Tim Curry Ruined My Childhood: A Guide to Evil Clown Movies

IT005

I watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space this weekend. I had eyed it warily for weeks as it sat in my Netflix Queue, intrigued by the campy title but also anxious about the titular clowns. “Not yet,” I would mutter, gazing at the screen from my pantsless couch cocoon. “Not yet.”

couch-potato-cat

You see, I watched the miniseries of Stephen King’s It one Halloween in the mid-90s and have dreaded clowns ever since. It’s a tale as old as time. Civilian Tim Curry is, I would argue, already way too creepy for children. When you tart him up in clown makeup and tell him to go around devouring people… he’s just so scary. “How scary is he?!” the obliging audience asks. Tim Curry in It isso scary that for years I couldn’t take a shower without first checking the drain for clown occupancy. (The killer clown emerges from shower drains; it’s not that weird an instinct.)

It Shower Scene

I eventually gathered the courage to watch Killer Klowns (by courage, I mean “alcohol” and “my boyfriend”), and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s pretty fun and, more importantly, not at all scary, for several reasons: one, the movie is really silly (which I probably should have gathered from the title); two, the clownswear masks, which for some reason minimizes the terror factor; three, the clowns speak some squeaky alien language (compare this to Tim Curry’s soul-vibrating English accent and the alien clowns seem more like Furbies than Ancient Forces of Darkness).

64553-16

What makes Curry’siteration of the Evil Clown is how uncannily like a real clown he can be, jovial while also a bit too odd. Then the claws come out. The villains of Killer Klowns are unrecognizable mounds of rubber. They look like someone painted a clown face on a stack of mashed potatoes, rendering the film more science fiction than horror.

What It gets to the heart of is the horror in the everyday, the terrifying forces threatening to burst from within the mundane. Listed below are a few of the key elements of a successful use of the Evil Clown trope.

1. No real back story or motive

KlownKampMassacre-2010-2

Killer clowns are way scarier if they don’t have some element of mystery to them; I think Pennywise is far more terrifying when you don’t know that the clown is only one facet of an inter-dimensional predatory life form. I haven’t seen Klown Kamp Massacre (apparently Friday the 13th with clowns), but knowing that the killer clown in this movie kills because he was failing clown college makes the whole thing more silly than scary.

2. Scary-Ass Teeth

images-15

I mean, come on. Toothy smiles are scarier than any other facial expression.

3. Child victims

pennywise-the-clown-meme-killing-kids

Evil clowns are at their scariest when they terrorize children. It’s something about their abuse of that vulnerability that cuts through all of your carefully curated, adult cynicism and makes you regress to a primal fear.

4. Dangerous, but not rabid

MV5BMjQ2NDkxOTA4M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjk2OTk2Nw@@._V1_SY317_CR4,0,214,317_

Does Pennywise occasionally grow fangs and claws? Yes, but only after charming you into getting close. Clowns foaming at the mouth are boring. There’s no art there. You know what’s scarier? Fucking Hannibal Lecter in clown make-up, artfully waiting to pounce.

Advertisements

A Helpful Guide to Your Halloween Movie Marathon Because You’re a Big Kid Now Dammit

tumblr_m6ny89aqWK1qmyzc7

Aw, shucks, you’re too old to trick or treat? Too unAmerican? Too… European? I bet you’re too European.

french

Anyway, you’ve found your way to this blog post because your plans for this Halloween include a couch and cinematic entertainment, not super grody pub crawls or begging for candy or leaving your house. I love Halloween, but I’ve indulged in the time-honored tradition of movie-couching this lovely holiday since I was but a wee, cynical tween. When I was in 6th grade, I dressed up like Fairuza Balk from The Craft, but instead of joining my little brother in trick-or-treating I stayed home alone, watching Halloween movies and grumpily handing out candy. It was awesome, and it’s a tradition I’ve more or less honored every year since, with the exceptions of college Halloween party shitshows THAT DO NOT BEAR MENTIONING.

So, who better than me to guide you through the sometimes-depressing, mostly fun experience of the Halloween Movie Marathon? Let me be the Gothy-Tween-Virgil to your Zombie-Dante.

Rule #1: Dress up.

halloween-costume-fail-037

I don’t care if you’re alone, if you’re movie-marathoning because you weren’t invited anywhere, if LITERALLY NO ONE will be seeing your costume but you. Dressing up will make you feel better and set the appropriate mood for the movie marathon. If you don’t dress up, then it’s just a horror movie marathon, and you can have those year round. And, if your costume is particularly cool and/or adorable and/or hilariously awful, you can share it with all your social media friends. See, in the internet age, you’re NEVER ALONE.

