Clownhouse (1989)

clownhouse 1989 poster
3.5 Overall Score
Story: 3/10
Acting: 3/10
Visuals: 4/10

Clowns can be scary

The behind-the-scenes action are reprehensible, poor story, poor acting

Movie Info

Movie Name: Clownhouse

Studio: Commercial Pictures

Genre(s): Horror

Release Date(s): Movie Release Date

MPAA Rating: R

clownhouse killer clowns

They’re coming to get you

Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters) is a sensitive boy who has an intense fear of clowns.  When his mother (Viletta Skillman) goes out of town, Casey is left with his bully older brother Randy (Sam Rockwell) and his more understanding brother Geoffrey (Brian McHugh) on the night of the town’s big circus…which doesn’t go well for Casey.  Home alone with his brothers, an escape of three inmates from a local asylum creates an intense situation for Casey when the inmates murder the circus performers and steal their costumes.  The clowns are coming and they are deadly.

Written and directed by Victor Salva, Clownhouse is a low-budget horror film.  The film is premiered at Sundance and was met by mostly positive reviews.  The film became controversial when Victor Salva was revealed to have sexually abused the lead star Nathan Forrest Winters during the production and also charged with possessing child pornography.  Salva was sentenced to three years of prison (serving fifteen months).  As a result, the film has largely been out of circulation for years.

Clownhouse has a lot to unwrap.  I first heard about the movie with the release of Powder in 1995 when Nathan Forrest Winters revived the charges against Salva and point out (despite the conviction) that the family friendly Disney still allowed Salva to direct the film focusing on teenage boys.  Clownhouse has a darkness to it as a result that probably was never intended.

clownhouse killer clown

They see you…

With a strong reception and a nomination for Grand Jury Prize in the drama category of the 1989 Sundance Film Festival, I thought Clownhouse might be an intense film…but I really don’t see it watching the movie.  Putting all the controversy behind it, the film itself seems pretty poorly plotted and lacking in scares…which is rather ironic since it stars scary clowns.  There is too much set-up and too much downtime in the short eighty-one minute film before the horror starts.  The clowns are intimidating but not that intimidating.  It seems like if you have psychotic clowns, you could do more to make them terrifying.

The acting is rather poor too.  The film is noted for being Sam Rockwell’s film premiere and Rockwell just plays a worse version of Bill Paxton’s jerky Weird Science brother.  Brian McHugh plays the very motherly brother to Casey who has this weird indeterminate age (he behaves a lot younger than his age it seems like).  This makes you feel even worse as you watch the film because it feels like the whole picture (and Salvo’s previous short Something in the Basement) might have simply been attempts to groom Winters who is so over his head and miscast in the role (and the controversy ended up with him being pretty much blackballed in Hollywood).

clownhouse clowns evil horror

Don’t mess with clowns…especially insane clowns…who might be in a posse

The horror is underscored by the gross nature of Salvo’s crime.  The movie is shot in ways that clearly were choices by the director in showing the kids.  The movie also uses typical control issues involving Casey’s character.  He’s told he’s wrong, he’s told no one believes him, he’s told that the town thinks he’s a chicken…it feels like a means to put down an abuse victim just as much (if not more) than a plot device.

If you are thinking you missed something by never getting to see Clownhouse, you aren’t.  It leaves you feeling dirty.  The movie’s infamy is scarier than the film itself and you just feel bad watching it knowing what was occurring behind the scenes.  I do kind of feel there is a lesson from Clownhouse, and that it is a good warning for parents who might put their children in films to be vigilante and ask your kids questions (even if it might not be comfortable).  Clownhouse did (and rightly so) went away…and no one is missing it.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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