By Gary Chambers (Irving, TX)
Clownado recently ripped into my mailbox and was quite a pleasant surprise. It’s a deliberately off the rails, over the top splatterfest. A campy romp of a dark humor, horror and pure exploitation that entertains without pretense. It knows what it is and it does not pretend to be anything but a fun B-Movie. And it’s refreshing.
There’s an actual plot going on here. A love triangle goes terribly wrong at a rather dark, nasty circus and the horrible guy who owns the place, Big Ronnie, kills the “other guy” and frames his girl Savannah for cheating in the first place. Unless she helps him cover it up and she takes part in the show each night so he can torture and humiliate her in front of the crowd. Savannah goes to her friend for help, the Circus Gypsy, who also is pretty good at black arts and spells. Together they blast Big Ronnie and his friends with a nasty spell to kill them with a Black Magic storm. Of course something goes very wrong and the Clowns and Big Ronnie are sucked into and fuzed with the storm. I actually liked this idea better than the many other ways it could have gone. It added some depth and the actual scenes with the Gypsy, Autumn Moonspell were pretty impressive for such a low micro-budget film. 70s Drive In Movie icon Jeanne Silver chews the scenery nicely and does an admirable job of making Autumn shine as a Witch with a heart of gold.
Next thing we know, Big Ronnie and his Clown posse are rampaging through the small town, using the Tornado / Storm as a means of transportation. They tear through the town and attack anyone who gets in their way of Revenge.
Savannah tries to run and ends up in a Diner where she involves several other characters that we meet along the way. There’s the Jack Burtonish Hunter Fidelis, the awesome Black Elvis impersonator Dion, a Stripper who kicks ass Bambi, a runaway teen named Rachel and even a pilot named Memphis Hawk. Along the way we also have great cameos from Linnea Quigley as Spider (the character she played in Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-o-rama) and the diner owner is Eileen Dietz who many know from The Exorcist but has also done many genre films. This group must figure out a way to stop the Clownado before the whole town is destroyed. There’s also a pretty fun Sheriff character who has some great lines.
Overall, I enjoyed the cast considering this is a lower than low budget film. Everyone puts great energy into their parts and they play it straight against the dark humor, making it even funnier. I would have liked more action from Black Elvis, he would start to go over the top but never went all the way. He’s a great character, but not Antwoine Steel’s best portrayal. Maybe a younger actor would have brought more vitality to the role. Hunter as portrayed by Bobby Westrick really carries the “People caught in the middle” cast for the most part, but Dilynn Fawn Harvey’s Bambi character has some standout moments as well.
The Clowns are just so damned good, that it’s hard to compete. My two personal favorites are of course Big Ronnie, who REALLY makes the most of his screen time and Satchel, the girl clown. She truly shines in her many scenes. But this is all about Big Ronnie as played by John O’Hara. He is probably one of my favorite screen villains in some time and a real surprise. Also, his lady Savannah, played to perfection by newcomer Rachel Lagen is the perfect Femme Fatale. The scenes with her and Big Ronnie crackle with intensity and sarcasm. Great chemistry between them really helps their scenes flow. And the best joke is that they both talk like they stepped out of a Film Noir from 1945. Like they are stuck in some crazy time warp. I loved that part. It was funny and original. Some may be put off by it if they don’t know their film history, but I liked the added layer. The Circus Clowns are all diverse and they talk the same way. Painted Wise Guys with a penchant for slaughter.
These ravenous Clowns rip through everything and everyone in their determination to destroy and sometimes devour the town… even giving birth to a truly insane variation on the lunatic laughers that must be seen to be believed. The film is full of winks and homages to exploitation films that inspired it. There’s even a great scene obviously inspired by the trash classic Mausoleum where Satchel dispatches a character with her tooth filled, drool dripping carnivorous cleavage. One of my favorite scenes in the film.
Abundant outrageous gore, a frenetic pace and knowing nods and jokes from the filmmakers pervade the proceedings, yet technically, Clownado is very sound. The lighting is damned near perfect, In fact, the visual look of the film, the decided upon style, is downright stunning, with lighting inspired by not only Italian Horror but Film Noir films of days past. The camera composition is also well thought out and framed. Each frame is artistic and fun, while keeping the action exactly where it needs to be. Sound is crisp and clear and the music is really well done as well. Overall, for an incredibly micro-budgeted movie, it looks and sounds better than one would think. In some cases, it really shines.
Also for a film of this budget, there are many locations, tons of stunts, a small amount of pretty good CGI (about Sy-Fy level) and all of the gore effects are practical. There’s a great scene involving the characters trying to escape through a series of duct tunnels that really shows the creativity and imagination and how the cast and crew were able to stretch the budget as well.
Director Todd Sheets shows growth as a filmmaker on every film and Clownado is no exception. This is a different vibe for the micro-budget maverick, injecting humor and a fun atmosphere much more than his films of the past. There’s always an underlying dark humor in films like Dreaming Purple Neon, but both House of Forbidden Secrets and Bonehill Road were much more serious. There were still moments of humor, but nothing this over the top. As such, I really enjoyed the change, as Sheets infuses his scenes with a lunatic energy that makes Clownado wholly original.
I’ve seen many articles claiming this to simply be a “cash in” or rip off of Sharknado, but it just isn’t the case. There is nothing in this movie that resembles the Sy-Fy series in any way.
It isn’t a perfect film, but how can it be? Films like these already have so much stacked against them from the beginning, and to attempt something this epic and ambitious is pretty crazy, but Clownado succeeds much more than it fails. Small flaws can be seen here and there, and I really wanted that Black Elvis to go full Kung-Fu Fighting here, but overall, it was entertaining and fun. If you like B-Movies, give this one a chance. Don’t expect glossy Blumhouse style fare, just go with it and enjoy the ride. I give major accolades to Todd Sheets and his team of inmates who were crazy enough to put this together. It’s not high art, but it sure is trashy fun.