Rule #2: Lights out or GTFO.

are-you-afraid-of-the-dark-title-card

What do you mean, you’ll get scared if you do this movie marathon in the dark? Letting yourself get scared is essential to this cinematic experience. To allow yourself to be frightened by these movies is to momentarily loosen your grip on reality, to pack away your ever-present cynicism and, for just a moment, to believe in magic. Super creepy blood magic.

Rule #3: Refreshments.

tumblr_lvi8e55aMW1qjvzt6

I’m not going to dictate that you have popcorn balls and candy corn at your viewing (ALTHOUGH IF YOU INVITE ME, YOU FUCKING BETTER). I will recommend you have your favorite seasonal treat available in abundance. Pumpkin ale? Sure. BooBerry cereal? Also fine. And if you dislike most seasonal snacks, nibble what you like. The upside of intentionally discomforting yourself with horror movies is that you get to stuff your face with comfort food.

Rule #4: Keep social networking to a minimum, unless you’re doing more sharing than consuming.

tumblr_men7hwra2Z1qltqg1

For a couple of reasons: A) Parties and pub crawls always look way more fun on Instagram than they actually are, so if you’re movie-marathoning alone, it might bum you out. But no fear! Just don’t look at other people’s stuff. Post your own. You’re having way more fun, I promise. And B) If you’re doing this movie marathoning as a group, it’s super distracting for one person to be on their phone all night just browsing Tumblr. C’mon, don’t be rude.

Rule #5: Alternate between Hardcore Horror and Horror Comedies

Pennywise-stephen-kings-it-34038935-243-339

Consider this system a palate cleanser. Scary movies will be scarier after a comedy, comedies will be funnier after watching someone saw off their own hand.

Some recommendations:

A Quadrilogy of Classics: Dawn of the Dead, Shawn of the Dead, Halloween, Ghostbusters

Or

The Cabin Quadrilogy: Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2, Evil Dead (2013), Cabin in the Woods

Or

Totally 90s Quadrilogy: I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream, The Faculty, Idle Hands

Thanks, and have a spooky Halloween, y’all.

MJTHRILLERdance

 

Tiny Jaws: Is Piranha Parody or Just Inept?

20131007-185256.jpg

(This week’s post is a generous contribution from the inimitable Brent Williams, my movie-watching partner. Go follow him on Twitter @twelvepointfont in anticipation of the day he actually uses it. -Sarah the Squeam Queen)

I find myself conflicted on what to say about Piranha. Wikipedia tells me that it me that it was a parody of Jaws, but It never felt self-aware enough for me to think of it as a Parody. I laughed at it in much the same way I would laugh at a Parody. There were over-the-top characters and a situation not entirely dissimilar to Jaws, but I never felt that Jaws was the subject of this movie. Piranha definitely felt like its own bit of camp.

images-11

Not that kind of camp

The movie starts with the customary expendable teenage couple breaking into an abandoned military facility, much as we all have done once or twice in our youth. The pair then proceeds to swim in what is questionably water. The boyfriend waits until they’re already swimming in the green liquid to raise the idea that it may be sewage. This being a monster movie about piranhas, you can probably guess how the rest of the scene goes.

images-13

They die, and give our female protagonist (who is good at finding people and wants to find the aforementioned couple for reasons I’m too lazy to look up) a reason to head into the mountains near the abandoned military facility and stumble upon a our male protagonist, named Paul.

Heather Menzie

Paul is an unreliable drunk, but Maggie, the female protagonist I mentioned earlier, knows that he is just the man to help her find the missing couple. As it turns out, Maggie is right, and Paul’s alcoholism is never an issue. Paul is one of the most capable characters in the movie. He has shared custody of his daughter, and by the end of the movie, he saves a lot of lives. The early scenes establishing him as a drunk only really serve to justify the fact that some people are assholes toward Paul.

Maggie and Paul arrive at the abandoned military facility and find a lab filled with tanks of mutant fish. There’s a claymated mutant thing watching them from the corners that you surely think will be reincorporated or at least be some sort of variation of the movie’s main monsters, but no. The piranhas of this movie are just silhouettes of normal piranhas. Clearly, there is something more interesting going on in this lab, and I want to see that movie.

