Dr. Shock

ClownTown 2016

Editor’s note: Dave “Dr. Shock” Becker is a host on Horror Movie Podcast and the Land of the Creeps horror podcast. He is also the mastermind behind DVDInfatuation.com, a movie review blog where he is watching and posting one review every day until he reaches at least 2,500 movie reviews. Follow Doc on Twitter: @DVDinfatuation.

The pre-title sequence for “ClownTown,” a 2016 horror film directed by Tom Nagel, is a tribute to John Carpenter’s “Halloween.” After a brief shot of a house (the mailbox has the name “Strode” on it), the action shifts to the backyard, where a babysitter in a bikini (Kaitlyn Sapp) is sitting by the pool, reading a bedtime story to youngsters Megan (Ava Joy Anselmo) and Ricky (Nathan D. Goins). Megan is a lively, outgoing young girl, but Ricky is withdrawn, and never so much as utters a word. Shortly after tucking the two kids in for the night, the babysitter receives a call from their parents, telling her there’s been a train derailment nearby, and that they’re on their way home. Moments later, the babysitter is startled by a sound, and upon investigating, finds Ricky, out of bed and dressed in a clown costume. In an attempt to catch him, the babysitter follows Ricky upstairs, where she has an unfortunate run-in with the business end of a meat cleaver.

The nods to “Halloween” are obvious, and it’s possible that “ClownTown” was designed to show audiences what might have happened if, instead of centering on a serial killer named Michael Myers, Carpenter took his classic film in another direction, focusing on killer clowns that take over a small Ohio town. Having just now finished “ClownTown,” I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that there’s a damn good reason Carpenter went the route he did: “ClownTown” is a bad movie.

The film next jumps ahead 15 years. Two couples: Brad (Brian Nagel) and Sarah (Laure Compton), and Mike (Andrew Staton) and Jill (Katie Keene), stop at a roadside diner to ask for directions (because they’re in the middle of nowhere, neither their phones nor their GPS are working properly… surprise, surprise). Once they have the information they need, the good friends hit the open road, only to find a short time later that Jill left her cell phone back at the diner. When Sarah calls the missing phone, a man answers and tells them to meet him in the nearby town of Clinton, where he’ll gladly return Jill’s property. But instead of a Good Samaritan, the couples find themselves being stalked by several well-armed, psychotic clowns. Joining forces with two locals, and with the help of a slightly deranged guy named Frank (Greg Violand), Brad, Jill and the others are hopeful that they might survive this terrifying ordeal. But the clowns have no intention of letting their prey escape without a fight.

Supposedly inspired by a 2014 incident in Bakersfield, California, when a group of people dressed up as clowns and went around scaring the locals, “ClownTown” suffers from a number of problems, including sub-par performances and an over-reliance on some of the genre’s more tiresome clichés (seriously, doesn’t anyone in these films have a decent cell phone provider?). In addition, the entire mid-section of the movie features a lot of running and hiding, and little else besides. To get away from the clowns, our heroes duck inside an old school bus in the middle of a field. Convinced the coast is clear, they next sprint to an abandoned trailer, where they hide once again; and later, while scurrying around a deserted warehouse, they do their damnedest to avoid a pair of clowns. These repetitive scenes might have worked if they’d generated even the slightest bit of tension — but they don’t — and as a result, the movie spins its wheels for a fair portion of its runtime.

— Dr. Shock

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6 thoughts on “31 Days of Halloween — Day 18: ClownTown (2016) — by Dr. Shock


    Day 18 – Jack Goes Home (2016)

    Prior to watching Jack Goes Home, I knew absolutely nothing about the film other than it was apparently a new horror movie with a pretty likable cast including Rory Culkin (Scream 4), Lin Shaye (Insidious series), Britt Robertson (Under the Dome TV series), and Daveigh Chase (Ahhhh…Samara from The Ring). That alone sounded like a good enough excuse to check the movie out. The casting of Shaye was the first thing I liked about the film. Despite the fact that she does play loads of different roles, I’m so used to her playing strong, likable older characters that to see her playing Teresa, Jack’s bitchy mother, was a nice change from the tired old character of Elise Rainier. As the film went on, Teresa became more and more unlikable, although she’s a recent widow, you just can’t stop thinking that she’s far too rude even for her recent stress.

    For a lot of the movie, I was beginning to wonder if it was actually a horror movie and instead more of a psychological thriller. The only scene that creeped me out was Culkin’s character of Jack sleepwalking early on and Shanda (Chase) being unable to wake him. Looking off into space and only utterly gibberish still somehow remained the scariest moment of the entire movie, even when the horror came into play in the final half hour or so. Perhaps it’s because sleepwalking is very much so a real event and it’s an unsettling event to see someone awake, but not actually alert? Eventually though, the horror kicked in with various cases of ghostly happenings to Jack. Truthfully, I wasn’t a fan of this inclusion of ghosts because it went against the tone of the rest of the film. If you want to make a disturbing psychological thriller, awesome, make that film. However, don’t worry about about forcing some supernatural elements when there’s already enough going on.

    While watching Jack Goes Home, I started to get some strong Psycho vibes from it. As we neared the big surprise at the end of the film, not only did my connection to Psycho make sense, but I assume the similarities was done on purpose. One of the first similarities I noticed was the rough relationship that Jack had with his mother. While strained, Jack still tried to connect with her in some manner, but she refuses to accept it and speaks to her son in such a rude manner. While it was never explicitly stated, there was some weird sexual relationship going on between them. It’s not uncommon for Teresa to be in some various state of undress and there’s some vague mention of the pair snuggling together in bed at some point in the past. Late in the film, the connections are even more obvious as Jack kills his own mother with poison in her drink, the same way Norman Bates killed his mother. Then the big twist – it wasn’t just Jack’s father that died in the initial car accident, it was both of his parents. All of this time, Jack had had conversations with himself speaking as his mother. With the death of Rusty, the family dog, obviously Jack as his mother was the one responsible for the death. Still, at the very end of the movie, the creators still felt the need to include a bit of a supernatural touch to the film as we’re led to believe that Jack’s house is haunted to some degree. Again, I’m not into it and I would have preferred had Jack Goes Home remained strictly as a psychological thriller.

