Anyone familiar with the rather unseamly story of Victor Salva will recall that the Jeepers Creepers director spent a fair amount of time in the clink for molesting a young actor during the making of 1985's Clownhouse. So, it's with a certain degree of uncomfortability that I watched the film, all too aware of the "relationship" between young star Nathan Forest Winters and Salva.
Casey (Winters) is terrified of clowns. For him, the flappy shoes, rubber noses, and greasepaint smeared visages are the stuff of nightmares that carry over into his waking life. Naturally, when a circus comes to town, Casey is apprehensive about going, but when his older brothers Geoff (McHugh) and Randy (Rockwell) are entrusted with Casey while their mother's out for the evening, Casey is dragged along. The boys are, of course, singled out by a group of clowns during a performance, and Casey flees in terror, provoking his bullyish older brother Randy to torment him further while the sensitive Geoff attempts to console him.
Meanwhile, at the neighbourhood asylum, three loons escape and head to the circus, where they slaughter a trio of clowns and don their gear. The boys head back to their conveniently isolated house and settle in for ghost stories while, outside, the killer clowns prepare for a home invasion Barnum and Bailey style.
Clownhouse is actually a pretty effective little shocker. It's virtually devoid of gore, with Salva, instead, focusing on old fashioned suspense to stain our trousers, and it works rather nicely. While I wasn't exactly terrified of the three antagonists, there are some very creepy moments, and even a few jump-out-of-your-seat thrills. The film's main detriment is it's amateur cast (save for Rockwell, whose remarkably comfortable here in his first film), and a somewhat hamfisted screenplay in which all of the cliche's of childhood seem to rear their ugly heads. There's also one moment early on in the film in which the boys parade about in their underwear that is wholly unnecessary, and, in light of the circumstances surrounding the film, quite suspect. One can argue that Salva was trying to impress upon us the closeness of the brothers, but methinks one would be quite gullible to believe it.
The Clownhouse comes to DVD for the first time, courtesy of MGM. It's no accident that it's release comes in proximity to the release of Salva's eagerly anticipated Jeepers Creeper sequel, nor is it a surprise that the disc contains nothing by way of supplemental materials. I mean, what do you expect? A commentary?
Salva: "This is the film I got arrested for molesting a young boy on. Oh, and in this scene you'll notice a subtle juxtaposition between the clown shoes and sky."
No, I doubt that Victor Salva cares to revisit this film anytime soon, nor do I think there's much by way of behind the scenes stuff other than what's being held in an evidence locker somewhere. We do get a trailer and a solid widescreen transfer, however, and the film's one of those "bargain" priced discs that you should be able to fetch for less than $15 bucks.
As disdainful as I am toward Victor Salva's criminal past, I'm also not about to punish the man for his transgressions. We'll leave that up to the gods. Me, I just watch movies, and Clownhouse is a bit of a treat that proved to be pretty enjoyable in spite of it's chequered past.