Paul (or maybe Maggie) hits a lever to drain the green water from the pool where the teenagers were eaten. Seeing this, a man attacks. He’s subdued and we learn that he is a scientist. This a very interesting character, because we learn that he’s just been fucking around with mutant Piranha all by himself ever since the Vietnam War ended. He’s made them more and more dangerous without any real reason for doing so. Also, he’s put these unnecessarily deadly fish in a pool that drains to the river. So, now the piranha are free and headed downriver toward the camp where Paul’s daughter is. Paul, Maggie and the scientist set off down the river on a raft to warn people about the Piranhas. For some reason, all non-piranha-infested means of transportation aren’t an option. Calling ahead to the camp fails because the head counselor is one of those assholes I mentioned earlier.

Paul’s friend Jack lives downriver, and we see him on the edge of his dock with his feet in the water, drunk and telling jokes to his dog. When The Piranhas attack him, he screams and screams, but makes no effort to pull his feet from the water. When Paul, Maggie and the scientist (a new band name I’m considering) find him, he’s dragged himself from the water, but he’s dead, and there’s nothing but bone where his lower legs once were. This kind of horrifying power is never seen again.

piranha

Shortly after finding Jack, the scientist throws himself in the water to pull a kid off of a capsized canoe being attacked by piranhas. Honestly, when I saw what the scientist was doing, I thought that he was trying to kill himself and the kid. Those same piranhas stripped Jack’s leg of flesh in the time it took him to lift them from the water, but the scientist manages to swim thirty feet and drag himself and the kid through the water and onto the raft. He does die, but the kid doesn’t seem to get a scratch on him.

images-14

Kids must be invincible in this universe in the same way they are in Skyrim, because when the fish do eventually get to the camp (which happens after some nonsense with the military and a dam), the kids spend five minutes flopping around five feet from the shore without much injury to any of them. The only casualty from the attack is a camp counselor who is somehow pulled underwater by tiny fish.

Things work out fine for the kids, but Maggie and Paul soon have to save a resort, because the owner is the type of idiotic movie villain who ignores the monster until it’s too late. Maggie and Paul arrive as the resort is being attacked. 

piranha-2-525x284

 

Having no real way to help, they steal a speed boat to see if they can go downriver to the old coal mill to dump the leftover chemicals into the river and kill the piranhas before they reach the ocean and spread to other rivers. And that’s what they do. They save the world by polluting.

Overall, I enjoyed this movie. It’s good for a laugh. It’s the type of campy fun I like to find on Netflix (or whatever video streaming service decides to sponsor Sarah’s blog).

Special thanks to my photo editor.

Yogurt Zombies: A Review of The Stuff

the-stuff-re-issue-20110803001234070-3500651

Movie: The Stuff (1985)

Availability: Streaming on Netflix

Hide Under Blanket Moments: Zero. Too incompetent to really scare anyone, even me.

Naked Dude Sightings: Zero. Goddammit. Not that any of the dudes in this movie made me all helloooooooo, especially not Paul Sorvino. Sorry, Paul Sorvino.

images-2

Plot Synopsis Pulled From Sketchy Internet Source: “A delicious mysterious goo that oozes from the Earth is marketed as the newest dessert sensation. But the sugary treat rots more than teeth when zombie-like snackers begin infesting the world.” –IMDB

Mini-Review: The central premise could be a clever satire in the hands of someone (anyone?) else. America’s food industry is pretty ripe for a takedown, but The Stuff is crushed by the weight of its own incomprehensible plot, or, like the film’s Yogurt-Zombies, explodes due to build-up of nonsense-goo. Pick your own metaphor. This movie is terrible, but the first 2/3 or so is really watchably terrible.

Goes best with: Ice cream. Or frozen yogurt. I’ve gotten really into Greek Go-Gurt recently (because I’m making a compromise with my impending adulthood, I guess? Like, I’ll eat healthier desserts, but only if they’re in a plastic tube with a cartoon skateboarding rabbit on it) and that goes pretty well with a Stuff screening.

tumblr_m500k4fTHx1qi31uxo1_500

Review: Hey, wanna talk about the unsustainability of America’s food industry? Consumer ignorance? Corporate irresponsibility? How these factors contribute to the ever-widening distance between our farms and our tables? No? Good, because I’m only vaguely interested/absolutely unqualified to hold court on this. The Stuff knows even less about these things than I do, even accounting for its inability to see into the future. But, like that one dude at the party you feel bad about wanting to fuck, it has no problem discussing at length a topic about which it has very little knowledge.

