The Clown Murders (1976)

AUGUST 4, 2009


Many people know that The Clown Murders boasts an early, largely non-comedic role for John Candy. But not as well known is the fact that the title was shortened from The Clown Murders One Guy In The Film’s Final Five Minutes. Producers apparently felt that the title was not only too long, but would give away the suspense of the film’s most pressing matter, which would be “Exactly when the fuck is anything going to happen in this goddamn thing?”

A chicken is killed early on, but other than that, the entire movie consists of largely unappealing actors sitting around yelling at each other. There’s a guy named Rosie who wants to party and get laid (he’s like 40 though, so it’s kind of sad); a guy named Peter who just moans and bitches about everything; Charlie, the ringleader of the group; and then Ollie (Candy), who just eats stuff, including fresh donuts that he found on the mantle in an abandoned home. The plot is about how they kidnap a woman to prevent her husband from signing off on a land deal in time, thus keeping their childhood farm from being torn down to make condos. But a guy in a clown mask shows up and begins picking them off one by one....

Well, that would be the case if this was actually a horror movie. Instead the clown shows up, watches them for a while, throws an ax at one (missing entirely) and shoots another. The film’s total body count is two (three with the chicken), and the other guy isn’t even killed by the clown. Ollie shoots him, then weeps. That, plus the fact that even a blind guy could identify the clown before he even appears, renders the film largely suspense/thrill-free, saved from the crap bin only for the inherent creepiness of clowns, a nifty bit involving an electric fence, and a John Candy love scene.

Make that rape scene. He doesn’t really seem to be into it, but the girl is in total command (and on top, obviously) and having a grand old time as Candy reacts like a guy having a nightmare. It’s probably why the film is commonly listed as a horror film.

And it’s a shame that it’s not really horror, because the few scenes that qualify as such are actually kind of creepy. Director Martyn Burke (director of the DTV Stallone flick Avenging Angelo) takes a page from fellow 70’s Canadian film Black Christmas and has the clown say some creepy gibberish as it stalks Charlie around a barn, and the afore-mentioned electric fence scene (Charlie is trapped between one and a locked door) is probably the only suspenseful bit in the entire film, since it’s not yet clear if Charlie will survive this non-ordeal or not. But really, how can you call your movie The Clown Murders and present the only two murders in the film (one is an accident committed by a non-clown) in the final five minutes? That’s not a title, that’s a spoiler.

As for Candy, well, he’s not bad. He’s had other dramatic roles (JFK, for example), so it doesn’t have as much pure novelty value as some might think. Also, Rosie is constantly on his ass about his eating/weight, and he’s snacking on stuff in every single scene he’s in (even when they are all singing, he pauses to take a big bite of a sandwich). Given how he died, it’s sort of depressing to watch, as many of his more popular films presented him as a big lovable guy, not a “fat” guy like Chris Farley. His weight wasn’t really a factor in stuff like Great Outdoors or whatever, so to see it used as the “comic relief” in a dramatic thriller is rather mean-spirited.

See, this is the type of film that should be in the remake game. It’s got a perfectly decent plot (and I’ve already requested the return of “real estate horror” anyway), and if the clown/mystery stuff was bulked up to be an actual focus of the film, it could actually be a lot of fun, especially with some meaty actors in the roles (given the age groups - I would actually try to get a few of the Ocean’s 11 guys in there - Charlie’s subplot about trying to win back his old flame even mirrors the Clooney/Roberts stuff from the first one). But the way it’s structured is just too sluggish, and the actors too unappealing (except for Candy none of them have gone on to have any sort of popular career) for it to work properly; most folks would be completely bored out of their mind by the time the “plot” kicks in, and even that stuff is too minimal to make getting there worthwhile. Plus, a better director would find a way to make it so that there was more than one possibility for the identity of the guy in the mask.

What say you?

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1 comment:

  1. John Candy was a great actor ... I miss him dearly.


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