Dir. Victor Salva (1989)
Three young boys are hunted by escaped mental patients who have murdered clowns at the local circus and stolen their outfits. Hilarity ensures.
TRIGGER WARNING: Please be aware that parts of this review involve the discussion of pedophilia, child molestation, child pornography, and assault against children. perpetrated by the director of this film. If this is something that is triggering to you, please proceed with caution.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
The Morrigan says that this movie scared her more than any movie in history. She refuses to watch it with me and even refuses to look at the cover art on the DVD case. I had never watched the movie before, but I figured since she’s laid up with COVID (and I have recently gotten over my own bout with that bullshit), now was the time to give it a shot. There are two reasons that I won’t be including any pictures with this review, one of which is the fact that she actually puts typing to page and I want to spare her the night terrors. The other… well, we’ll get to that in a second.
Starring a young Sam Rockwell (who is always awesome) and directed by Hollywood pedophile Victor Salva, Clownhouse went off the home video market after it was found out that Salva was molesting the two young stars who weren’t Rockwell (Nathan Forrest Winters and Brian McHugh). He only got three years, which is absurd, and he only served 15 months, which is just a batshit insane travesty. This film also contains a lot of shots of little boys in their underwear (and a bottomless shot as well), and there’s no damn way that wasn’t intentional. It certainly makes the film even more horrific than its clown-y subject matter would’ve already made it. There are also reports, including from Winters himself, that Francis Ford Coppola, a producer on the film, blacklisted him in the industry for turning in Salva. So, without mincing any words, let me be completely clear: Fuck Victor Salva, and fuck Francis Ford Coppola. Exposing Salva and Coppola does not negate the rest of the work done in the film, and Winters and McHugh deserve the credit for making this a watchable (and terrifying) film. At the end of the article, I will be providing some ways to watch Clownhouse for free to avoid putting any more money into the pockets of Salva and Coppola, and I have not included any pictures from the film into this review to respect the trauma that both of these boys endured.
For those who find it hard to believe that Francis Ford Coppola had anything to do with the monstrosity that is Victor Salva, remember that Coppola continues to fund his projects, and keep in mind this quote from Coppola himself, per the Los Angeles Times: “You have to remember, while this was a tragedy, that the difference in age between Victor and the boy was very small. Victor was practically a child himself.” Victor Salva was 29. Nathan Forrest Winters was 12.
Mental patients escape from an asylum and steal costumes from the clowns at the local circus (which is really more of a fair, to be honest.) There’s also a fortune teller at the fair who tells the youngest brother that his “life-line” is severed and he will suffer an early death. This is absolutely not something that it is ok to tell a child, even if it’s true, but it seems that she’s right on the money because the escaped mental clowns follow the boys home from the circus and proceed to make their life a living hell. They break into their house, causing general ruckus and (SPOILER ALERT) murder the oldest brother. Now this would, generally, be a ballsy decision to make when focusing on a story about three siblings, but it draws icky considerations when you realize that it is Rockwell, the only one of the siblings that Salva wasn’t molesting, who meets his end at the hands of the clowns. See, it really is difficult to remove Salva’s misdeeds from an analysis of the film.
As far as the scariness of the film goes, I gotta admit, the clowns in the movie really as scary as fuck. Their playful nature is excellently used to make them as terrifying as possible, the jolly facial expressions paralleled with their murderous intent, which is extremely offputting. Ironically, the original clown, who wears the makeup before he is killed by the escaped mental patient, is far scarier than the patients are once they don the big red nose. While the film does come across more as a really good episode of Goosebumps than as a horrifying scary movie, I get why this inducted an entire generation of children into coulrophobia. That’s the fear of clowns, for those who thought I suddenly slipped into Latin. The movie is absolutely worth a watch, but you can find it for free on Youtube, so please, please don’t spend any money that could in any way go back into Salva’s pockets. Check it out, just make sure you don’t scar your children for life when you do.
Who this movie is for: 80’s horror fans, Cheesy slasher lovers, Coulrophobics
Bottom line: Chilling, scary, and absolutely worth a watch for anyone who is terrified by clowns. Unfortunately, you will have to side-step a backstory that is far more horrifying than anything that happens on-screen. Sam Rockwell is fantastic as the older brother in his first film role, and Nathan Forrest Winters and Brian McHugh are great as the final boys. There are some truly terrifying moments in the film, and you can check it out today on YouTube for free. Fuck Victor Salva and Francis Ford Coppola.