Great horror movies are memorable because they’re grotesques of our society’s biggest faults and moral blind spots. Ultimately, they hold up a funhouse mirror to the audience. A good example: Dawn of the Dead’s subtle commentary on mounting American consumerism. Or most episodes of the original Twilight Zone series. I think this is what The Stuff is going for, but I also think that it was derailed at every level of its production. Writing? Terrible. Direction? Terrible. Effects? Fucking awful. Acting? The adults are okay, but the child actor, upon whom much of the film’s moral weight rests, is terrible and annoying and you, like me, will probably be rooting for his death 15 minutes into the movie.

010TheStuff

Also, there’s a whole, terrible military subplot that mostly makes no goddamn sense (the military group’s home base is located at what my boyfriend called “Castle MacGuffin”). This plot thread stretches the already-strained Big Picture thing the movie is going for. Instead of saying, “Look at yourselves, audience!” the movie is more like, “Hey, look at… wait, no, what? Like, yogurt is bad, maybe? But military’s worse, kind of? Hey, look, it’s Paul Sorvino!”

images-2

The Stuff wants to be Dawn of the Dead. It is not. Dawn of the Dead had a brain, and a voice and point of view. The Stuff doesn’t and, worse, thinks it does. This is what makes it a great terrible movie. It doesn’t just fail, it does so with confidence. I hate this quality in people: confident incompetence is the fucking worst when it’s your dickhead coworker or most of your local politicians. But terrible movies like The Stuff are at their best when they boldly go to new, shitty depths.

tumblr_lig315Zi5H1qgmivlo1_500

Go, watch The Stuff. Enjoy responsibly, fellow adults. *toasts you with Go-Gurt tube*

Vamp: the Horror Virgin Saga Continues

vamp1

The first time I watched Vamp, I had just graduated from college, started my first real job (with a real life adult salary and rules about using Tumblr on my office computer and everything), moved cities, and all of my friends and my superhot boyfriend—did I mention I have a superhot boyfriend?—were living in different states and countries.

While I felt really lucky (mostly because the adults in my life think 22-year-old English Lit grads with salaries are rarer than self-immolating unicorns), I was also anxious and scared and slightly miserable. My real life terror about rent, love, friendships, artistic integrity, my legacy and the alarming lack of counter space in my bathroom finally surpassed my reservations about the horror genre. I could laugh in the face of Murder Clowns and Pleasure Monsters from Hell. Horror movies, if anything, were an outlet for my quarterlife crisis and resulting cushy, privileged anxiety. A monster that gets sucked back into hell after 90 minutes of terrorizing virgins was way preferable to the crippling self-doubt I was fighting day and night.

This movie was the catalyst for my summer of coping with adulthood through fake blood exposure (which is also the title of my first self-help book, probably). So, without further self-reflection, I give you Vamp:

tumblr_mabm4300xl1rnm1ldo1_500

Movie: Vamp

Availability: Streaming on Netflix

Hide Under Blanket Moments: 2 (elevator danger and cockroach snacking)

Naked Dude Sightings: Zero, although we do get some bare upper dude body for a second

Plot Synopsis Pulled from Dubious Internet Source: “Two fraternity pledges go to a sleazy bar looking for strippers to entertain their college friends. They have problems with transportation, Biker gangs, and worst of all, the staff of the bar, all of whom seem to be vampires, with Grace Jones playing the head vampire.” –Some Rando on IMDB

5-Second Review: Grace Jones is mesmerizing in sometimes cool, sometimes goofy ways, the main characters are a little dull, lots of the movie makes very little sense, it’s about 20 to 30 minutes too long, but it’s also pretty fun and I recommend starting your own horror journey with it.

Goes best with: Champagne and pizza. Blood and cockroaches if you really want an immersive Vamp experience.

Top 5 “Wait…no… What?” Moments

5. This apparently color-coded gang of people you think are vampires but (spoiler) are not actually

Snow-and-his-goons

The first odd thing is that membership in this gang seems contingent upon being an albino man or black woman. We meet them when our protagonists offend them somehow (so testy, these cultural stereotypes), and there’s a bit of a rumble among them before the dude-bros can escape to Vampire Strip Club of Death Featuring Grace Jones. This confrontational scene in the diner deals in some pretty obviously terrible stereotypes, relying on culturally embedded characterizations of albino people as evil and black women as savage or bestial (the black women don’t actually use any words in the scene, instead communicating through growls). We’ll be seeing this gang throughout the movie. I hate that this has to be said, but denying characters (especially those who are members of marginalized groups and are thus infrequently represented in mainstream fare) of their basic humanity in representation is shitty. Huge duh.

