Let it be known: I hate clowns. There are very few clown movies I can sit through. I don’t even like when there’s just a random clown in the shot. That creepy make-up and the stupid costumes send chills down my spine. The intro of Killer Klowns from Outer Space stresses me out massively.
So I’m living in a sort of mini-hell these days. It’s clown mania everywhere. People are flocking to see It: Chapter 2. The rest are obsessed with that Terrifier guy… you know the one.
Which, of course explains why I watched a clown slasher movie this week, right?
But it’s a 90s Canadian slasher film, which is “safe” territory as far as clowns go. Thankfully “90s Canadian clown slasher movies” is a pretty niche subgenre, so here we are with The Clown at Midnight. This 1998 gem has a cast of “oh I know them from somewhere!”s and Christopher Plummer and Margot Kidder. And yes it’s as weird as it sounds.
Sometime in the past, a young opera singer is murdered by a man in a clown costume. Years later, her death is still a mystery. It’s presumed that a man named Osini is at fault after she resisted his advances. But the man apparently vanished to Europe after the murder.
Her daughter, Kate, learns that she was adopted. Her birth mother’s fate becomes known to her only after her adopted parents tell her the truth. She becomes plagued with nightmares of the theatre and her mother’s murder. She also sees a clown – presumably from her mother’s last opera, Pagliacci.
Which is why, of course, that she agrees to help clean up the theatre where ol’ Mom popped her clogs! She and a cast of colourful characters are brought together to help renovate the old theatre for their school’s theatre programme.
Each child is a walking stereotype on steroids. Their dialogue proves it as so:
“You’re such a psycho!” (In response to someone owning a snake…)
“I’d rather be a psycho than a prom queen!” (Take that!)
The kids soon meet the owner of the theatre, Mr Caruthers (Plummer). But don’t worry. He’s totally not suspicious! He’s definitely not the killer! Just look the other way. Ignore the heavily pointed dialogue about selling your soul to the devil… And it’s not weird that he wants to talk about the night Kate’s mother was murdered. In detail. Not at all!
Kate meanwhile is suffering. Go figure. She sees ghosts, has more nightmares, and gets generally freaked out. The other kids aren’t exactly helpful at making her more at ease. They go to the scene of the murder and find fresh blood under a carpet.
In the room, Kate discovers letters to her mother from Osini. It’s clear that he didn’t murder her mother, but was actually her mother’s lover…and Kate’s father. So gee – does that mean there’s a possibility that Osini wasn’t the murderer? If only the police had done a casual search of the room to find these letters!
And after enough plot, it’s time to kill everyone off. It’s a pretty hit-and-miss series of killings. Some are rather quick and forgettable. While others are actually really fun and inventive. Its when this movie uses its setting to its advantage that it really begins to shine.
After a few kids are killed off, including Kate’s best friend, the ultimate face-off happens against the killer. Really, you can guess where everything is headed from Caruthers’ first speech. But I don’t know, just pretend to be surprised.
The Clown at Midnight is truly, wonderfully cheesy. It’s a joy to watch. Maybe not for the reasons it intended, but I think that’s okay. It isn’t helped by the fact that it plays like a made-for-TV movie. Though that’s not really surprising considering it was partially produced by Hallmark.
The dialogue is truly diabolical. But that aspect is weirdly enjoyable. (Again…I think I’m enjoying this for the wrong reasons.) Throw some atrocious 90s fashions on top of it, and you’ve got a potential cult film in the making.
But this movie isn’t perfect. Even in its imperfections. It’s weird in the sense that it both expects too much of its audience and thinks its audience is a group of idiots. It assumes the audience knows what the hell Pagliacci is (maybe I’m the only one out of the loop here). Then the movie just reiterates the same information about the murders or Kate’s parentage nearly EVER. DAMN. SCENE.
It does become a bit tedious when the movie refuses to treat its audience like it has half-a-brain. But indulge anyway. It’s ridiculous and it made me laugh, which I guess is the whole point of clowns any way.