Monday, January 18, 2010

Issue #9: Secrets of the Clown (2007)

I don't care how beautiful you are, a dangly belly button piercing makes you look like a slut.

Now I'm not saying that's why Michelle Brancato gets killed within the first five minutes of Secrets of the Clown, but I don't think it helped. Neither did the lime green lace panties. Or balloon-like breasts. At the very least they were disturbing to watch. Tony Lee as her doomed boyfriend/husband doesn't fare very well either, and he doesn't have any visible piercings so maybe that theory is indeed flawed. But he does have a huge chest, and I am ashamed to say that I couldn't resist the urge to refer to the couple as Tits and Pecs.

A lot of people get killed in this offering from writer/director Ryan Badalamenti, which centers around a couple named Val (Kelli Clevenger) and Bobbie (Paul Pierro). I know Bobbie is the girly way of spelling the name, but that's what it says in the IMDB credits (oddly, there are no credits on the DVD) so we're going with that.

Bobbie and Val have been together for four years. Nobody knows why, as they have absolutely nothing in common, but stranger things have happened in relationship land (Seal and Heidi Klum, for instance) so we'll let that slide. As the movie opens, though, Val is obviously upset about something. Having spent the evening at the library where she works, she leaves to find a creepy homeless guy hanging around. He gets creepier when he shows up outside her car, taps on the window, and hands her a book she dropped. The title: The Demonic Doll.

Creepy dolls are nothing new in horror films. In fact, we'll be looking at a bunch of them in a later post. For now we're just concentrating on one particular doll. It's a clown. Val apparently loves it, as she's very protective of it. Which makes it even odder that when she gets home, packs her bags, and leaves Bobbie without any explanation, it's the one thing she leaves behind. Oh, and this is where we find out that Tits and Pecs are their next door neighbors. Also, before she leaves Val takes a shower and we see that she has a weird symbol branded into her arm. Later we will wonder why Bobbie never noticed this, as it's a good 4 inches long and surely he's seen her naked, but for now we just wonder why she's in such a hurry to get away from Bobbie, who by the way is waiting in the bedroom to have sex with her.

This is where things start to go downhill. Having come over to help Bobbie drink a lot following Val's departure, Bobbie's friend Jim decides to teach the clown doll a lesson by smashing its feet. He then goes outside, where he sees a set of glowing eyes in the darkness and decides to investigate. Moments later he crawls onto the porch, his leg a bloody mess, and is stabbed to death by a hand that looks suspiciously as if it might belong to a clown.

By now you might be wondering how the clown doll and the apparent killer clown are connected. Well, you'll have to wait to find out. You'll have to wait a looooooong time. For right now we're more concerned about Bobbie, who goes outside to see what's keeping Jim, slips and hits his head, and wakes up in the hospital. We know it's a hospital because there's a microscope on the dresser. Also, glass containers of swabs and tongue depressors. Oh, and a cutaway model of a head showing the sinuses. It's very realistic.

Val comes and takes Bobbie home, where he falls asleep and dreams about the clown doll sitting in the microwave with what appears to be grape jelly oozing from its eyes. No, I don't know why. Probably somebody thought it was cool. Or maybe it's a reference to the Karen Black movie Trilogy of Terror (which we visited earlier in Issue #7) where Karen tried to kill a demonic doll by putting it in the microwave. Only all that did was release the evil spirit in the doll, which then went into Karen and made her want to kill her mother, so it's not exactly a good plan.

Anyway, Bobbie wakes up and he and Val have a spat about how Val seems to care more about the clown doll than about dead Jim.  Then Bobbie's friends Jon and Louie arrive to take Bobbie to the cemetery, where they're going to visit Jim's grave. Only when Bobbie goes to tell Val he's leaving he sees Jim's ghost standing behind her. This is a little upsetting, especially as he's been hearing Jim's voice a lot as well.

At the cemetery the three guys meet up with their friend Mike and his girlfriend Kelly, who has a weird mouth and really dry hair. Their friend Ken is also there. Jon apparently dislikes Ken because Ken is getting his master's degree, which Ken mentions right off the bat, although we never find out what his degree is in. Then Bobbie tells Jon that he thinks Jim's spirit might be in his house and Ken overhears and tells Bobbie that, hey, he read an article recently about a woman who had a ghost problem and hired a psychic to come see what was what and maybe they should do that too.

