One of the more unsavory aspects of being a reviewer of Independent cinema is that oftentimes I hear about (and get very excited about) a film and then wait years for it to actually emerge (Sometimes, like in the case of Joshua Bruce’s Burn In Hell they never do) This Is largely due to the fact that These directors can’t rely on the aid of big studios and executive teams to help them get the job done..In one way that is a great thing. It often makes way for much more enjoyable films due to the lack of PC worshiping bigwigs and talentless hacks impregnating the projects..but in another way it’s a pain in the ass because so long will pass before the fans actually receive the product.
Very few projects have had me as excited and interested for as long as Billy Pon’s Circus Of The Dead, a feature length Prequel (of sorts) to his simple yet brilliant Slasher short Doll boy, which I first heard about nearly five years ago.Fans of Doll boy have been patiently waiting for more of what lead up to the goings on in that delightfully depraved little film.. Who are the twisted clowns who drop off the victims? Where did Doll Boy come from? If only a few thousand people get into Heaven then why do Jehovah Witnesses try to sell it to everyone? Well last night I got an answer to all of those questions (except one…I’m still not exactly clear on where Doll Boy comes from) Five years is a very long time to wait for a film in today’s world of instant gratification and I was more then a bit worried that the film wouldn’t live up to the dark, devious image I developed of it..and it didn’t…It surpassed it by a long shot!
CIRCUS OF THE DEAD Introduces a trope of wicked clowns led by a sadistic rapist/murderer named Papa Corn. The trope goes from town to town selecting victims based on the pictures from a Loteria card deck. Papa Corn takes a particular interest in dissatisfied family man Donald Johnson, his cheating wife Tiffany and their two children when the group attends the small circus that the clowns travel with, selecting them for a deadly game that will make Donald question the very fabric of his morality as he struggles to do anything to get his children back.
Typically I avoid name dropping as a rule (there’s actually a literal rule here at B-is For Best that we don’t) but I’m going to make an exception for long time favorite Bill Oberst Jr. Oberst shines in every role he takes be it as a kick ass President (Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies), A quiet screen writer losing his mind (Deadly Revisions),or even A sexual Psychopath (Fetish Set) and his role as Papa Corn takes things to a whole new level.complete lack of any remorse and ability to be simultaneously completely logical and bat shit insane makes for a truly terrifying screen presence. I thought I was over my coulrophobia but it certainly flared up a bit with this picture. The other clowns in this film were just as creepy although for different reasons. Noodledome is a morbidly obese perpetually laughing man-child who comes across as Lenny with a serious case of the psychos. His child-like behavior only adds to the disturbing factor, coming across not as innocent but as unreachable. He can’t feel bad because he doesn’t know anything besides the brutality and he obviously enjoys it. Diminutive Mr. Jumbo is a a demonic imp of a clown, like Noodledome he communicates purely in the form of laughter but here we see not a bumbling idiot but a deceiver who uses his small size and laughter to disguise a very twisted very intent personality..that’s not to say that he isn’t insane,( we’re talking about a character that hides guns in hand puppets, and tries on silly glasses while a woman is being raped and murdered) but this little guy is calculating under all that crazy. Mr.Blister comes across as the most rational thinker in the group with his beatnik laid back attitude he almost comes across as a psychotic version of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. Unlike the others who come across as maniacal and completely consumed by bloodlust Mr.Blister is more business as usual. He has no problem with what’s going on but he’s not overly excited by it either..Out of all the characters he’s the one who made me wonder if perhaps he was once a victim of Papa Corn before he became part of the group. The irony is you would think that him being more subdued and calm then the other characters would have made him less interesting but the exact opposite is the case here.
The cinematography here is similar (but also a vast improvement from) Doll Boy with it’s use of browns, subdued lighting and atmospheric locations. It comes across as dirty and corroded which couldn’t be more appropriate for the mood and story and also manages to capture the shoddy, close quarters feel of small top circuses. There’s a film of filth on everything in this picture from the overused tents to the clowns themselves.
The gore here is excellent and more importantly it’s very imaginative. I’m going to avoid going into detail on this aspect because I feel that this film is best experienced as blind as possible..but let’s just say if you have almost literally any kind of hangup about ANYTHING You will be offended by this movie..That’s not a bad thing at all though..If you go into a film about serial killing rapist clowns and don’t come out offended at all then you’re either way too desensitized or the director didn’t do their job..It felt good to feel offended for once. While I enjoy a good Horror/Comedy as much as the next person That sub-genre has dominated Horror completely. There is a few things to laugh at here (especially if your sense of humor is as warped as mine is..In which case you’re likely to really love a particular alleyway scene with our boy Noodledome) but this thing is NOT a comedy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s dark, it’s vile and most of all it’s EFFECTIVE.
Overall I give this film two middle fingers chopped off and sanded to the bone. Billy Pon made a huge splash with this, his first feature length film and I for one can’t wait for the next installment of the story of these creepy clowns..Also