FEAR OF CLOWNS 2 PREMIERE
The show is about to begin.
"It's like your Aliens to Alien."
That's what I told Kevin Kangas, writer/director of Hunting Humans and Fear of Clowns, after seeing his sequel to Clowns, Fear of Clowns 2.
He just laughed. People who have listened to his commentaries, or have seen the behind-the-scenes features on his DVDs have called him arrogant on the IMDB boards and in at least one horror podcast. But they don't know him because, in reality, he's very modest about his films. He's also his own worst critic.
So when he called and told me he was really happy with how Clowns 2 was turning out, I was excited. I had spent a couple of days on the Clowns 2 set last year, writing a report for HorrorTalk. And I really liked what I saw. The fact that he seemed very happy with it was a good sign. We still debate Hunting Humans. I believe I think it's better than he does.
And when he called and invited me to the Clowns 2 premiere, I was even more excited. There is something exquisitely sweet about going to a movie premiere. It's not just the excitement of seeing the stars of the movie pull up in a Stretch Hummer and walk the red carpet. But there's also that excitement of seeing something before anyone else (minus the rest of the audience, of course).
Is that bragging? Possibly. But mentioning that having your name on the "list" and being invited to both the pre- and after-party is definitely bragging. I'm not as modest as Kevin.
Fear of Clowns 2 premiered to a packed house at the historic Senator Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. That's not too shabby for a low-budget flick with tickets going for $20 each (popcorn and soda thrown in with the price).
But the lucky folks who purchased the ticket certainly got what they paid for — and then some. There was a limo-to-door red carpet walk, which consisted of all the major players from the movie (sans the director of photography, David Mun, who, sadly, couldn't make it due to a new gig in Hollywoodland): Jacky "Lynn Blodgett" Reres (who is nothing short of stunning), Frank "Detective Peters" Lama, Mark "Shivers the Clown" Lassise, Tom "Rego" Proctor, Adam "Hot Rod" Ciesielski, Lars "Stoltz" Stevens, Clarence "Ogre" McNatt and Kevin "Of Course He'd Be There" Kangas. And when they weren't getting pictures with the fans, or signing autographs, they were being interviewed by not one, but two local television crews. Rock on, Mr. Kangas.
Soon enough, the cast and crew headed inside for a small pre-movie party, where champagne flowed and catching-up entailed. Or, in some cases (like mine), pictures were taken with them.
Eventually, after everyone had filed into the theater and found their seats, it was time for the movie to begin. Before the film started, Kangas said a few words, but kept them brief. He hates speeches, and I think he just wanted to get the show started. And, after his thank-yous and acknowledgments, it did.
Fear of Clowns 2 opens with Detective Dan Peters (a much more mellow Lama this time around) being told by a doctor that he has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease — a mind degenerating illness that attacks the brain, eventually rendering the person a vegetable. Like the doctor said, it's not a question of how long Peters will live, but "…how long you'll live and still function at a reasonable level."
Realizing his days of detecting are numbered, Peters decides to turn in his badge — only things quickly change when his boss informs him that Shivers, the homicidal clown from the first movie, has escaped from the loony bin with two accomplices, the giant Tom "Ogre" Holland and his creepy sidekick Fred "Giggles" Dekker. Knowing Shivers will go after Lynn (Jacky Reres) — she and the clown do, after all, have some unfinished business; her death cures his sickness — Peters decides to take on one last case.
Having found out about Shivers' escape herself, Lynn rings up Peters for the scoop. Peters suggests lunch, to which Lynn agrees, and there, he puts his plans on the table. Unlike the lunch, Lynn does not agree to Peters' plans. He wants to put Shivers down once and for all. She doesn't think it's right.
But, after a near-death experience at Peters' home, Lynn has a change of heart. So Peters takes her to a safe place — the isolated farm he owns — calls in some backup (Rego, Hot Rod and Stoltz) and plan for one helluva clown showdown.
I noticed two things in Clowns 2 immediately: The acting and the pacing.
