There’s a great scene in the Tim Burton movie Ed Wood where the fledgling director meets with a sleazy Hollywood producer about a new project.
“Is there a script,” Wood asks.
“(Expletive) no,” the producer says. “But. there’s a poster.”
It’s impossible to say if a similar conversation happened when the idea for Clownado first surfaced, but one can’t help feeling that the catchy title, a gimmicky riff on the Sharknado franchise timed to cash in on the current clown craze in horror movies (thanks in large part to the two It movies), was enough to greenlight the project. All writer/director Todd Sheets had to do was build a movie around it, something cheap, gory and with enough clowns and bad weather conditions to justify the posters.
And although Sheets delivers the required items, it feels like he, too, was directing from a poster — or checklist — rather than a script. There are clowns, but only five of them. There is some bad weather, but it’s used more as a transportation system for the clowns than an actual meteorological event. And there is gore. Lots of gore. Enough gore to make you think the biggest part of the Clownado budget was spent at the butcher shop buying day-old offal for the clowns to squish and squeeze and pretend to eat as they tear their victims apart. Sheets has been around for decades making splatter movies like Clownado, so much so that, according to IMDB.com he’s earned (or given himself) the nicknames The Prince of Gore and The Master of Splatter. So it’s a given that the viscera is ankle-deep in Clownado, but when all is said and done, that just isn’t enough.
In terms of story, it takes Clownado a long time to mix the two major components together. It starts as a weird noir tale about a wife and her lover plotting to steal from her husband so they can fund a fresh start, The notion that the setting is a circus and the husband is the lead clown/ringmaster/owner of it all is almost distracting enough to make you forgive the stale dialogue and even more stale acting. Almost.
After a brief argument, the husband kills the lover but lets the wife live so he can abuse her at his leisure. To get her revenge, she seeks the help of the circus fortune teller who casts a deadly spell that turns all the clowns in the circus into raving, bloodthirsty maniacs. Exactly how this is supposed to help the wife exact her revenge is never explained; in fact, she ends up being one of the possessed clown gangs first victims. So maybe the way the spell keeps bringing her back to life to be killed again is part of the gypsy’s plan. Maybe she’s just a really, really bad gypsy.
From there, the movie starts to meader on with the clowns killing and eating anyone who crosses their path, washing down body parts with buckets of fake blood that bubble out of the bodies like water from a drinking fountain. Eventually, a ragtag group of survivors, including a stripper, a cowboy, a runaway teen, and an African American Elvis, band together to fight back. Somewhere around the 30-minute mark, Sheets seems to suddenly remember that there was an ‘ado’ in the movie title, and he adds some cheap weather effects in the mix with some cheap dialogue thrown in to back it up. It should be generating tension and excitement as the gore and the gale-force winds ratchet up on the screen, but all you really feel is a growing sense of tedium. It doesn’t matter how much you spend at the butchers getting buckets of stunt meat if you can’t think of exciting ways to show it to the audience. In this particular movie, the “Master of Splatter” runs out of ideas pretty quickly and the ones he has — like having the girl clown grow teeth where her nipples should be — are more silly than scary.
And maybe that is the ultimate problem with Clownado: there’s no humor, no real guffaws to balance out the gore. Nobody will ever argue that the ‘source’ material for Sheet’s movie — the Sharknado films — were works of cinematic art. But they were funny and fun to watch. Without any levity — intentional or unintentional — Clownado fails to rise above being just a slick title for a substandard movie.
- John Black, Clownado