The lead singer of an opera house was brutally murdered after one of her fellow performers proclaimed his love for her and went into a jealous rage when he saw her with someone else. Years later and the singer’s daughter is now a college student who is now a part of a theatre group renovating the old opera house as part of a summer project. But the jilted killer is still lurking and proceeds to kill off the group one-by-one.
I had flashbacks to the entertaining Italian slasher Stagefright when I watched this. Not too many horror films are set in grand opera houses and it’s an underused setting in the genre. But forgetting the obvious comparisons with Stagefright, the most blatant bedfellow for The Clown At Midnight is Scream. Made in the wake of Wes Craven’s classic post-modern slasher, this one has all of the hallmarks of the teen slasher only without the self-referential nonsense and with more of an old school feel to it. Even the cover art for the UK DVD release looks like an unashamed knock-off, with glum-looking head shots of the young attractive cast plastered around the outline of the mysterious killer.
The Clown At Midnight is hardly the most memorable slasher out there but it’s actually half-decent for what it is. Derivative characters who are not unlike every other slasher character every conceived, a story which Stevie Wonder could see coming, twists and turns which would surprise no one and scares that wouldn’t frighten a patient waiting for a heart by-pass mean that the usual clichés are all present in abundance. This is a slasher after all and a sub-genre which is not known for its cutting edge take on new material. You’ll never once get behind any of the characters. You’ll never feel in danger for the Final Girl. You’ll expect everything to pan out in a linear manner and the film will gladly deliver those expectations.
But there are a few positives. For a start, the use of a clown as the killer is a bit of a cheap scare tactic. Most people hate clowns with a passion and so already there’ll be people squirming around in horror at the thought that their worst fears will be brought to life. This isn’t IT or Killer Klowns From Outer Space but those with a fear of clowns will most definitely not be sat comfortable throughout this one.
As I stated at the beginning of the review, the opera house setting is a nice touch. There are countless hidden passageways and secret entrances for use in the plays that the opera house would have hosted but are now used for the sadistic purposes of the killer. The opening half does a good job of building up a decent level of suspense and mystery. It’s not hard to guess who the killer is – like the typical Scooby Doo episode, there are only so many people that it could be and once the cast start to thin out, it’s practically impossible not to see where the film is heading. During the second half, the suspense is ditched in favour of cheaper gore tactics. Those looking for an old school 80s throwback will be disappointed – The Clown At Midnight handles its gore like the majority of post-modern slashers – minimal.
Quite what Christopher Plummer is doing in something as low brow as this is a mystery but he’s the requisite experienced hand to steady the ship alongside the young cast. Plummer is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the way of talent and he doesn’t even need to try to better them. Margot Kidder, most famous for her stint as Lois Lane in the Christopher Reeve Superman films, also stars but time hasn’t been good to her and she’s wasted in a pointless role, destined to be high profile fodder for the killer. The rest of the cast are your typical fresh-faced teenagers and whilst they’re all not particularly great in their one-dimensional roles (you know the type: the bitchy girl, the jock, the rebellious one, etc), they’re not overly terrible. It’s like an anti-version of Noah’s ark. Instead of taking two of everything, the script makes sure that only one representative from each of the typical school social groups is represented. Why not two bitchy girls? Or a whole group of rebellious teenagers? These films never fail to amuse me in that respect.
Non-horror buffs may want to give this one a miss, but The Clown At Midnight is solid viewing for slasher fans, if somewhat unoriginal and remarkable in the genre. It’s got the feel of an Americanised giallo (if that’s possible) which isn’t a bad thing in all honesty.