Raised on a steady diet of cinematic clowns, we’ve all experienced our fair share of these sinister creations that have contributed to regular sleepless nights; be it Tim Curry’s Pennywise, Trent Haaga’s Killjoy or even that creepy doll from POLTERGEIST. Art the Clown however may well give all these pasty faced creations a harlequin-costumed run for their money. Appearing initially in Damien Leone’s short film THE 9TH CIRCLE from 2008, Art the Clown would go on to have a more notable role in his 2011 short TERRIFIER. It’s segments from these two features that make up part of ALL HALLOWS’ EVE alongside a new chapter and wraparound story.
Despite the contrived nature of the wraparound – I mean what kid wouldn’t notice the bulky chunk of VHS being added to their bag of candy? – it’s actually a pretty zippy opening with the babysitter Sarah (Katie Maguire) deftly handling the pleading kids who want to stay up and catch the content of this mysterious artefact. As the film progresses we get regularly reacquainted with Sarah’s evening of child-minding, and what began as a generic bookend manages to weave itself seamlessly into the film to become one of the most frightening aspects.
As part one of the home video portmanteau kicks in, a woman is kidnapped from a waiting room in a train station only to wake up chained to the wall of an underground tunnel. It’s a gruesome little short with pretty handy make-up that’s orchestrated by Leone himself, and though it misses that scary edge, it makes up for it with some lush gore. Chapter two meanwhile focuses on Caroline (Catherine A. Callahan), a young woman who has just moved from the big city to the countryside. As she settles into her new home and begins the laborious task of unpacking, a meteor crash-lands outside her home and brings with it an uninvited guest. The weakest of the three, the fact that this part creates a solid level of tension mixed with edge of the seat suspense underlines just how strong this anthology is. The clown link is tenuous at best, but it’s well-shot and nicely paced enough for it to not outstay its welcome.
Having reached a degree of success two-thirds in, it’s with the final section where ALL HALLOWS’ EVE really hits pay-dirt. We join a young woman (Marie Maser) on her way to New York, but a brief stop at a gas station leads to her witnessing a horrific murder which propels her into a deadly game of cat and mouse with Art the Clown. Shot in the scratched print style of so many wannabe Grindhouse flicks, this is a rare example of utilising it successfully to mask some of the budgetary shortcomings. In doing so, almost every aspect of this 17 minute short succeeds – from the gore, which should test the gag reflex of even the most hardened horror hound to the jarring, guerrilla-style editing (by Leone himself) which manages to ramp up the scares in an already fraught piece.
101 Films really haven’t done this film justice for its UK release. Gone is the striking US artwork of a simple but repulsive Art the Clown headshot, only to be replaced by a generic old house and a clown figure that’s so insignificant it blends into the background. Gone too is the commentary from jack of all trades director Leone and the guy behind the clown, Mike Giannelli. It’s a shame, but that negativity shouldn’t mask what is a mightily impressive feature debut from Leone, and while he uses this as an opportunity to recycle some work that he’s done over the last few years, this scary little anthology is all the better for it.
Words: Dave Wain @thedavewain