Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Secrets of the Clown' is solid debut effort for 1st-time director

Secrets of the Clown (2008)
Starring: Paul Pierro, Dusty Mitchell, Michael Kott, Kelli Clevenger, Thomas Perez and Scott Allen Luke
Director: Ryan Badalamenti
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Ater his girlfriend (Clevenger) leaves him, someone, or some thing, starts brutally murdering his neighbors and friends, and finally some evil entity starts haunting his home, Bobbie (Pierro) turns to a psychic (Kott) for help, A clown doll tthat his girlriend cherished seems to be at the center of everything, but will its secrets be revealed before Bobbie joins the growing list of victims?

"Secrets of the Clown" is a film that will remind you of films from Hammer Films, Amicus and American International in its heyday. It's a nifty little horror film with a classic feel to it, and if you enjoyed movies like "Burn, Witch, Burn!" and "The Devil Rides Out", you'll get a kick out of this one. You'll also enjoy it if you're an afficianado of the "clown horror subgenre"--yeah, I didn't realize there was such a thing either, but I've seen such a thing referred to in a couple of different places and I've seen enough clown horror flicks to accept that it could be a subgenre--as the clown motif comes into play on a couple of different levels in the film.

What's more, the titular secrets of the clown are not ones that you will readily guess. I thought I had the film figured out about ten miinutes in, but then a plot development proved me wrong. Then, when I thought I knew where writer/director Ryan Badalamenti was going, he threw another curveball at me. The secrets behind the murders and supernatural occurances in this film are not easily given up, and you'll be trying to figure out what's going on right along with the characters.

In fact, this film is unveiling its plot up to virtually the final moment of a very strong finish. Once again, I was reminded not to pre-judge a movie before the end credits start to roll. In this case, as the film came to a close, my first thought was, "Ah... they're leaving things open for a sequel. That's nice... this was a neat film and I wouldn't mind seeing a follow-up" but then came the twist-ending, and I thought, "He HAD to ruin a perfectly good film with yet another crappy twist-ending" and I almost stopped the DVD in disgust... but then Badalamenti put a twist on the twist and all was right with the world. He actually came up with an ending that was as neat as I'm sure he thought it was, a rare and precious thing.

Another very strong thing about the film is the use of sound throughout and the an excellent musical score by Matt Novack. Badalamenti is clearly a filmmaker who understands the importance of using sound and music to heighten the mood of a scene.

Another area that didn't quite work in the film was the acting (or maybe the direction), but it's a flaw that I see in many films at this level of production: The actors were all very polite and very stage-oriented in the way that no one stepped on anyone else's lines and everyone was very careful to not cross in fron to someone else while they were speaking their line. This causes several scenes to feel unnatural and still, despite the fact that most of the cast actually did a decent job delivering their lines. They just should have made it less obvious that they were, indeed, just delivering lines.

Among the actors, though, I want to single out Michael Knotts for praise. He did a wonderful job as the quirky psychic, playing the role with a level of over-acting that I don't think the world has seen since Bela Lugosi passed on. There are a couple of scenes where I wish he had dailed it down a bit, but, over all, he was great fun to watch.

(Trivia: "Secrets of the Clown" cost roughly $15,000 to make.)