Directed by Victor Salva [Other horror films: The Nature of the Beast (1995), Jeepers Creepers (2001), Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003), Rosewood Lane (2011), Haunted (2014), Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017)]
As far as the plot’s concerned, there’s not really a lot to Clownhouse. Over the course of a few hours, three escaped mental patients, dressed up as clowns, terrorize three brothers in a large house. That’s pretty much it, but it works out well do to the solid tension and suspense through the film.
A large part of whether or not someone’s likely to find this creepy may be their feelings on clowns. Personally, I don’t know if I’ve ever even seen a clown in person, but I always felt they were a bit on the sinister side. There’s a lot of great scenes in this film showing these clowns in the background, or their gloved hands, and it’s rather creepy much of the time.
The three brothers (played by Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, and Sam Rockwell, the only one to make a career of acting) really act like brothers, with their constant bickering, some of it rather mean-spirited, and I certainly got the sense that while there were often unkind toward each other, deep down there was love there. Personally, I think all three brothers did pretty well – Rockwell was rather funny at times, McHugh showed solid sensitivity and maturity, and Winters, despite his oldest brother constantly picking on him, really fought back against the horrors they were facing.
It’s not until the final thirty minutes when all three brothers actually realize there are clowns prowling their property, but that doesn’t mean the movie was slow or without tension beforehand. The escaped mental patients really are messed up and creepy, especially their leader, played by Michael Jerome West (credited for some reason as ‘Tree’). The three of them, though West is most notable by far, are unsettling throughout the movie, and despite the plot not really being much, they make a lot out of it.
There are plenty of really solid scenes here, such as the fortune teller sequence (which really showcases the personalities of the brothers well), the scene in which the oldest and youngest brothers are walking to a store to pick up some popcorn (loved the clown chase here), and the scene early on with the real clowns in the circus show. With the music and the close-up on his face, that scene is still unsettling. And let’s not forget the scene in which the youngest kid first sees the clowns outside – again, damn creepy stuff.
Clownhouse doesn’t have that much going for it in terms of gore, but much like Halloween, it really doesn’t need any, as the tension carries it. I also love the music here, too – upbeat, jovial, carnival music, it really works well with the film and ratchets up the intensity.
When I first saw this film some years back, I was rather impressed with it. Seeing it again, even from a blurry and out-of-sync audio/video VHS rip, Clownhouse still impresses me. The director, Victor Salva, went on to direct what many consider a modern-day classic, Jeepers Creepers. Here, he made a solid film which isn’t demanding insofar as length goes, and is a rather enjoyable movie. It’s a shame that, given Salva’s history of sexual abuse, that this movie will likely never be given the praise it may well deserve. As for me, I quite enjoy this one.
This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.