This movie had me at zombie clowns. Seriously, when I first heard about this flick my reaction was that it was sort of like pizza--with sure-fire ingredients, even the poorest execution would yield at least a half-decent product.
Well, all I'll say is that if director Steve Sessions invites you over for pizza, make sure he's ordering from Domino's.
Where do I begin with what's hopelessly wrong with this misfire? How about with the fact that Sessions could've made his undead zombie janitors, or zombie meter maids, or zombie used car salesman and still made the exact same movie. He should've borrowed a page from the Chiodo brothers; when they made KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, not only did they embrace the ridiculousness of their premise, but they incorporated the iconography of clowns and circuses, turning them on their ear for horrifically comedic possibilities. Sessions lets every single opportunity to utilize those same images wither on the vine, ignored, opting to go only as far as putting orange wigs on skull-faced zombies.
The film's central premise deals with the coastal town of Port Emmett, a sleepy little burg in the path of an impending hurricane. As various residents (including classic scream queen Brinke Stevens and her heir apparent Debbie Rochon) batten down their various hatches, we learn that Port Emmett has a dark stain in its past--namely, the circus train that derailed off a bridge, killing the passengers on board, whose bodies still remain at the bottom of the river. Stevens gives us this history lesson in the film's very first conversation (kicking off your tale with a clunky backstory is a BAD IDEA, Steve). A simple flashback/prologue--and despite your meager budget, one still could've been feasible--would've done a far better job of establishing the film's mood, as well as being infinitely less boring. (Even worse, Sessions has two different characters go over almost the exact same exposition midway through the movie; there's a dictum in writing classes, Steve, that I suggest you learn: show, don't tell.)
The zombies, miffed that their bodies were never retrieved nor were their deaths memorialized, rise from their watery graves and exact their revenge, descending upon the townsfolk to slaughter and eat them. Session never bothers to explain why they've waited until now to do this, or why they're compelled to eat their victims if their motivation is vengeance.
This blend of John Carpenter's THE FOG and Amando de Ossorio's BLIND DEAD series might've worked if we were given the opportunity to know our characters. In the first 30 minutes we're introduced to 8 people, and all we learn of them are: one's in a wheelchair, Brinke Stevens used to live in Port Emmett and has a personal connection to the tragedy, one's a coke-snorting security guard, and that two of them are on the lam after killing a priest.
(Let me stop for a second here to address that latter pair. Sessions serves up a Mickey and Mallory-type couple on a presumed cross-country crime spree--indicated by Mallory's observation, "This is some stark weather," the closest this movie ever gets to being clever--yet even these two aren't given the chance to develop into anything more than cardboard cut-outs. It also doesn't help that they're played by the two shittiest actors in the cast.)
What Sessions intends to be the plot is really nothing more than flitting between a series of unrelated vignettes that have no real payoff other than the characters' demise. He doesn't seem to grasp the fact that mere external trappings of horror films--and there are quite a few potentially frightening sequences here, accented by Sessions's Carpenter-esque synthesizer score--have zero impact if we have no connection to the flesh-and-blood people in the story.
Even going by the one-dimensional standards of most cheapjack horror flicks, DEAD CLOWNS makes no attempt to make its characters human. The majority of the protagonists spend their time alone with no interaction with anything save the zombies. Not only does this not illuminate them, but it creates not a whit of tension or conflict. And while we're on the subject, why in God's name would you hire someone like Debbie Rochon, an actress whose presence has salvaged many a B-movie, and give her absolutely no dialogue?
But Sessions doesn't limit his mistakes to characterization. Practically every single sequence fails in one way or another, whether it's the inconsistent use of calliope music that heralds the zombies' arrival (a touch that could've been effective in the right hands), or the placement of hilariously inappropriate details; a good example of this is when Sessions attempts an homage to ZOMBIE's infamous eye-gouging scene that not only substitutes a turkey timer for a ten-inch splinter, but builds up to it with (I kid you not) a drumroll. Though Sessions does manage to sneak a few good shots in--particularly the initial rising of the zombies, marred mostly by its brevity--he missteps more often than not, resulting in a movie that'll have you checking your watch almost instantly.
Oh, and let's not forget the ending. Honestly, as boneheaded and repeatedly off-the-mark as DEAD CLOWNS is, I'd recommend it for the sole pleasure of witnessing the most side-splittingly stupid resolution I've ever seen. How stupid? Let's just say that if your life depends on you making a sign, you may want to consider using permanent ink.
The fact that Lionsgate picked this up should give hope to all fledgling filmmakers out there, that no matter how wretched your end result is, somebody will distribute it.