Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle is a grumpy, uninterested, uninspiring clown accidentally offed (in a very amusing opening) by the very children he’s been booked to entertain. But this is not the end of his gig. Brought back to life by his black magic buddies, Stitches returns 6 years later to traumatise, mutilate and murder those horrid kiddies – most of whom have grown into equally gruesome teenagers.
The film sticks to the tried and tested when gathering together the would-be victims: the nerdy teenager with a traumatised past that holds the key to any potential rescue, the love interest, the cocky one, the camp one (the best one), the slightly creepy one and the bitch. Where it comes into its own is the inventive and witty killings. At some points the joke is pushed one gag too far but there is plenty of gore and one outrageously brilliant death-by-umbrella scene that revels in its own splatter-factor.
The main issue with Stitches is that, while Ross Noble is having a great time as the undead slaughter-performer, there is a limit to how scary you can be with a head tilt and a creepy voice when the script lets you down as regularly as this one does. The humour can be way off the mark (“this party’s really kicking now”, Stitches mutters after he kicks a kid’s head off) and any genuine scares are few and far between. This is what Stitches is missing – genuine, underlying fear. At no point does the film deliver the jump that you’ve been waiting for despite perfect opportunities; a close-up of a crack between cupboard doors as the murderer stalks outside and many a stare through a telescope.
But the film never uses these; instead all potential scares are deflated by slow pans or even a move to a completely different part of the plot. While it can often be great to report that a film avoids clichés, what is the point if it removes the fear from the horror? Instead Noble is left creeping around on the stairs of a teenage house party seemingly completely unnoticed (and he’s no small presence), turning his would-be master of horrific ceremonies into a bit of a lacklustre joker.
It all feels as though it’s being aimed at the wrong market. Remove some of the gore and get it into a 15 rating and it could do well. But pushing it into the 18 bracket puts it into the hard-core horror scene where it won’t quite cut the mustard. There is a lack of atmosphere and the required suspension of disbelief is only really worth it if the pay-off is brilliant. This just isn’t.
Conor McMahon’s addition to the Coulrophobia-inducing canon misses more often than it hits but is not without creativity and a couple of decent gags. It’s just a pity that it misses the audience it should have been targeted at.