Jon thinks this is crazy talk and tells everyone else what's going on, even though Bobbie asked him nicely not to. Mike tells Jon that he's a jerk and Jon tells Mike to do something to himself and Mike punches Jon in the nose. Jon runs off like a little girl and gets in his car, where he's promptly slaughtered, and if you ask me it's none too soon because he gets on your nerves really quickly. But Bobbie and Louie and Ken and Mike and Kelly get upset when they find him, so they're apparently not as judgmental as I am.

While all this is going on Val is at home fretting about something. Then she sees the word SOON written on the window in what looks like Karo syrup with red food coloring in it but I guess is supposed to be blood.  And she's all like, "No, no, no, no, no."

We're now treated to a fairly long segment in which Bobbie, wearing a wifebeater and looking pretty darn yummy, is trying to write his eulogy for Jon's funeral but keeps hearing Jim calling to him. He gives up on writing and goes upstairs, where he finds the bedroom lit with dozens of candles. If it were another kind of movie you might think Val was trying to sex him up, but instead we see a creepy clown face and Bobbie screams.

But it's okay because it turns out it's a dream. Bobbie wakes up and goes into the kitchen, where he finds Val in a trance. But when he touches her she turns into a zombie-demon type thing and gets all up in his face. He ends up having to smack her upside the head with the toaster, which he seems to enjoy a little too much.

But it's okay because that's all a dream too. I know. I know. It's all very eighth season of Dallas, where the writers had to explain how Patrick Duffy's Bobby came back from the dead and so they made the entire season be a dream. But audiences forgave them for that, so we should be equally magnanimous and remember that writing a script is hard and sometimes you just need to do things like this.

Now it's time for Jon's funeral, at which we learn that he and Bobbie were best friends since childhood, which I don't quite buy because Jon really was a jerk and Bobbie is sweet and, well, it simply isn't believable. Also, the funeral home has a parlor filled with Hummels and I was a little freaked out by that. My paternal grandmother collected Hummels and they were always staring at us, so although she found the little goose girl charming I was sure she was full of evil and tried not to look at her.

This is where Val finds out about the proposed seance and freaks out. She tells Bobbie to make sure she's left out of it, which seems odd because if she wanted to be left out she could just not be at the house when it happens. She also mentions that she too has heard voices in the house and when Bobbie asks why she didn't think to say anything maybe before he thought he was going crazy she says it's because she's been having dreams about his death and didn't want to scare him even more. He appreciates this and tells her everything will be okay, which we totally know isn't true at all because only about 45 minutes have gone by.

That night the psychic arrives wearing a black cloak and sporting a really bad blond dye job. They never do explain where they found him, which becomes a problem for me later. For now, though, all you have to know is that he's very dramatic. He closes his eyes a lot and breathes deeply, and at one point he says to Bobbie, "Though my ways may trouble you, I need you to trust me." Bobbie says okay, which doesn't seem to me to be the best course of action. But the psychic is all very Zelda "there's a presence in this house" Rubenstein in Poltergeist about it and doesn't really give anyone any other option, so there's that.

While Bobbie and the psychic are getting to know one another the rest of Bobbie's friends are in the basement playing pool and wondering what's going on. Someone mentions how weird Val is and wonders why Bobbie is with her, but Mike says that Bobbie is super smart and got a 35 on his ACT's in high school and therefore knows what he's doing so everyone should just shut up about it. Then Ken suggests they try a kind of ouija board thing using a shot glass as a planchette and the words YES and NO written on pieces of paper.

They ask Jim's spirit a couple of questions including "Do you know who did this?" and "Is the murderer someone we know?" The shot glass moves to the YES paper for each of these, which gets everyone all worked up.

Upstairs Bobbie has told the psychic about the clown doll. He asks to see it, but when Bobbie goes to get it he finds that it's gone. Val has taken it. The psychic finds this interesting, although no one else does.

