The Clown at Midnight 1998 Review
The Clown at Midnight 1998
Directed by: Jean Pellerin
Starring: Christopher Plumber, Margot Kidder, Tatyana Ali
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
The emergence of Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996 had a similar effect on cinema as John Carpenter’s Halloweendid back in 1978. Once again top shelves of video rental stores were filled with colourful low budget knock-offs; so many in fact that Blockbuster Video reported that it was receiving four times the amount of Horror films from 1998 to 2004 that it had since the organisation’s birth in 1985. Although this was also due to the huge popularity of high-grossing titles such as The Blair Witch Project, The Sixth Sense and The Ring; Craven’s opus should be credited for its hand in the reemergence of horror as a bankable medium.
Today, in 2013, the slasher cycle is still alive, albeit barely, on the Direct-to-Video market. But as it has been over ten years since the Scream-inspired influx of stalk and slash titles, we can look back and analyse the difference between that period and the one from twenty years earlier. Whilst there certainly were weak entries released during the eighties (Don’t go in the Woods/Home Sweet Home etc), their lack of credibility was perhaps saved by the likes of ‘The Prowler‘ and ‘My Bloody Valentine‘, which were eminently superior and went on to become out and out horror classics. The more recent batch of titles did not give us anywhere near as many credible offerings to shield the brunt of the mediocrity and it’s a tough task to even think of a handful that could be considered worthy of a place amongst the elite.
The Clown at Midnight was released hot on the heels of Scream, taking the long-favoured approach of incorporating a killer clown into its synopsis. It tells the tale of seven drama students that are forced as part of their course work to clean and prepare a dilapidated theatre for re-opening. It had been closed for many years since a leading actress was brutally butchered by a maniac who escaped the scene without trial. The victim’s daughter, Kate Williams (Sarah Lassez), is among the eager group and upon her arrival she begins suffering flashbacks and visions of the fate of her mother. Before long, the group are locked in and the psychopathic clown makes an inevitable reappearance for his swan song performance.
If there is any credit to be given to this scarcely popular new-age entry, it has to be for the visible effort made by Jean Pellerin, the junior director. Some of the camera work is stylish and energetic and he has tried admirably to add a little ‘va va voom’ to the standard slasher template. However with that said, the film never breaks away from feeling tired, slow and woefully unauthentic, which has no doubt contributed to its lack of a global DVD release. Considering the fact that this was first circulated in 1998 by a relatively large studio, it can be considered a huge snub that it has been ignored by the digital format.
The main problem with The Clown at Midnight is that it feels bereft of effort from everyone else involved except the director. The players portray themselves lazily with minimal intent to bring the story to life, which is a shame as these are actors that have proved that they can do better elsewhere. Despite the inclusion of various so-called ‘stars of the future’, the dramatics remain distinctly sub-par throughout and show no depth. It’s left up to Christopher Plummer to inject some class, but even he’s slumming it here. Although a director is usually the point of blame if an entire cast are struggling, I somehow feel that these performers were only interested in the paycheque and didn’t seem particularly motivated by much else.
The mystery is smartly constructed and in fairness, you’ll do well to guess who it is that’s sporting the creepy clown attire. It’s just a shame that the twists and turns are made somewhat redundant by the film’s limp spine, which removes any hope of suspense. We are given a host of unappealing, arrogant and unlikeable faces to carry the story and even the stereotypical final girl is cold and hard. It seems to occur more and more regularly in recent times that I dislike the entire cast of a slasher film and The Clown at Midnight is destroyed by such a poor combination of characters. Without wanting to give too much away, it all closes with a corny ‘light-hearted’ ending, which was an unnecessary sugar-sweet topping to a cake that becomes harder to swallow with each mouthful.
I have seen that The Clown at Midnight is considered as the best killer clown movie since the psychological ‘Clownhouse’ on some message boards. That statement says more about the lack of quality in that sector of horror than it does about the credibility of this muddled effort. I first watched it many years back as a young student in Uni. I remember that I was lucky enough to be with an extremely hot girl called Faye and she was a huge fan of horror flicks. I enjoyed it thoroughly because she was the kind of girl that would flinch at every jolt in the soundtrack of a scary movie and each time that she did, my hands would ‘accidentally’ wander further down her top. After seeing her reaction, I remember feeling that The Clown at Midnight must have been good to have that kind of effect on her, even if she was something of a vulnerable viewer. Unfortunately after watching the film again so many years later, I was disappointed with not only its mediocre quality, but also with my ability back then to judge a decent performance. It’s surprising how our levels of awareness can change isn’t it?
There are reports of an uncut copy somewhere in existence, although these have neither been confirmed nor denied. A huge amount of gore would not subtract from the rest of the mess on display in The Clown at Midnight though and with the finances that Pellerin had at his disposal, this really should have been better. It does have its share of ambitious moments (The opening killing marks an excellent use of camera tricks and creativity), but overall it doesn’t have enough of them to warrant a purchase. I agree, there are not enough killer clown movies in existence, but the excellent ‘The House on Sorority Row‘ should always be placed miles and miles above this.
Killer Guise: √√√√
Final Girl: √