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

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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.”

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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.)

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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).

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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

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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

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

3. Child victims

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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

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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.

Yogurt Zombies: A Review of The Stuff

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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

Squeamish to Screamish: the Horror Virgin Origin Story

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The thing about horror movies is that I didn’t watch them. Until this summer, the only scary movies I had seen were experienced in snippets: slices of movie viewed through the gaps between my fingers, a blur in my peripheral vision as I left the movie theater, and the stomach-churning sound effects which continued to reach me even as I buried my face in a couch cushion… that is, with one notable exception.

My family got a premium cable subscription when I was in my tweens–an ill-timed upgrade that gave an intensely sexually curious twelve-year-old access to the boobalicious world of late night cable. This was a couple of years before every savvy tween was streaming hardcore cake-sitting porn on their phones. So, I ravenously searched the cable guide for any and every upcoming movie promising nudity or sensuality. You know what film genre composes a surprisingly large portion of those hot R-rated treats I so desired? Yes, reader, it’s horror. Good job. You must have followed context clues. Also potentially titles of things.

So, you also understand, from the aforementioned horror movie aversion, that this presented my tween self with a dilemma.

“Watch the movie! Indulge your weird downstairs feelings!” said my hormones. “No, but… tension and inevitable gore. Alone. In your basement,” said my brain and also every fiber of my being that wasn’t my genitalia. “But potential male nudity!” I would counter (I always held out hope for some male nudity. Oh, those wasted hours of waiting for naked dudes who would never arrive!).

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My lady bits won, and so I would sit in an armchair in my basement with a blanket over my face waiting for the sex scenes to look at the screen. The first major obstacle was that people being gruesomely murdered in horror movies make the same sounds as people engaging in super-fun carnal activities in horror movies. With a blanket over my face, it was nearly impossible to tell the difference, so I would pop my head out, hopeful that I was hearing a really vocal sex scene only to watch a girl get her guts torn out with a fishhook.

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[Note: So, a quick thing about this whole female moans of pleasure and grisly death thing: if this were an essay for one of my gender studies classes, I would really delve into the problematic characterization of women as whores and victims in these films, noting how the female body is the object upon which the twin male fantasies of the sexual and the violent are enacted. This is, however, my first blog and I will save academic considerations of terrible horror films for later posts. Don’t you worry, readers, I will totally use the words “marginalized” and “dichotomy” a lot.]

Anyway, I ended up “watching” a lot of horror movies this way (under a blanket) for a couple of years, but went back to avoiding them completely when I was old enough to sate my prodigious horniness in less gory ways.

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Basically this.

Then, this summer, my boyfriend and I watched Vamp, a cult classic vampire stripper movie from the 80s starring Grace Jones (the picture at the top is Jones doing her thing in Vamp), and I began to become addicted to the movies that I had once only dared watch under the safety of an old blanket.

So, I will be recreating my cinematic journey here in the form of reviews of individual horror-ish movies in the order I watched them and discovered my love of the genre.

Expect the following reviews to come:

Vamp

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The Stuff (not really a horror movie, but it’s part of the journey and is also amazingly awful)

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Hellraiser

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Class of Nuke-Em High

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The Best of MST3K Horror Episodes (Including Manos: The Hands of Fate and Werewolf)

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The Evil Dead

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The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness (Army of Darkness isn’t really horror, but I can’t just review the first two and exclude the third)

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Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp Sequels (2-4)

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Return of the Killer Tomatoes (Again, not horror, but a dude fucks a tomato, so I’d be remiss to exclude it)

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