    Although the sleepwalking scene remained my pick for the scariest scene of the film, I feel the scariest aspect of the entire film was the willingness to learn more about your family, even though there’s things you may find out that you never want to learn. There’s a great emotional scene in the middle of the film as Teresa orders her son to keep listening to a brief audio clip of a recording that her husband had made her son. Dealing with the death of his own father, Jack was left to listen to his dad say he loved him over and over. It’s a touching scene, but also tense because the whole reason why the father recorded him saying he loved his son is because by finding the tape, the father knows that Jack is about to learn the awful truth about his early years. I suppose this creates a question, would you rather focus on the pure memory of your family or learn the full truth, knowing it may forever ruin that image? To me, that’s a scary question because it has nothing to do with horror and instead of a real life sort of question.

    As someone who has been a fan of watching Rory Culkin over the years, especially his lesser known movies such as Mean Creek, I felt this was Culkin’s best acting performance to date. By the end of the movie, Jack is bat shit crazy and he pulls it off beautifully. I also liked the fact that you didn’t always know what you were seeing was what you were really seeing. This is even before the reveal at the end of the film that Jack was insane. There’s times in the movie where Jack seems to have a daydream built around whatever stressful news he had just found out. Lastly, I enjoyed the reveals of what happened in the early years to Jack. It’s all awful, just awful stuff, but it sure hits you with an emotional response though. There’s one line spoken by Teresa that I don’t know how anyone could get over being told.

    Ultimately, I would say Jack Goes Home is a film all about grief, loss, and what all of that stress does to our psyche. From the very start of Jack’s life until where the film leaves off, it’s one traumatic death after another that altered his life. I have to really wonder if the entire reason why Teresa was cold and distant in the first place is only because of the premature death of Jack’s twin brother, Andy. Does Teresa only treat Jack awful because she blames him for her husband killing Andy due to mistakenly believing Andy was the baby that never stopped crying? With Andy around, perhaps Jack wouldn’t have ever been in the care of the neighbors that molested him. Obviously, the death of Jack’s father messed him up greatly, but it was the surprise reveal of the death of his own mother that started this grand delusion in the first place. Finally, there’s the news of his girlfriend’s miscarriage, the fact that Jack had unknowingly chosen the name of his deceased twin to name his unborn son, cutting away whatever loose ties Jack still had with reality.

    Overall, Jack Goes Home was a fairly interesting mystery/psychological horror with some much unnecessary supernatural horror thrown in for the hell of it. It seems as if the supernatural additions were just included for the sake of some jump scares, but I feel the film would have been stronger without it being included. Performances by Rory Culkin and Lin Shaye helped carry this film. It’s an interesting look at grieve and snapping because of that stress. Considering this is only writer/director, Thomas Dekker’s second film at the helm, I feel there’s some good potential for him as a director if he chooses to continue directing while also acting in other projects.

    Rating: 7/10

    • This one has been on my list, but I was on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to spend money on a rental or wait for it to hit Netflix. I gotta say, your review has left me on the fence…

      • I’d suggest giving it a few months and seeing if it pops up on Netflix. I doubt it’s a movie that will be in the top ten of the year, so you shouldn’t be in a huge rush to see it.

        When it does pop up on Netflix, it’d be worth streaming.

  2. Day 18 – Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

    This is a strange film that’s an amalgamation of the horror mainstream of the 80s. Keeping in mind that the first film in the Prom Night franchise is a rather conventional slasher, you’d expect this to follow suit, and it does… kind of. However, you can certainly tell it was released the same year as Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Though it more closely resembles Nightmare 2. In fact, most of this film is a mash up of a handful of films including the original Prom Night, Carrie, and Nightmare on Elm Street 1-3. It’s one of those films where you have to wonder… who is copying who. In this particular scenario it feels like it is taking a lot from the more successful predecessor films by De Palma and Craven. My big criticism of Hello Mary Lou will sound very Jay of the Dead… there are hardly any kills in this, and the kills that happen are fairly uneventful and take a really long time to get to. For a supernatural slasher it’s actually relatively tame. Much closer to some sort of bizarre teenage drama. The funniest thing bout this movie is that Michael Ironside gets top billing, but if you were to count he literally says less than 50 words. 4.5/10

  3. Day 18: The Shallows (2016)

    Rating: 8/10 (high-priority rental)

    — — — — — Contains spoilers — — — — —

    What I liked:
    – This is such a fun flick.
    – The juxtaposition of the beautiful setting with the horror that lies beneath.
    – The feeling that Nancy is so close to safety, but just can’t get there.
    – How the film clued us into Nancy’s plans using a combination of her Casio watch and talking herself through it.
    – The film is paced very well, alternating between high-tension moments and moments to catch our breath.

    What I didn’t like:
    – The shark’s CGI/appearance was inconsistent – sometimes it looked pretty good, and other times it looked like Deep Blue Sea.
    – The film is chock-full of over-indulgent lingering shots and slow-motion, which becomes a bit distracting.
    – Not quite sure why it opened with the mid-film spoiler clip.

  4. Day 18: Burying the Ex (2014)
    Rating: 6.5/10

    I really wanted to like this film but was ultimately disappointed. It’s a good movie, directed by Joe Dante and starring Anton Yelchin, but not enough horror for me.

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