A stiff and silent clown provides ambiguous evidence of visitations by the Underpant People from the sky.
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DIRECTED BY: Richard Elfman
FEATURING: Bodhi Elfman, Rebecca Forsythe, Steve Agee, French Stewart
PLOT: Clown aliens, green aliens, Chinese gangsters, and government agents are all keen to get their hands on a mysterious obelisk that emerged from Eddy’s ass; Eddy would gladly be spared the bother.
COMMENTS: Depending upon your threshold for staggering silliness, Aliens, Clowns, & Geeks will either repel you right away, or draw you in like a frisky fly to a custard pie. The menu is baked in the title, and the chef of this mad meal is spray-painted in candy right there for all to see. This is an Elfman film. Oingo Boingo’s Richard Elfman wrote and directed it, Richard’s boy Bodhi stars in it, Bodhi’s uncle Danny composed the score, Danny’s sister-in-law Anastasia co-stars, and assorted B-movie luminaries flesh out the surrounding cast to deliver as non-stop an outing into fun-time idiocy as I’ve seen since the ’90s.
Overcoming the threat of further nostalgia, I’ll nip it in the bud with this: that innocent decade is where AC&G belongs. This film exists in a permeating atmosphere of un-thought-out nonsensicality and naïve whimsy, teetering along the slicked edge of guffaw and “Good God, why…?” Eddy Pine is a charmless actor and—scratch that, I’ll let him speak for himself: “My mother’s a junkie whore. My father’s an alien from outer space. Killer clowns are out to get me. My asshole’s the portal to the Sixth Dimension – and they cancelled my fucking series! Do you really think everything’s going to be ok?” The first part of Eddy’s lament summarizes the story. As for his question, I spoil no thinking-person’s anticipations by stating here and now: Yes, everything’s going to be okay. Because the Elfmans (Elfmen?) are in charge here.
There were innumerable moments where I half-conceived the thought, “Oh, just move on from this stup-”; but, by the time I had nearly formulated my kvetch, they had moved on. On the outside chance that the on-screen clowning, both literal and figurative, wasn’t enough to keep kicking the antics along, the score reliably schlepps the actors and audience into the next schtick. (Some quick math has just informed me that 83% of the proceedings have full-blown Elfman scoring, heightening the descent into Elfmania.)
Further reflection on ACG does summon hazy complaints about how very little of it actually works; but for this film, reflection is the enemy. While watching, one does not have time to think about what’s going on—such as why the two smokin’ hot Swedes fall for-lite Bodhi, or how Doctor von Scheisenberg (“sh*t mountain”) knows so much about the 18” plinth from Eddy’s posterior—and that is for the best. Just kick back and let the Elfman clan administer an invigorating seltzer-blast into your eyeball.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Chingaso the Clown” runs for 15 minutes (12 minutes without credits) and can be viewed on YouTube in its entirety by clicking this link. The film is mildly Not Safe for Work (NSFW) and would likely be rated R for language and violence.
DIRECTED BY: Elias Matar
FEATURING: Quinn Larson, David Hyatt, Roberta Orlandi
PLOT: A man paints his face and heads off to seek revenge on crime kingpin Bastard the Clown and his Clown Army.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Ending on a cliffhanger, “Chingaso the Clown” not really a full length standalone film; it’s a pitch for a feature that was never made. It’s not bad, but even at full length this action movie parody wouldn’t be weird enough to qualify for the List solely because its chief combatants wear greasepaint and crack bad puns.
COMMENTS: We at 366 Weird Movies pledge that we’ll give any movie a hearing, so long as it meets a basic minimum level of weirdness and quality. “Chingaso the Clown” is proof of that promise. However, we don’t promise that we’ll get to it promptly. The short film “Chingaso the Clown” was made in 2006, and we were asked to review it in 2010; at that point, director Elias Matar was still hoping to expand the short into a feature. He’s since made a different feature film (Ashes, a about a doctor who accidentally creates a zombie virus) and let the chingasotheclown.com domain expire, which suggests the project has been abandoned. Which is a bit of a shame, because “Chingaso the Clown,” the short, isn’t half bad, and almost certainly could have been turned into a viable feature (Troma has released much worse full length films, some of which were probably completed for less than it cost to make the short version “Chingaso”). The premise—an alternate universe in which unscrupulous clowns run the world’s crime cartels—is high concept enough, although the mime vs. clown rivalry angle is lifted from 1991’s Shakes the Clown. The acting is much higher quality than is usually seen in this level of filmmaking: as vengeful Chingaso, Quinn Larson has only one note but nails it; David Hyatt is suitably Joker-esque in the most difficult role as the villain; and former Miss Italy (and sometime television actress) Roberta Orlandi adds a touch of Hollywood glamor that legitimizes the project. The direction is also competent: angles and lighting are interesting, visual effects are inexpensive but judiciously used, and the film shows good attention to detail with no obvious continuity problems. The fight scene choreography could be improved but isn’t off-putting, and the script is mildly amusing throughout, with one, maybe two decent belly laughs. Is it weird? Not so very, but the B-movie spoof crowd would have eaten this up, if it was served to them cheaply enough (they’re a miserly crowd). Unfortunately, Alex de la Iglesia‘s impressive The Last Circus was released in 2010 and pretty much stole the thunder from any subsequent clown vs. clown slugfests. Sorry we didn’t get to the review before that, but even a glowing review from us wasn’t likely to make the difference between funding “Chingaso” and letting the poor guy hang up his floppy shoes for good.
