“Unleash the horde!”
It may not be the greatest line in cinematic history — or even the best line in Big Top Evil — but it sure does put a smile on your face when you hear it shouted out and then watch as the abandoned factory doors open to release a horde of murderous clowns on the movie’s unsuspecting heroes.
It just makes you happy.
Co-directed by Sean Haitz ad Chris Potter, Big Top Evil tells the tale of a group of young 20-somethings on a road trip to visit the site where one of their favorite slasher movies was filmed. Wanting a true American experience, they shun the highway and take the backroads, stopping at any roadside attractions they see along the way. While making a stop at a sleazy convenience store, they meet a hillbilly siren named Candy (Austin Judd) who coerces them to stop for a night at a local motel that just happens to be across the street from a circus where she performs on the trapeze.
It sounds like a terrible idea, but Donnie, the nerd of the bunch, is so smitten with Candy, and so sure she is “The One” to take his virginity, the group reluctantly decides to do it anyway. What, they agree, could possibly go wrong?
Well, you don’t have to be a horror movie expert to answer that question. Soon after they settle into their rooms, everything starts to go wrong for the young travelers. Some of it is silly, some of it is scary. All of it leads to that moment when the battle cry is raised, the horde is unleashed and the ride really begins for the audience.
Haitz and Potter, working from a script by Haitz and John Morrisey on a very limited budget (an estimated $50,000 total according to imdb.com), do a pretty good job of spraying the screen with blood in interesting and imaginative ways. There are a couple of gross-out moments, particularly surrounding a special dinner held by the clowns, and there’s even a Scooby-Doo moment when a couple of the good guys get trapped in a room that gets smaller and smaller and smaller.
What makes Big Top Evil work, though, is the time the directors take to give the lead characters enough personality to make them more than just the next victim. Haitz, stepping in front of the camera, is effective as the guy narrating the terror he and his buddies go through, and Jisaura Cardinale does a nice job playing off him in both the early scenes, when they are just two lonely people getting to know each other and in the last half of the film playing a young woman who may like the guy but doesn’t want to end up dead because of it.
Horror icon Bill Moseley (3 From Hell) is great as the circus owner Mr. Kharver, but there isn’t nearly enough of him in the film to call it more than a cameo appearance. And that’s too bad.
The real treat of Big Top Evil is watching the performance of Austin Judd as Candy. Making her film debut, she projects the perfect mix of sleaze and seduction to set the trap for the Big Top’s victims, but there is more to her character than her serpentine smile and sinuous wiggle. She shows us that there is real madness behind those eyes, a madness that flares up and overwhelms her (and the audience) whenever she gets a chance to drop the teasing facade to release her more murderous impulses. It’s a fascinating performance, one that promises to be even more interesting on your second trip to Big Top Evil.
Available for pre-order now, iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, Red Box on demand. It will be available on VUDU, ROKU, Apple TV, and others.
- John Black, Big Top Evil