[Review] Clown College (GenreBlast): Grief and Greasepaint Collide in a Mourning Woman’s Mind

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world for university student Quincy (Bailey Ingersoll), whose day starts off with a dissection lesson from an overenthusiastic professor (David A. McElroy) in her anatomy class, finds her lost in thought about her recently deceased father (Jim Dougherty), and concludes with a surreal trip to the dentist (Chad Newman) in prolific director Wendy Keeling’s new short Clown College.

Quincy’s expression in the opening moments shows that the young woman has a lot on her mind, including how her father didn’t have time for her as a child because of his work. Her subconscious mind takes her on a surreal trip thanks to a dose of laughing gas, but when she wakes up after her dental procedure, things get even weirder than when she was under the gas.

Writer/director Keeling, working from a story idea by herself and Kevin Keeling, delivers a colorful, beautifully shot short film that offers up discomfiting scenes that range from zany to eerie. She has often displayed a knack for building suspense and balancing it with dark humor, and Clown College continues that trend. 

The cast is a lot of fun, with several characters walking the fine line between going over the top and playing things straight. Ingersoll, who has previously appeared in Keeling’s Sarah’s Dream (2018), has the straightest role, and does a fine job of portraying the lost-in-thought and often confused — for good reason — Quincy. Newman’s high-energy dentist is a hoot, and McElroy and director Keeling — playing an annoyed dental office receptionist — are highly enjoyable in their roles, too.

Nick Solorzano’s cinematography is super, including a wonderful aerial shot and some uncomfortable close-ups. Landon Knoblock’s score perfectly sets the moods for the multiple set pieces that Keeling presents, using different styles of music and instruments depending on what a particular scene requires. Makeup artists Brad Shier and Hillary Warren do a fabulous job with the clowns.

Clown College has moments that are disturbing, comical, and touching. Keeling is a top-notch talent, and this short is another fine addition to her body of film work.

Clown College screens at GenreBlast, which runs at the Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, Virginia, from August 29– September 1. The festival has nominated Landon Knoblock for Best Composer for this short and Past Partum, and Keeling for Les Femmes Du Genre Award (women achieving excellence in indie genre cinema).

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.