Ginger Nuts of Horror
Oooh Bloody Hell!
From Uncork'd Entertainment and DeInstitutionalized comes Circus Kane. Christopher Douglas-Olen Ray directs a James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward script, based on a story by Sean Sellars. Gerald Webb, Christopher Ray and James Cullen Bressack produce. Here’s the official blurb:
“The notorious and disgraced circus master, Balthazar Kane, invites an unsuspecting group of social media stars to the revival of his CIRCUS KANE by promising $250,000 to any of them who can make it through the night. Kane’s true plan quickly proves to be far more sinister as the contestants realize more than money is on the line. The group must fight for their lives to escape Kane’s demented house of horrors.”
Well, with that team behind it and that basic premise it looks promising.
It would appear that in these modern times one could not chuck a dart without hitting a killer clown movie, and for the most part they are total dross. Circus Kane has killer clowns, albeit mercifully used sparingly and to great effect. There’s also the fiendish, top-hatted ringmaster required by every circus who is a joy to watch, and it has bucketloads of gore, a mansion full of booby-trapped rooms and diverse victims chosen to survive for a cash sum. This is where we could easily start yawning as we have seen all of these components in loads of other movies; however circus Kane is one of those rare instances where all of the run-of-the-mill clichés come together and actually work out pretty well.
One of the biggest problems in horror movies of this ilk is flat characterisation, it’s not enough to just have a bunch of victims, you really need to give a shit what happens to them and as such they need to be at the very least interesting enough via personality or looks. Most films coast on eye-candy, of which, depending on your preferences, there’s enough to satisfy with former ‘Miss Poland USA’ winner Victoria Konefal proving she’s not just a very pretty face. For the ladies there’s Jonathan Lipnicki (the little speccy blonde kid from Jerry Maguire) who has grown up all clean-cut handsome and buff. Circus Kane doesn’t rely on good looking actors though, choosing instead to have solid performances from believable even if not likeable characters. I say ‘if not likeable’ because one or two are somewhat self-serving whilst another, ‘Big Ed’ played by the hilarious Ted Monte, is a complete and utter arsehole, which is great as he is so generally obnoxious and funny that I was rooting for him to survive.
The eight ‘contestants’ (for want of a better word) are all chosen because of their links to the horror community, A Scream Queen, a memorabilia trader, a reviewer, a blogger, a collector et cetera, all with some way of promoting Circus Kane far and wide as the scariest experience ever.
Now this may seem a little far-fetched, the booby-trapped mansion idea and so on, yet at the time of writing this there are several such places in America offering what can best be described as a fully immersive torture porn experience requiring a full physical and mental medical and the signing of a waiver with an ‘anything goes’ policy. That really only makes the basis of Circus Kane even more plausible, otherwise the premise might have been off-putting as it would be unlikely that anyone would sign up for that no matter how much money was involved. Having real-life counterparts proves the lengths that some people go to even if only for the kudos of lasting longer than anyone else in degrading and dangerous scenarios. Circus Kane doesn’t go for dangerous it goes for deadly with the unlucky contestants searching for clues and performing tasks which lead to elimination in a variety of very nasty ways.
There are so many similar films out there, but this one manages to effortlessly float above them as the cast are excellent, production values are spot-on and it never gets tiresome.
It’s currently available as a VOD and maybe you’ll like it, maybe you won’t, but I loved it and it will definitely stand up to another viewing.
Follow the trailer below to see a little of the gory delights in store.
In an attempt to broaden my horizons I thought I would give Clowntergeist a view, obviously there’s a spate of movies with names such as Sharknado, Zombeavers and Piranhaconda which the titles alone would suggest were created with the tongue wedged firmly in the cheek, so I made the incorrect assumption that perhaps this was a comedy horror. Clowntergeist was not best choice for my horizon broadening as it soon became apparent that this was neither a comedy or indeed a horror and was barely scraping by as a thriller.
The psychopathic clown had all of the presence of a limp dick at a porn shoot, and yes, I know, we’re kinda sorta basking in the glow of Pennywise who obviously sets a high bar, but ‘Ribcage’ (Eric Corbin) doesn’t even compare favourably with any of the few dozen killer clowns I’ve seen so far. The only thing he brings to the table is a huge Turkey.
The dialogue is dreadful as in this example:
Woman: “What’s the curfew for?”
Jonah: “A manhunt”
One of the other customers then says to his companion “What’s a manhunt?”
Really? I know society seems to have dumbed down a lot lately, but when a guy who appears to be in his mid-20s has to ask what a manhunt is I think we are in serious trouble. That scenario came about after a Police Officer entered a soda shop and asked the temporary manager Jonah (Sean Patrick Murray) to close as soon as possible and inform everyone there is an 11 o’clock curfew. I’m questioning the logic on this, as surely it would be better for the Police Officer to have announced the curfew himself, what with him being your general-purpose authority figure and all that, but hey, the stupidity doesn’t end there. Remember what I just wrote about the store having to close? Couple of minutes after telling the customers they are closing in 10 minutes the same guy when asked by a staff member if they will remain closed the next day replies, and I quote…
“Not when I’m in charge… WE don’t close for the Apocalypse”.
Erm, okay, but didn’t he just say they were… CLOSING?!
