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May 27, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #21 - Clownhouse

The twenty-seventh of May is the birthday of two of the all-time greatest stars in the history of horror cinema. To me, they're two of the greatest stars in the history of cinema, period. They are men who need no introduction - Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. And what I'm about to say may shock and befuddle you.

Neither of them are the most awesome person celebrating a birthday in The Mike's world today. That honor goes to the one-and-only sister to my one-and-only The Mike, who hates it when I call her Mamada. Thus, I will refer to her by that name for the rest of this writing.

Mamada and I have very different personalities. Though I am exactly 50 weeks older than her, everyone outside our immediate family has assumed she's older than me since our childhood. I'm assuming this started around the time my grandmother noted that 4 year old Mamada would often end a conversation with her older brother by proclaiming "If I say so, I say so!" She's always been the more aggressive child - when I was the one trying out the insulting new "bastard" word I heard on TV at age 8, she was the one wielding a baseball bat with a fiery rage in her eyes.

As we got older she focused on her grades and her social life, while I embraced nerdhood. In high school I remember many Saturday nights where I was quietly in bed watching Tales from the Crypt reruns while keeping an eye out the window to see if she'd beat her curfew home. If not, there'd be a war between her and The Masha in the morning, while I'd be checking out what movies were on TV this week via the Sunday paper. She was always a bigger fan of gory movies than me too...which makes sense now that she's a bad-ass criminalist of justice who carries a gun and scopes out crime scenes. (Note to Mamada: Please avoid cases involving dudes named Jigsaw!)

But there was one thing that Mamada and I always had in common...a love for horror movies. She may have even had me beat in that department at times, as I do recall her picking out A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 at the video store while I was in the Schwarzenegger section settling on Raw Deal. (We were probably 13 and 14 at the time, so a big thanks goes out to Aunt Karrie and Uncle Steve for looking out for us that weekend.) There were a lot of horror flicks we agreed on - I have plenty of fond memories of The People Under the Stairs and The Shining; and Scream was a huge hit in our household later - but nothing ever touched Clownhouse in our eyes. It was without a doubt, our movie.I've talked about Clownhouse and how it came to us a few times before, so I'll sum this up briefly. Due to sexual abuse charges (which add terror to the film now that I'm an adult), the film has not been in print since its brief VHS release in 1990. Luckily for us, a local video store carried the film and somehow - I honestly don't remember when or how - it caught our eye. I am a little surprised that I don't remember the first time we viewed it, but that's probably because we watched it so often that it all runs together in my mind nearly 20 years later. We usually rented the thing a couple of times a month (and maybe weekly at first), and any time either of us had a friend over the question "Ooooh, have you seen Clownhouse?" would happen. A rental run would always follow.At that age, and with that number of viewings under my belt, Clownhouse became the archetype that all "modern" horror films were measured to me. Now I look at it as a cookie cutter film with little originality, but back then I saw it as the representation of how a horror movie could create scares simply by dark hallways and killers appearing and disappearing at random. I also remember it being one of the first times I ever thought "this movie really isn't good, but I darn tootin' love it!" (Yeah, I used darn tootin' as a kid. We lived on a farm, ok? There were hundreds of pigs surrounding us and the internet hadn't happened yet! Stop yelling at me!!!)

Most importantly, this stupid movie was often the unobtanium that kept Mamada and I from killing each other. If all else failed, The Masha would head to town and rent Clownhouse, and peace would always ride home with her. It was the great equalizer that kept our sibling rivalry at bay, that taught me about the benefits of cheesy horror, and that became a legend in our household. I know I've barely talked about the actual movie here, and I definitely could break Clownhouse down in depth for you all, but in the long run the movie's technical merits and performances (though it does feature a young Sam Rockwell as the mean older brother!) and awful script and lack of boobs (which makes sense after I learned about Victor Salva when I was 22...don't worry, I didn't learn personally!) don't matter one bit to me in comparison to what it meant to us ridiculous children.
Clownhouse is still unavailable publicly 20 years later in America, though a few MGM produced DVDs were made before a planned release was pulled back in 2003. We each have a copy of that disc now, of course. Most importantly, we own that beaten VHS tape that we must have spent hundreds of dollars on. If my apartment were to catch fire randomly, I know exactly where it is, and it would be one of the first things I'd go for. If I didn't, I'm sure Mamada would have that baseball bat in her hands again.

It is with great pleasure that I bid a happy birthday to Mamada today, and do so by remembering the joy that Clownhouse brought to our younger selves. Price and Lee? They can go pick some other day to be honored on. I say it's Mamada Day - and if I say so, I say so!

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Anonymous said...

Best blog ever! Thanks The Brasha Mike!!!

Chris H said...

Great write up, man!

I've been looking for this for a few months now. It's always been on the list, but I never quite got around to seeing it. Now all the places where I could have rented it are gone. Sigh.

deadlydolls said...

That's an adorable sibling post, though the idea that Clownhouse was the mediator in your relationship is fairly horrifying!

I've had a complicated relationship with CLownhouse since I was a kid and wrote about it for Paracinema Magazine earlier this year. I own the DVD--believe it or not, it did get an early 2000s release before being yanked--and I find it near impossible to watch knowing what was going on when filming. Still, it's quite an effective horror film, particularly if you have even the slightest fear of clowns.