4939_5

What’s weird about the gang is that they’re presented as vampires. The viewer assumes they’re vampires. They show up after dark. They seem super evil. The men are pale, and the film focuses on the women’s teeth. These are codified vampire things. But they’re not, which you don’t find out until the end and not even in a twist-y kind of way, but in a “how did you not know they weren’t vampires?!” kind of way. Like, I don’t know, man. They were doing some hardcore vampire shit.

4. The Implausible Strip Club Dead Zone

outsiders-1

Our protagonists. Would do and would do.

The two main characters are frat pledges who want to be frat-bros (because hot babes, bro, tubular) so they make a deal with the Super Important Bros (what are they actually called? Ministers of Fratitude?): they’re in, IF they can find a stripper for the frat’s party that night. But, oh no, where are they gonna find a stripper?! So, our heroes get a ride to the nearest place they can find strippers, some city that is hundreds of miles and several hours away.

Yes, reader, you read that correctly. This movie’s entire plot is set in motion by the following conditions: A) this fraternity has no existing infrastructure in place for stripper/exotic dancer procurement and has to outsource the task to a couple of freshmen, B) there are no women who strip in a moderately-sized college town, and C) there are no women who strip within hundreds of miles of this moderately-sized college town. I adamantly call bullshit on all three counts.

Were you to reverse the genders of strippers involved here, I might buy it. I feel like I’ve been searching for a male strip club in each successive town I’ve moved to and have yet to find one. I have, however, been able to find venues advertising female strippers pretty much everywhere. There used to be a law in my state that the capital had to be located so that it was possible to reach it by horse in one day from any location in the state. I’m pretty sure a similar rule has been written into the constitution. But it’s on a national level, and instead of the capital it’s a strip club.

3. The Guy Who Played Long Duk Dong Doesn’t Play a Racist Stereotype in this Movie

imagesMV5BNTAwNDUwNjM1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODIxMjEyOA@@._V1._SX640_SY437_

Our heroic dude-bros need to get an implausible ride to Stripperville. Wanna know who they get the ride from? Some obnoxious rich asshole… played by Gedde Watanabe! AKA the guy who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles in 1984! AKA the worst Asian character of the 1980s (seriously, the fucking ’80s which, you’ll agree, was not our nation’s most culturally sensitive decade)! Amazingly, though, Watanabe doesn’t play a super offensive Asian caricature who’s more of a joke than a person. He’s just a normal dude with too much money and an obvious desperation for friendship. His ethnicity isn’t played for laughs! Woo, progress!

2. This guy might know this girl at the strip club from high school or something? But it doesn’t matter?

Duncan-and-Keith-meet-Amaretto

One of the protagonists knows this girl at the strip club (the only stripper who’s not a vampire). Or doesn’t. She keeps going, “I can’t believe you don’t remember me!” and he’s like, “Were you in my history class?” and she all playfully goes, “Um…no!” And then eventually she tells him where he knows her from, but it’s so boring I don’t even remember what it was and I don’t care enough to look it up.

1. Grace Jones.

vamp-1986-MOVIE-1

Everything she does.

vamp2

All of it.

images-1

Grace Jones gives the unsexiest strip tease I’ve ever seen in this movie. She reveals almost nothing. She does it in a red clown wig. And yet it’s mesmerizing.

Her character is supposed to be the vampiric version of Cleopatra, which is pretty spot on, because Jones radiates the glamour and confidence that makes it really plausible she’s one of history’s most iconic women. And the character is fucking boss. Men crumble at her feet or are literally devoured by her. Oh, also [SPOILER ALERT FOR THE BEST PART OF THE MOVIE]: when she’s killed by the light of day (boo!), the ash shell of her corpse gives the protagonist the finger. Bless you, Grace Jones, you glorious bad ass.

Grace Jones

Couldn’t find a screenshot from the ashy finger, but this is a beautifully photographed approximation.

Next week’s review will be of The Stuff, in which sentient low-calorie ice cream goes on a killing spree.

tumblr_lig315Zi5H1qgmivlo1_500