Clowns are one of the enduring personification of bizarre creepiness in pop culture. I’m not sure exactly how that started… possibly from John Wayne Gacy, or maybe due to the general oddness that comes with an artificially chipper disposition covered in grease paint. At any rate, the notion of the creepy clown has become somewhat of a standard horror trope. With this in mind, Circus of the Dead manages to both embrace this trope, and turn it on it’s ear by presenting a story that is simultaneously horrifying, hilarious, and probably the most fun a sicko can have at the movies this year.
Circus of the Dead is the story of Donald Johnson, a Joe Everyman type character, being abducted by a psychotic family of clowns, and forced to participate in an insane murder spree, in hopes of getting the clowns to release his kidnapped daughters. As the night goes on, the brutality gets more and more intense, and hopes for redemption or rescue get increasingly bleak. Needless to say, there are a few twists and turns along the way, and a metric fuck-ton of ultraviolence to bask in.
The story is a pretty basic “day in the life” type deal, and this isn’t a slight. It’s really the perfect vehicle for the mayhem on display. What really drives this movie are the performances. Parrish Randall, as tortured father Donald Johnson, manages to build a believable arc as a reluctant participant in a murder spree. His performance early in the movie admittedly put me off a bit, but by the end of his journey, he had me fully on board. Bill Oberst Jr is an absolute GOD in this movie as Papa Corn, the leader of the clowns. I’m not exaggerating when I say he puts in one of the best turns as a cinematic psychopath that I’ve ever seen. Papa Corn is simultaneously terrifying and dripping with manic charisma. His team of clowns, while not driving the narrative, manage to all be memorable characters in their own right, which is a substantial feat, given their relative lack of dialogue.
This is the feature debut from “Bloody Bill” Pon, and you would never guess in a million years that this movie is helmed by a filmmaker of relatively limited experience. As much credit as I give to Oberst’s performance, Pon deserves a ton of praise for keeping this insanity on the rails. This is an almost two hour movie that never once feels its length. The pacing is immaculate, and the script, also co-written by Pon, is super tight. He definitely left a major footprint in the horror world with this one, and definitely looks to be someone to keep your eyes on in the future.
All in all, I really can’t give this movie a high enough recommendation. It’s a fast paced trip through Hell, featuring some truly disturbing moments, and an absolute home run of a performance by Bill Oberst Jr. If you have the ability to see this movie, see it as soon as you can. This was THE highlight of the whole weekend at the Housecore Horror Festival, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I saw it, and I can’t wait for it to get released to the public, so the rest of you jerks can see it too.
You can find Johnny putting on his greasepaint and funny nose on Twitter