IT, KILLER CLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE ... there isn't exactly a great run of horror films centred on the naturally scary notion of clowns. But maybe the 2007 film SECRETS OF THE CLOWN can bring something exciting to this under-developed sub-genre?

The film begins with Val (Kelli Clevenger) returning to her boyfriend Bobby's (Paul Pierro) house one evening, and spurning his sexual advances before telling him their relationship is over. She walks out on him, leaving him heartbroken.

Bobby invites his best friend Jim (Jay O'Connor) over and the pair share a bottle of hard liqueur in an attempt to forget about Val. While berating the woman, Jim points out the ugly clown doll that Val has left behind. Bobby explains how it's always freaked him out, but Val would never allow him to get rid of it because she claimed it "protected" her.

As Bobby leaves the room to answer a telephone call from Val, Jim drunkenly picks the doll up and takes it outside to throw it away ... moments later he is dead, stabbed to death by an off-screen assailant sporting clown gloves.

Bobby wakes up in hospital after this event, unable to remember what happened or even that Jim has been killed. Val rushes to Bobby's side in the hospital and breaks the news to him, moving back into the house and back into his life in the process.

But all is not well. Bobby can hear Jim's voice calling him at times, and is convinced his house is now haunted by Jim's spirit. After all, furniture has been moving by itself ...

Meanwhile, Val is suffering from unhinged visions of her own - gory slashings, scary clown faces and so on. It's hardly a marriage made in Heaven.

Things go from bad to worse when Bobby and Val meet up with their old pals John (John Blick), Louie (Thomas Perez), Mike (Dusty Mitchell) and Ken (Scott Allen Luke) prior to Jim's funeral. When Bobby reveals to his pals that he believes he's being haunted by Jim's ghost, Ken recommends a local psychic who can discover who killed Jim - thus putting his unsettled spirit to rest.

As you can imagine, the arrival of the camp blonde psychic (Michael Kott) serves as the catalyst for more gory murders and all manner of desperately-trying-to-be-spooky mayhem ...

SECRETS OF THE CLOWN is a pretty poor film. It's not just that it's shot on a miniscule budget and features some laughably ropy FX, or even that the performances are lacking across the board.

Rather, CLOWN fails to entertain because of its erratic storytelling and clumsily edited "shock" nightmare sequences, which quickly irritate in their frequency.

Elsewhere, writer-director Ryan Badalamenti throws one horror clich� after another into the mix, including ELM STREET-style creepy score snippets here, heavy metal music there, and a faux finale that has been seen umpteen times.

Also, the identity of Jim's killer is rather obvious from the offset, so that part of the screenplay is completely devoid of tension. As for the storyline concerning Val's clown doll, it becomes little more than an afterthought, returning to the fore only in the final act.

Admittedly there is ambition evident here (the story offers more than your typical slasher film, delving into supernatural territory and attempting to provide some demons for our efforts, despite the lack of budget).

So it's not all bad. But the bulk of the film falls victim to poor lighting, ugly compositions and framing, a muddled script and the aforementioned bad acting (Pierro's tearful speech at his friend's funeral is the highlight/low point).

With over-emphatic music ruining the atmosphere of key scenes and bad CGI tearing us further away from any chance of reaching a suspension of disbelief, CLOWN is undone by a few flaws too many. Unfortunately, it's not even entertaining enough to qualify as "so bad it's good".

So, SECRETS OF THE CLOWN is not the great clown-horror film the world (well, me) has been waiting for. Rather, it's a cheap, visually grubby and uninvolving horror with characters of zero interest and flash-edit nightmare/gore scenes that seem like watered-down clips from a bad Lucifer Valentine film.

SECRETS OF THE CLOWN comes to us uncut in non-anamorphic 1.85:1. The transfer is overly dark, at times making it nigh-on impossible to follow the onscreen action. The film is shot on HD but, while colours are strong, they are perhaps a little over-exposed at times, while detail is a little soft.

On the other hand, the English 2.0 audio is without problems in its playback.

The static main menu page leads into an animated scene-selection menu allowing access to the main feature via 4 chapters. Whereas the other titles available in Brain Damage's maiden run of UK DVDs - SILENT BLOODNIGHT, SERUM, DEATH OF A GHOST HUNTER, PREY FOR THE BEAST and TORTURE ME NO MORE - all have identical white-patterned menu schemes, CLOWN breaks the mould by opting for an equally basic black design.

As with the other Brain Damage discs, this DVD's only 'extras' are trailers for the six films that make up this initial Brain Damage sextet.

If you're looking for an evening of clich�d modern horror conventions and maladroit plot dynamics, check out SECRETS OF THE CLOWN.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Brain Damage
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review