The acting is, hands down, the best acting in anything Kangas has done to date. Every player (except for maybe one character that is in the movie very briefly) is rock solid. And, hell, even the returning actors — Reres, Lama, Lassise — have really amped up their performances. The most noticeable is Reres. In my review of the first Clowns, I said "Newcomer Jacky Reres, as Lynn, has a great deal of potential. While she does overact a tad in a few scenes, it is evident that, with a few more films under her belt, she could be a familiar face not only in the Maryland film scene, but beyond." And, by golly, she proved me right. While she may not be more experienced since Fear of Clowns (IMDB lists Clowns and Clowns 2 as her only credits), she is obviously much more comfortable in front of the camera, and within her role. Her fear is more believable, the overacting completely gone and, overall, she gives a more natural and better performance.
Frank Lama, too, has turned it on by tuning it down. In the first film, he was a bit hamfisted in his performance (which in some scenes helped, but others not so much). But in Clowns 2, his man-on-one-last-mission is authentic. His character is emotionally drained and, dammit, it looks as if Lama is, too. Peters is dying and Lama makes you know it. Plus, there are two scenes, scenes you will know when you see them, Lama really nailed — both of which got cheers from the audience.
And Mark Lassise got some opportunity to expand on his talents this time around. Given more lines and more depth to his character, he doesn't come across so much as a brainless killing machine. Crazy as fuck killing machine, sure. But not brainless. This depth, and his performance, added to both the enjoyment of the movie, and the character.
The other players, Tom Proctor, Adam Ciesielski, Lars Stevens, Clarence McNatt and Philip Levine (who played "Giggles" and, unfortunately, was not at the premiere) only added to the already great performances. Granted, on the clown side, Levine stole it. This cat is freaky-deaky. You have to wonder if he was acting. I don't know if I want to meet him to find out. But there's also something to be said about McNatt's silent but brutal "Ogre." This guy speaks softly, but swings a big nail-studded stick. And when he laughs, he's just not right.
Ciesielski delivered some of the best lines in the movie, and the audience laughed with him. Playing "Hot Rod", a guy who may like guns just a little too much, Ciesielski's natural comedic delivery broke the tension more than once. His co-stars Proctor (who just wasn't onscreen enough) and Stevens brought a nice balance with their own quiet badass-ness.
And while he wasn't in front of the lens, director of photography David Mun's behind-the-camera performance is as impressive as the rest. This film looks big budget — especially to those of us who are familiar with what low-budget looks like. Like the first, there's no point and shoot action here. And you can tell his experience on such films as D.E.B.S. and the Showtime series "Weeds" has seasoned him well.
The acting is only equaled by the pacing in Clowns 2 because, man, this flick moves. The original Clowns clocked in at 106 minutes (the limited edition at 114), and felt a little bloated. Clowns 2 runs at a leaner 102 minutes, and it has none of the fatness of its predecessor. The film is a freight train, in no uncertain terms greatly aided by the fantastic — and I really do mean fantastic — score by Chad Seiter. Kangas' movies have always had great scores, and Seiter also did the music for Clowns, but here he outdoes himself. The last 20 minutes are packed with tension, atmosphere and action, and Seiter's score grabs you, straps you down and forces you in for the duration. Not that I saw anyone complaining.
The buildup to those last 20 minutes is a great ride, too. The film has at least four decapitations and one body cut clean in half. Not to mention an axe to the eye, the face and the shoulder. Clowns 2 serves up a platter of gore, grue, mayhem and madness, and when you think you've had your fill, another plate is thrust in front of you. Good times, indeed.
Sadly, though, there is one problem I have with the film I saw (I'll get to the "I saw" part in a minute): The ending. It's a cheat. It's a pisser that I can't tell you why it's a cheat, because it would be a major spoiler, but it's a cheat nonetheless. And it hurts the film, some. You have this fantastic buildup, only to have an unsatisfying ending — somewhat like Haute Tension (and, no, it doesn't end like that). The ending is certainly not as bad as the mess that is Tension, but I did feel almost as unsatisfied.
However, after speaking with Kangas recently, he has informed me he has changed the ending. If it comes off as he explained, well damn, now we're talking. Hell, I can't wait to see it again.
With Fear of Clowns 2, Kevin Kangas has pulled off something that is pretty damn hard to do — he made a sequel that is better than the original. Damn right. I liked Fear of Clowns, but Fear of Clowns 2 smokes it. It's got more action, more tension, stronger acting and a killer score. And if one were to judge by the applause and hoots and hollers from the audience, he's got himself a winner.
With the ending I saw, I can only give it three and a half stars, because it did, as mentioned, hurt the movie some. But I guarantee you if Kangas goes with the ending he told me of, it gets a bump to a very solid four stars.