Back downstairs Ken asks Jim's spirit if the murderer is in the house. The shot glass slides to NO. "Are you a friend?" Ken asks. When the glass moves to NO they realize that they aren't speaking to Jim's spirit after all and that something unpleasant is in the house. This is proven a moment later when the light above the table explodes and Ken winds up with shards of glass piercing his face. As Ken is pretty cute, this is unfortunate on multiple levels.

So where is Val during all of this? She's driving away. But she thinks about Bobbie and changes her mind, pulling a U-turn on the highway and heading back to him. Only her car breaks down and she doesn't have AAA and she has to hitch a ride with a creepy cowboy who seems oddly familiar. But she's too tired to figure out why and decides to take a little nap.

Meanwhile, at the house the psychic is yelling at everyone for initiating contact with the spirit and Bobbie is pulling pieces of glass out of Ken's face. And here is where something fairly clever happens. As Bobbie pulls out a particularly large shard of glass the camera moves in and for a second -- just a second -- the face of the evil clown from Bobbie's dreams is reflected in it. It's a small moment, but often the small moments mean the most, don't you think? After all, Judi Dench won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love and she was in it for a total of eight minutes.

In the car Val wakes up to find the creepy cowboy feeling her up. She objects to this and tells him to let her out. He says that he can't do that, as he's been sent by "him" to babysit her and make sure she doesn't cause any trouble. That's when Val notices the scar on his hand, which is the same symbol she has branded on her arm. She's a little ticked off by this, and her eyes get all glowy and she mutters some mumbo-jumbo that makes the cowboy bleed from his eyes and ears and mouth and the car runs off the road and crashes into something. I can't remember what. An elk maybe, or a pole of some kind.

Now Val needs a new ride, which she gets from a woman who seems very nice but who has a crucifix hanging from her rear view mirror and you know from the moment you see it that sooner or later she's going to bring up Jesus. The woman sees the book sticking out of Val's bag and the two of them have an awkward conversation about what Val is reading. The woman tells her she shouldn't be ashamed of reading, even if it's romance novels or "something dirty." Finally Val tells her that it's a book about witchcraft, to which the woman responds, "Witchcraft is the Devil's playground. It'll lead nowhere but a fiery grave."

Sigh. As if there's not enough religious intolerance going around these days. Why go there? Especially when it upsets Val, who says sadly, "For the sins I've committed my soul is beyond redemption." Of course you want to know what these sins are, but that will have to wait. For now the woman hands Val a card on which is written:

There's just one problem. That's actually Romans 6:23. Romans 3:23 says,"For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God." You learn these things when you spend your childhood in Baptist Sunday School doing Sword Drills. Don't ask.

Personally, I think it would have been way more interesting if she had given Val one of those Chick tracts. You know, the ones you sometimes find slipped under your windshield wipers. They feature comic book type stories with some kind of scare tactic message about abortion or porn or gay people and have names like "The Death Cookie," "There Go the Dinosaurs," and "Why is Mary Crying?" They always end with someone going to Hell.

The woman could have given Val a copy of "The Nervous Witch," for example, in which (ha ha!) we learn that the Harry Potter books open the door for demonic spirits. Had Val read something like that a little sooner, a lot of unpleasantness could have been avoided.

Yes, Val is a witch. As if you didn't know that from her glowy eyes trick. And now Bobbie finds out about her too, as a voice calls him upstairs and he goes through Val's underwear drawer and finds The Demonic Doll. And inside that is a parchment covered in occult drawings and words in a made-up language. Possibly Klingon.

I forgot to mention that while all this is happening Louie went outside to smoke a joint and was attacked by the clown. He lived long enough to crawl to the basement window and bang on it, but before his friends could pull him inside the clown made off with him, making everybody sad.

What's that? Yes, I did notice the design on the clown's hand. Interesting, isn't it?

Now we're back on track. Val runs away from the Christian lady when they stop for gas and jogs home, passing a street sign that says LIES RD, which I'm sure was entirely coincidental and isn't supposed to be at all symbolic. Oh, and these two guys (one of them played by director Badalamenti) think she's hot and follow her.

Back at the house Bobbie informs everyone that Val is the killer, then promptly faints. The psychic fills in the gaps, telling them that Val has found a way to cheat death and has an evil servant who takes the form of a clown! He doesn't explain how he knows this, but at this point you start to wonder if maybe he knows more than he's letting on. You know, just possibly.

