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Secrets of the Clown

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Release Date: 
Brain Damage
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Ryan Badalamenti
Paul Pierro
Kelli Clevenger
Michael Kott
Scott Allen Luke
Bottom Line: 
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After his next-door neighbours are brutally slain in the middle of the night (by a grunting clown-like figure), muscle-bound Paul Naschy look-alike Bobby (Paul Pierro) is left dumbstruck when his girlfriend Val (Kelli Clevenger) ups and leaves for no apparent reason.
While drowning his sorrows one night with his best pal Jim (Jay O'Conner), the drunken friend smashes a plastic clown doll Val used to dote on as a mark of solidarity with his freshly dumped best friend. He then strolls outside to cool down while Bobby answers a phone-call from his ex, only for the clown slasher to appear again and slice hapless Jim to ribbons on the doorstep. So traumatised by these happenings is our Bob that Val takes pity on him and moves straight back in. Almost immediately, weird things start happening again. Bob has strange dreams and fleeting visions of a zombie-like Jim, the cupboard doors start opening and closing by themselves and that plastic doll (lovingly repaired by Val, who's as attached to it as she ever was) starts whispering in a menacing fashion, too. After another of his slacker friends is murdered in similar fashion during Jim's funeral, Bobby gathers his remaining pals together for an investigation back at the house to be presided over by a black-garbed local psychic. Val is less than impressed with the whole idea though; she leaves before the strange figure arrives, telling Bobby of her own terrible dream in which she sees all of them (including Bobby) being brutally murdered. It's not long before her predictions seems to be coming true and an impromptu unsupervised seance results in a long night of murderous mayhem for all involved.
This is a fairly crazy low-budget effort released by the seemingly unstoppable Brain Damage Films, responsible for low-priced indie shlock on DVD. Writer, director and editor Ryan Badalamenti tries to make up for his film's all too obviously flat, lifeless video look and the cheap, generic synth underscoring, by concocting a truly mad, pretty much incomprehensible story that slides across all manner of genres: starting out as a clown-based slasher, it takes a nod at possessed doll flicks like "Child's Play", seems to be moving towards becoming an atmospheric 'Haunting' picture before it throws in a few gory "Exorcist" based possession moves, whereupon it settles for half-an-hour's worth of "Evil Dead-style" comic book craziness and gore with a few arch jokes thrown in, before finally winding up as a sort of supernatural battle between rival witches who're attempting to control a giant murderous golem-like figure in the shape of a clown! Well, quite.
The main trouble here is the quality of the acting, which is simply too weak to cope with such ambitious plotting and which requires characters to undergo radical transformations over the course of the film; although to be fair, none of the cast are helped much by Badalamenti's appalling dialogue which displays all the grace and dexterity of a brick shoved in the face. The cast of this film, though, offer us a comprehensive master class in the many forms of bad acting one is liable to be subjected to in the course of viewing such films.
Lead actor Paul Pierro's already noted resemblance to cult Spanish actor and director Paul Naschy extends to his somewhat wooden demeanour. When required to display any emotion, Pierro seems to do most of his acting with his hands, and he never stops gesticulating or waving his arms about, emphasising every line, from start to finish. His efforts are not helped much by Badalamenti's script, which tends to move from moments of high emotion and great tension (allegedly!) to attempts at light-hearted jokiness with a clunking inappropriateness. Thus, when Bobby wakes to find his beloved girlfriend skulking in the kitchen, talking in a growly Linda Blair voice, her face contorted in macabre clown make-up (although she looks more like a bloated Gene Simmons) his initial horror as she attacks him, suddenly becomes an unwise attempt at Schwarzenegger-style quippery: he smashes her in the face repeatedly with a toaster (yes ... a toaster!!!) before chortling "you're toast!"
This is meant to be his girlfriend, who he's supposed to be devoted to, remember!
Bobby's other pals are also rather a hoot -- all of them played by middle-aged men, but in roles clearly written for teenagers, thus giving everyone a kind of demented, obnoxious, retarded persona; from the hilariously snide Jon (John Blick) to the pot smoking comedy fat man Louie (Thomas Perez) and on to bucktoothed girlfriend of the temper-prone Mike.
Ultimately, the film goes to such ludicrous lengths in its efforts to maintain the viewer's interest, resorting to a relentless catalogue of twists and turns that take it sprawling in all sorts of directions at once, the inevitable 'explanation' that gets put into the mouth of one of the leading characters at the climax is just completely impossible to follow, or make any kind of sense out of whatsoever. I couldn't make head nor tail of it, anyway. The film also overruns by a good fifteen minutes, with a weird coda that inexplicably suddenly takes the film into "Nightmare on Elm Street" territory (it's stolen from just about everything else I suppose, so why not?) and a mad dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream segment, that manages to reward the persevering viewer at the end with an at least half-decent-looking nurse who takes all her clothes off for no particular reason.


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