More important than the fate of “Chingaso the Clown” itself is what the movie says about the state of the low-budget film industry today. Two decades ago, before cheap digital cameras and the proliferation of broadband internet, the skill required to make a film like “Chingaso” would be in high demand. Today, however, competition is cutthroat: anyone can make a short movie, and most people who do are giving them away for free on YouTube. We, the entertainment consumers, are drowning in a sea of product, and at this moment in time it’s not good enough for a producer to be skilled. You’ve got to be lucky, too, and even going viral only gives you Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes to exploit your popularity.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…the film is so wonderful that it’s a shame the feature-length version has yet to be made… the excess of violence achieves a unique balance between the hilarious and the grotesque.”–Phil Hall, Film Threat (festival screening)
(This movie was nominated for review by “zinotchka.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)
DIRECTED BY: Darren Lynn Bousman
FEATURING: Terrance Zdunich, Sean Patrick Flanery, Briana Evigan, Jessica Lowndes, Dayton Callie
PLOT: A suicide, a jewel thief, and a thug’s girlfriend die and find themselves at an afterlife circus run by the Devil; he reads the stories of their sins retold as fables, which they re-enact to musical accompaniment supplied by carnies.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: The Devil’s Carnival is a lot like director Darren Lynn Bousman’s previous horror musical effort, Repo: The Genetic Opera, only on a smaller scale. If that one didn’t make it onto the List, then logically this one shouldn’t, either.
COMMENTS: Hell is eternal musical theater! I knew it! The Devil’s Carnival looks like refugees from a Fellini circus took over unused sets from Moulin Rouge. Hell’s color scheme is candy apple red and hot dog mustard yellow, and all the demons have mime-white faces with black and red designs equally inspired by medieval harlequins and KISS. The plot to this musical is delightfully warped, in more ways than one. It involves suicide, thievery, and women in masochistic relationships, but it also benefits from a wild narrative that veers between reality, fantasy, and song and dance numbers at a whim. Fittingly, none of the denizens of the carnival seem the slightest bit surprised by any of it; the three hellbound souls receiving their poetic punishments wonder why they’re suddenly at a state fair designed by David Lynch for all of five seconds before they start accepting the dream at face value. I always like it when a movie script takes on too much and mixes its metaphors. Carnival starts off as Dante by way of Cirque du Soleil, then, one-third of the way in, after each of the three stories is already in progress, the Devil starts reading a book of Aesop’s fables which illustrate the sins (adding to the confusion, the last section, “The Devil’s Due,” doesn’t even refer to Aesop—the quote’s from from Shakespeare and the plot’s from nowhere in particular). Along with the three fables, we also get a backstage peek at the Devil’s lieutenant casting the night’s morality plays and a subplot about the Lucifer-God rivalry, all shoehorned in around a dozen songs in a movie that’s only an hour long. The script’s a mess, but I don’t mean that as a criticism: the overabundance of ideas and references in The Devil’s Carnival gives the entire enterprise a loose and crazy feeling that’s appropriate and appealing. The costume and set design is superlative, and the demonic hoofers—the Hobo Clown, the Painted Doll, and plastic-haired greaser Scorpion—are all a morbid hoot. Where The Devil’s Carnival loses me is with the songs. They are impressively staged and consistently performed in a Weimar-era German cabaret style. The Hobo Clown, ragged hat extended for alms, croons a demented doggerel silhouetted by footlights while a topless woman is whipped in the background (like all of Carnival, this is a surprisingly PG-13 rendition of some very dark material). But the melodies, while appropriately carnivalesque, aren’t memorable, and the libretto can’t match the ambition of the mise-en-scene. There’s too much repetition, and more than once the lyrics fall back on the cheap trick of incorporating children’s nursery rhymes to cop a little irony. Songs like “Kiss the Girls,” with a man menaced by a gang of sexy clowns in Bozo’s of Hollywood lingerie, look great, but make little sense. The lip-syncing is also frequently off, providing another distraction. Ivan L. Moody, a veteran of several minor metal bands with a surprisingly melodious baritone, gives the best performance; but the best conceived number is “Prick,” a love badly sung by a painted waif to a bullfrog that makes clever use of the double meaning in the title. Still, there is nothing here that you’d want to put on your I-Pod (Repo cultists, many of whom bought this soundtrack on the release date without having heard a note, may naturally disagree). Divorced from their presentations, the songs are all competent but forgettable, and, like its predecessor Genetic Opera, it’s that lack of memorable tunes that keeps The Devil’s Carnival from making the leap to the next artistic level. If Bousman could just borrow the talents of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, or even Richard O’Brien, for just a week sometime, he might make something really magical. The film is part of a planned series, and ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Carnival may not have blown me away, but the best compliment I can give it as that it has me looking forward to the next installment—and, it makes me consider looking backward to reassess Repo.
While Bousman continues to make horror movies like Mother’s Day within the Hollywood system, The Devil’s Carnival cements his credibility as a cult filmmaker and suggests he’s dedicated to the more interesting, less-marketable horror-musical concept. The mid-range production values, cable TV-friendly naughtiness, cliffhanger ending and hour-long length of Carnival make it look like a pilot for an HBO series, although there’s no evidence it was ever intended for the small screen. The marketing of the film, which was self-financed by Bousman and partner Terrance Zdunich (who wrote the script and plays the Devil), is innovative: a VOD/Netflix streaming release, supplemented by a collector’s edition DVD/Blu-ray (limited to 6660 copies) and a “carnival road tour.” Hopefully this nontraditional distribution strategy will work and allow the pair to retain their artistic independence by selling directly to the fans.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Dismiss Repo and Carnival as weird musicals for weird people if you like, but there’s always room for a filmmaker who treats his ticket-buyers well and delivers something sort of … unsafe.”–Scott Weinberg, FearNet (contemporaneous)