He then gives the same staff member a set of keys and instructs her to close up the shop. Maybe I am too strict over this sort of thing but in my world that just doesn’t compute, which unfortunately is the case with most of what happens in this complete dog’s breakfast of a film. The only good thing in Clowntergeist is what comes across as a genuine rapport between the two female leads, Emma (Brittany Belland) and Heather (Monica Baker) who deserve a much better script in a much better film than this one.
The plot is a by the numbers thing relying mainly on jump scares delivered for the most part by a piss-poor supernatural clown, who walks like an ape with severe constipation carrying an imaginary roll of carpet under one arm as he thuds about in the shadows. The lighting, colour and music are good though as they do give a decent atmosphere, but not enough to elevate this film beyond the mundane.
Of course this is just my opinion, so feel free to watch it if you absolutely must, but with the several dozen other clown-based horror films available to choose from I’d watch all of those first.
Michael McDowell remains something of a cult figure today, despite authoring some of the best novels to come out of the 1980s horror paperback boom and having a successful career as a Hollywood screenwriter (his filmography boasts such credits as Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas in addition to many episodes of anthology T.V. shows like Amazing Stories, Monsters, and Tales From The Darkside).
No less an authority than Stephen King described McDowell as one the finest writers to ever work in the genre, yet the man’s name has never attracted the same kind of attention or appreciation King’s has. It’s not a name your non-horror-reading friends are likely to recognize. McDowell is not a cottage industry. People don’t dress up as his characters for Halloween. Movies have not been made from his books.
At least, until now.
Shortening the title of one of McDowell’s best novels, Cold Moon Over Babylon, Cold Moon (which hits DVD and VOD this October) takes place in a quiet town along the Florida panhandle, a close-knit community teetering on the raggedy edge of the poverty line. When doe-eyed teenager Margaret Larkin washes up on the snake-infested banks of the river Styx, lashed to her bicycle and drowned in a shocking act of seemingly senseless murder, said community is shattered and, from beneath its broken shards, its most prominent residents’ darkest secrets come slithering out.
Something else comes slithering, too. Something pale-faced and drenched in sludge, seeking vengeance for the crimes perpetrated on the unquiet dead.
Full of chilling nightmare imagery, McDowell’s supernatural Southern Gothic is practically tailor-made for cinema. Though dominated by long stretches of suggestive terror and psychological dissolution, it knows when to pop the cork on all the tension it’s bottled up, bursting with garish, macabre gouts of all-out horror. Equally grimy and grim, McDowell’s black-haired, waterlogged ghosts would fit right in on the set of a J-horror spookshow. In theory, Cold Moon is a home run.
But what about in execution?
Director Griff Furst is probably the last person you’d expect to tackle this particular source material. His previous credits include such SyFy Channel-style CGI monster-mashes as Ghost Shark, Arachnoquake, and Alligator Alley (AKA Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Gators). On top of that, the cast list for Cold Moon includes that infamously ignominious ignoramus known as Tommy Wisseau. Y’know, the laughingstock “auteur” responsible for The Room? Yeah, that one. Upon hearing that alone, longtime McDowell readers would certainly be forgiven for letting their excitement over Cold Moon turn into trepidation.
Happily, there’s no need to fear. Not only has Furst delivered far and away his best directorial effort to date, but Wisseau’s presence is limited to a brief, wordless cameo. Hallelujah!
Sure, Cold Moon gets off to a rocky start. McDowell’s book is unusual in that it has little interest in maintaining the mystery of who its killer is, unmasking the culprit rather quickly so as to focus instead on the murderer’s piecemeal mental unraveling under the assault of angry spirits. As a result, the movie’s first act stumbles in its efforts to simultaneously appease audience expectations while also setting them up for imminent subversion. Once over that hump, though, Cold Moon zips along with nary a hitch. The first act may be a little shaky, but the second and third stand pretty damn solid, successfully keeping your eyes glued to the screen right up until the final credits roll.
A huge portion of that second and third-act magnetism comes thanks to actor Josh Stewart (best known to horror film fanatics as Arkin, the protagonist of those underrated Collector movies) who plays Nathan Redfield, a disturbed banker with a weakness for booze and jailbait. Even more than the ghosts who lurk in Babylon’s shadows, the look on Stewart’s face and the murky depths behind his eyes prove genuinely haunting.
Similarly worthy of praise are Frank Whaley (most famous as that burger-scarfin’ bullet-sponge Brett in Pulp Fiction), playing the out-of-his-depth sheriff Ted Hale, and Christopher Lloyd (don’t act like you don’t know who he is!), playing Nathan’s lecherous invalid father James. Much of the supporting cast is serviceable but forgettable, though that’s to be expected for a modestly budgeted production such as this.
Indeed, evidence of Cold Moon’s meager origins is readily apparent throughout. That doesn’t stop Furst from crafting an admirably effective atmosphere of melancholy dread, though. McDowell’s story and characters do a lot of the heavy lifting, but Furst himself deserves credit for realizing McDowell’s ominous and even grotesque apparitions so well, while also orchestrating plenty of spine-tingling scares of his own. Rounding out the package is an original score by the director’s brother, composer Nathan Furst, which imbues the proceedings with oodles of potent drama and emotion.
All in all, Cold Moon isn’t quite the home run it could have been, but it is a damn good horror movie nonetheless. Dark, creepy, and ultimately tragic, it’s an adaptation that does its source material justice. Here’s hoping more Michael McDowell adaptations follow.
THE Film receives a 10-market theatrical release along with digital on 10/6 through Uncork’d Entertainment. produced by Furst’s Curmudgeon Films.