I’m always amazed at how many people are scared of clowns. I am almost as equally surprised with how many killer clown movies have come out in recent years. Most are just run-of-the-mill, just sort of, “look ma, I made a movie!” CIRCUS OF THE DEAD is different. It’s dark, but humorous. It’s nasty, but it has heart. It maybe has a heart torn out of one of the victims’ chests, but it has heart!
You know you’re in for a doozy of a film when it opens with someone putting clown make-up on a newly deceased corpse. Going right from there, to a group of clowns entering a big top circus, being cheered on by the crowds, with a quote from John Wayne Gacy across the screen, really sets a great juxtaposition of ideas and imagery.
Growing up in a small town myself, albeit not in the South, the setting and dialogue between the townspeople in CIRCUS OF THE DEAD comes across as real, nothing stiff or overly scripted. Too many independent horror movies are ruined with filmmakers over-thinking the script. I’m glad this is not the case here.
After the show, the clowns return to their trailer, which is filled with chained up victims. Mr. Jumbo (Mike Williams) is a dwarf clown. He doesn’t talk, but he makes funny noises instead. Then physically speaking, Noodledome (Ryan Clapp), is the complete opposite, a giant of a killer clown, definitely the Leatherface out of the group. He has a certain emotionality and creativity reminiscent of old Bubba from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE. He may be visually different, but like Mr. Jumbo, he doesn’t talk, he just laughs. I couldn’t help but laugh right along with them while they torture and dismember their victims.
Popa Corn (Bill Oberst Jr.) is the enigmatic ring master of this mad show. He’s vile, disgusting, and at some times magical! The way he delivers his lines is just diabolical.
It’s funny how the rest of the circus doesn’t seem to notice the madness that the clowns are perpetrating. Even during the clowns’ Keystone-Cops-style performance, where they beat and electrocute their victim in front of the audience –very reminiscent of Herschell Gordon Lewis’s classic WIZARD OF GORE, where murder was thought to be just part of the show — nobody seems to catch on. It’s classic.
Through cards that are part of a Mexican children’s game, Popa picks his victims from the audience. Who can he trust to help him carry out his dastardly plan? His sarcastic-as-all-hell, wise-cracking, right hand clown, Mr. Blister (Rusty Edwards). Mr. Blister’s idea of going incognito — carjacking a ’68 Camaro — is over the top and funny as hell.
The home invasion scene is probably one of the most graphic in the film and it made me think of something Rob Zombie would come up with, but at the same time Popa’s actions and dialogue are so filthy, they are much more in the style of John Waters. The whole time Noodledome is laughing and I know I shouldn’t be laughing, but I can’t help myself. Their joy is contagious. They make torture hilarious!
Donald (Parrish Randall) is the father of the family who were the victims of the clowns’ home invasion. Popa forces him to help rape, torture, and murder. Popa promises Donald that if he does everything he is told, he will see his daughters safe again.
There is a classic gangster-style montage of the clowns on their murderous rampage set to a killer soundtrack of punk, metal, and psychobilly music. Nice to hear the Tex Mex punk band Piñata Protest in there.
Finally the clowns get pulled over, leading to an execution of a police officer, and that spirals into a whirlwind of madness and murder. When you have a chainsaw-juggling mime named Pepe (Kyle Mueller) chasing around random teens, you know nobody is getting out alive.
You just have to see CIRCUS OF THE DEAD! It’s a great independent torture-porn movie with killer clowns. Can you really ask for anything more? HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Jeremy Lowe (a.k.a, Germ T. Ripper) is a Chicago punk rock mainstay who has been the front man for bands The Rotten Fruits, Modern Day Rippers, Brickwall Vultures, and The Short-Timers. He is also a co-founder of Sexy Baby Records. Before writing for Daily Grindhouse, he wrote for the Splatterhouse 7 blog. You can contact him on Twitter as @rottengerm77