Tuesday, August 29, 2023

24 Hours of Movies: Clowns

by Patrick Bromley
Everybody loves a clown. So why don't you?
A lot of people are afraid of clowns. I get it! I've seen some movies where clowns live in sewers and eat kids! But they're not always scary. For proof, slap on some face paint and check out this marathon of clown-based movies I've programmed.

10 am - Limelight (1952, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
I like starting with a classic and I've never actually seen Limelight. Am I a bad movie fan? Charlie Chaplin plays a once-famous circus clown who saves a suicidal dancer from killing herself and they begin a friendship. This would be a great excuse to watch an unseen Chaplin, and I'm all the more excited to finally check it out because it apparently pairs him with Buster Keaton for some scenes. That's like the Freddy vs. Jason of the silent era (era). 

12:30 pm - Quick Change (1990, dir. Howard Franklin/Bill Murray)
From a movie I've never seen to a movie I've watched so many times as a kid I pretty much know it by heart, let's program the underrated '90s comedy Quick Change next. Bill Murray dresses up as a clown (the crying on the inside kind, I guess) to rob a bank alongside Geena Davis and Randy Quaid, but the trio finds it impossible to get out of the city. Dark and hilarious and endlessly quotable, Quick Change is a love/hate letter to New York and a movie in which every single actor brings 100% to even the smallest role. It's too bad that the recent stories about what a bastard Bill Murray was on set have soured me on the movie a little because I will always be Team Geena Davis.

2 pm - The Dark Knight (2007, dir. Christopher Nolan)
It's probably impossible to do a 24-hour clown marathon and not include at least one cinematic representation of the Clown Prince of Crime. Because I'm on a slight Christopher Nolan kick and because the late Heath Ledger did it better than anyone else, let's go with The Dark Knight. I'm probably not quite as high on the movie as its most fervent fans, but I think it's very good and has that propulsive Nolan energy that will help us not feel its length even in the context of a marathon. I miss a comic book movie that aspired to be something more and had ideas, in this case probably more ideas than it can handle.

4:45 - Shakes the Clown (1991, dir. Bobcat Goldthwait)
At 13, I was the exact target audience when this movie was released because I thought the idea of a raunchy movie about alcoholic clowns sounded like the funniest thing ever. It isn't, but I can appreciate what writer/director/star Bobcat Goldthwait was going for. Despite being one note and kind of miserable, there's still a lot to like in the movie, which also has the distinction of introducing me to Tom Kenney as Binky the Clown. I would later become obsessed with his work on Mr. Show. Just riff, man, riff!

6:30 pm - The Greatest Show on Earth (1952, dir. Cecil B. DeMille)
JB will kill me for programming this one, but we've already watched too many good movies in a row. Often called the "Worst Best Picture Winner Ever," Cecil B. DeMille's bloated spectacle is exactly the kind of nonsense for which I have too high a tolerance. The movie, about the goings on at a circus, gets the primetime slot because of Jimmy Stewart, who plays a clown with a secret. He never takes his makeup off. This movie is stupid and I don't mind it.

9 pm - Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988, dir. Stephen Chiodo)
We begin our transition into the overnight section of our marathon with this gem from the Chiodos. It's great gateway horror, perfect for this slot because the kids are still awake (provided The Greatest Show on Earth didn't knock them out) and can stay up a little late for this one. I love how many clown-based gags the Chiodos work into the movie, which features great clown designs and practical effects and committed performances from the entire cast. I don't necessarily need more movies like it to exist, but I'm glad this one does.

10:30 pm - House of 1000 Corpses (2003, dir. Rob Zombie)
God bless Rob Zombie for bringing Sid Haig back from obscurity and for making him one of the most iconic horror characters of the 2000s. I'm on record as liking or loving every Rob Zombie movie and it all starts here, still among my favorites in his filmography. It's very much a first film, held together with scotch tape, but there's a real voice on display and it owes so much to Tobe Hooper and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 that I can't help but love it.

12 am - Terrifier 2 (2022, dir. Damien Leone)
Obviously this was the inspiration for the entire marathon. I've been revisiting the Terrifier movies in pretty constant rotation since hosting the panels at Flashback and it's Art the Clown that gave me the idea for a clown-themed marathon to begin with (speaking of iconic horror characters of the 2000s). This is a leap forward from the first film in most ways: ambition, writing, direction, scale, effects -- everything. It has become one of my favorite horror movies of the 2020s, and while the running time might discourage us from programming it in the midnight slot, I like the idea of it being the fulcrum point of the marathon. I'll just have to tell Erika when to close her eyes. 

2:30 am - Ghosthouse (1988, dir. Umberto Lenzi)
Our Italian nonsense slot is being handed over to the great Umberto Lenzi. While this isn't one of his best movies -- he had kind of lost his fastball by the mid '80s -- I love it for being completely goofy. A HAM radio operator (that's right) and his friends investigate a supposedly haunted house where a family was brutally killed decades earlier; carnage ensues. Haunting the house is a little girl and her clown doll, which is in no way weird or scary. This is one of those Italian films that tries really hard to come off as American and fails at most of them, which only makes it that much more charming. 

4:30 am - Gags (2018, dir. Adam Krause)
A found footage film in the sense that it's pieced together from iPhone footage, police officer body cams, security footage, and news broadcasts, Gags (aka Gags the Clown) is an effective little indie shot and set in Green Bay, Wisconsin, about the panic that begins to settle in when a clown begins appearing all over the city. I have frustrations with the found footage style of filmmaking, but Gags approaches it in a smart way and finds moments to be both genuinely creepy and darkly funny. Clown horror movies are a dime a dozen so I give this one a lot of credit for doing something different.

6 am - Spawn (1997, dir. Mark A.Z. Dippe)
I mean, how else are we supposed to wake up?

8 am - 3 Ring Circus (1954, dir. Joseph Pevney)
I'm bookending this marathon with two movies I've never seen and hoping for the best. Limelight, I know, is a certified classic; I'm less certain about 3 Ring Circus, which stars Jerry Lewis as a wannabe clown and his longtime partner Dean Martin as his buddy who joins the circus with him after they leave the service. Apparently the filming of the movie was a nightmare and both Martin and Lewis were deeply unhappy (Martin even moreso); it's often credited with being the movie that sowed the seeds of their breakup. To be totally honest, I like Dean Martin a lot but I prefer Jerry Lewis's solo output to his Deano pairings, so I don't know what to expect from this one. I'll be happy to check it off the list and it's clearly a dry run for Jerry's work on The Day the Clown Cried, so it has some historical significance. If nothing else, it will end our 24 hours on an upbeat note.

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