Bobbie, still in a faint, has a vision in which he goes to the cemetery and meets Jim's spirit. Jim tells him that Val isn't the killer and that she's trying to save him.

Now what? Oh, right. Remember Bobbie's dream where Val turned into a zombie thing? Well now Ken turns into a zombie thing. Only it's for real. He stabs Kelly with a piece of glass, knocks Mike out, and eventually is skewered on a samurai sword by Bobbie, who hates to do it to his friend but has really pretty much had it with the whole zombie thing. Then they all try to run out of the house but find it blocked by the evil clown, so that's out.

Val is still jogging, and she's almost there when she's confronted by the evil clown. The two guys who think she's hot get out of their car to help her and you know what happens to them. Which they kind of deserve because they're married (not to each other, because the story takes place just outside Chicago and Illinois doesn't have gay marriage yet) and shouldn't be pogging around after a girl in distress anyway.

Fun Fact: "Pogging" is a term my friends and I coined in college to describe men who fall victim to "Pelvic Oriented Guidance" and think with their little head instead of their big head. Feel free to use it.

Now the clown and Val are face to face and it's slightly uncomfortable for everyone. What does she do? She takes the clown doll, holds it up, and the evil clown disappears. I know, right? You weren't expecting that.

She finally makes it back to the house, where she goes inside and is all witchy, making the door shut by waving her hand at it and stuff. She confronts the psychic and we now enter a period of exposition in which characters tell us a lot so that we don't feel stupid anymore.

Basically it turns out that Val is a student of the psychic, who is really some kind of black magician (as in a practitioner of the black arts, not an African-American magician, although I suppose you could be both). He apparently taught her the secret to eternal life, which involves doing two things:

1. Capturing a demonic spirit and imprisoning it in a doll.
2. Killing a loved one.

Val was given four years in which to do this, which seems like a long time when the psychic says that demonic spirits are "everywhere" and just waiting around to be put into dolls. And it's never made clear what happens if she doesn't accomplish it in four years. Probably she applies for an extension like all of those doctoral candidates who put off their dissertations for as long as possible.

Anyway, as you might have guessed by now Bobbie is the loved one she's supposed to have killed. Only she really does love him and can't bring herself to do it. That's why she left. She went back to the psychic and told him that she would serve him forever if only he spared Bobbie's life. You know, because making deals with evil sorcerers always turns out well.

Of course he said okay and then totally welched on the deal. Again, I don't really know why. It's something to do with needing souls to remain immortal, but it doesn't really make sense that his immortality has different rules than Val's. Unless he's in love with Bobbie too, but he's only known him for a few hours so it seems unlikely. Also, he's not really a loving kind of guy, the psychic. More like psychotic.

This is where I stopped and wondered just how the psychic engineered it that he would be the one Bobbie called to do a seance. Or did he just kill the psychic Bobbie did call and take his place? No one ever explains that, and I wish they would. It's been bothering me.

The evil clown, by the way, is the psychic's demonic helper. I know you probably figured that out, but I just wanted to be clear that it has nothing to do with Val or her clown doll. Now we can move on.

Fast forward a bit. Everyone is tied up in the cellar. The psychic is going to kill at least Bobbie and probably everyone. He tells the clown to kill Bobbie and make it slow. Val whispers to Bobbie that she loves him and that they need to get the clown doll because Jim's spirit is in it. This is an important piece of information.

The clown stabs Bobbie. Val calls out to Jim for help and the clown doll stabs the psychic in the back. I don't know why Val didn't do this before the evil clown stabbed Bobbie, but I guess she had her reasons. Now she frees everyone from the chains. Val yells for Kelly to get the clown doll. Mike clocks the evil clown. It all looks as if it might end well.

It doesn't. The psychic stabs Kelly. The clown breaks Mike's neck. The psychic tells Val it's not too late for her to join him. She seems to consider it for a second, but remembers that she loves Bobbie. The psychic disappears into thin air, leaving the evil clown behind. Val picks up the clown doll and sucks the evil clown's soul into it. I think.

At this point I was still confused. Fortunately, Val explains it all to Bobbie. I'm sure this is the clip the producers sent to the Academy when suggesting Kelli Clevenger for an Oscar nom, because it's a real heart-tugger. See, she did indeed plan on killing Bobbie. But she couldn't because he's cute and sweet, so instead she put a spell on the clown doll that was supposed to protect Bobbie from harm. No, I don't know how. She's not really specific. Then the magician sent the evil clown to kill Bobbie. But it killed Jim instead and Jim's soul got stuck in the clown doll. This suggests that Bobbie wasn't exactly protected from the evil clown by the doll so much as his soul would have gone into the doll if he was killed, which doesn't sound like it's much better and makes me wonder if Val is really all that good at being a witch.

It gets more confusing. Apparently the way it works is that when the clown demon kills someone it somehow transfers that person's soul to its master, in this case the magician. But somehow Jim's soul went into the doll instead of being transferred to the psychic, which is why his spirit is trapped in this realm. Only now it's not because the demon is dead, so that's good.

Now we come to the end. Almost. Bobbie wakes up in the hospital again. He's being tended to by a lovely nurse, who just happens to be played by Susie Christine, Playboy Cyber Girl for the week of June 27, 2005. Susie tells Bobbie that he's been in a coma for a whole year and that everything has been a dream. Then she gives him a sedative.

Note: In case you want to follow her career, Susie Christine apparently decided to become Susie Grant at some point, but the DVD cover for Secrets of the Clown still says Susie Christine so don't send me notes telling me I'm wrong. I'm not. I would also like to say that despite what comes next, Susie actually gives a really natural performance as the nurse and was a nice surprise.

So Susie gives Bobbie a sedative. Then she turns into a naughty nurse and takes off her uniform and climbs on top of Bobbie. For a moment it seems as if things are going to go in a new direction, but then she starts spitting blood all over Bobbie and it's not sexy at all.

And then Bobbie wakes up. Again. The nurse is there again and she's not at all unpleasant. (This is the part where Susie Christine/Grant is very good). Again Bobbie thinks he's been in a coma for a year. He even says as much to Val when she comes in to see him. She just kind of nods and helps him into a wheelchair, apparently so they can roam around the hospital or something.

But on the way out the door they're stopped by the doctor, who looks suspiciously like the evil magician. Why? Because he is! Bwahahahahahahaha!

And then Bobbie wakes up. No, I'm serious. It was another dream. This time he wakes up and sees the doctor/magician dead on the floor beside the bloody clown doll. Val has killed him with her witchy ways and everything is fine.

Except that Val maybe didn't use her witchy ways. She's holding in her hand the card with the Bible verse on it, leaving me to believe that she conjured up Jesus or Archangel Gabriel or Saint Peter and had them smite her foe. You know, because she's cleansed of sin now or something.

No, I don't like this message either. In fact, when I saw that I felt as if I'd just watched a 90 minute Chick tract. I don't know if that's what Badalamenti was going for, and I really don't think he was, but it's still icky and wrong.

Fortunately there is an alternate ending included on the disc, and it's much better. In that one Bobbie wakes up and is shackled to the chair. Behind him stands Val, her eyes all glowy. To his right is the demon clown holding a knife, and to his left is the magician/doctor. The doctor leans down and licks some blood off Bobbie's face and the scene fades out.

They should have gone with that one.

The other extra on the DVD is an hour of interviews with the cast and crew of Secrets of the Clown. These are enormously entertaining, at least if you want to hear gaffer Tom Burnett talk about his favorite moments of the shoot, Paul Pierro talk about going commando after getting his shorts wet in a bathtub scene, or Micheal Kott (the psychic, and yes he misspells Michael on purpose) talk about how he's really a stage actor and didn't know if he would like making a film (he did). The best bit by far is the interview with Scott Whipple, the absolutely adorable nerdy bodybuilder who played the demon clown, the evil cowboy, and the creepy homeless guy at the library. He also designed the clown's look and rewrote parts of the script. If he knows how to cook I'm marrying him, although his wife might have something to say about that. She's in the interview too, but I don't think she had anything to do with the film.

So now you know what secrets the clown was keeping. I assume that refers to the clown doll and not the clown demon, but does it really matter?

Favorite Line: "I can't believe this is happening. What's next?"

Rating (Out of 5):