Director – Conor McMahon
Cast – Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Shane Murray Corcoran, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Thommas Kane Byrnes, Eoghan McQuinn, Roisin Barron
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Of all the films the horror scene has hyped and raved over this year, with Evil Dead being the obvious frontrunner, Stitches is the one film I could not wait to get my hands on. Heralded as the new Hatchet thanks to its slasher element and heavy doses of gore, films like this one bring absolute joy into my life, and I recently discovered the reasoning behind the film’s praise. Its simple story comes adorned with incredible kills and laugh out loud humor, setting the foundation for this insane experience. The filmmaking accomplishments do not stop there though, as it also it comes complimented with excellent direction that secures this as one of the most enjoyable films I have seen in a long time.
As a child Tommy was left with a lifelong nightmare when he witnessed the incidental death of Stitches, a clown hired for for his birthday party who died as a result of a prank Tommy’s friends pulled on him. Ten years have passed and Tommy, wishing to reunite with his former pals, brings everyone back together for his 16th birthday bash. The party is bumping and Tommy’s crush is in attendance, but neither he nor his friends expect the party’s final guest – one returning from the grave to seek vengeance on those who caused his untimely end – a clown named Stitches.
Go ahead and think about the last time you saw a good film involving a killer clown. Now how many years ago did the film debut? It debuted in 1990, Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 1988, Clownhouse in 1989, and while not a devout killer clown flick but one with a very scary clown, Amusement came out five years ago. Simply put, we have not seen a good killer clown film in the genre for quite some time, despite numerous attempts by novice filmmakers to take their chance at this very scary sub-genre yet fail miserably. However, Irish filmmaker Conor McMahan has changed that.
Stitches begins with a glimpse into the life of this middle-aged birthday clown. He lives in a trailer home along the edge of a cliff that overlooks the sea, beds numerous women with pretty looks but low self-esteem, requires payment up front with no refunds for bad service, and most importantly…he does not give a f*ck about the kids he entertains. This story comes so well-executed that you really feel bad for Stitches when he meets his demise, which was not a quick and painless death but one involving much suffering and A LOT of blood. While a traumatic experience for all, this was especially traumatizing for Tommy, whose guilt lead him to spy on Stitches’ funeral (attended only by the girls he was currently banging) and the spooky events that occurred in the graveyard afterwards. Apparently Stitches was not merely a birthday clown but a member of an underground sect of birthday clowns, and upon his untimely death they initiate a voodoo curse that allows him to wreak vengeance when the time is right, and that time just so happens to be Tommy’s 16th birthday party.
The developmental first act was a fun one that included the initial gory introduction and many other gory sequences I did not expect to see so soon. Apparently Tommy’s paranoia over what he saw that night almost 10 years prior has really haunted him as he is constantly being bombarded by horrific and very gory hallucinations involving Stitches. The party eventually begins 30 minutes into the experience and we are enveloped into it very well by the filmmakers. 15 minutes after that Stitches, after a fun and comical resurrection, arrives at the party and from then on out we are attacked with horror so intense I could only laugh and exhibit fits of joy at its awesomeness. We watch as one by one he picks off the teenagers responsible for his death, and he does so in hilarious and very creative fashion. He employs every trick he has up his sleeve to dish out this gory goodness, which includes a scene where he used someone’s large intestine to make a balloon animal while the person was still alive. EPIC. I applaud McMahon for writing in such fun and creative kill sequences, which were also far from quick and took their time in delivering the most pain, vengeance, and embarrassment to the victim. Of course, there is a heavy level of humor in the film and it came not only via the kills and the antics of Stitches but his numerous witty one-liners. After every kill he would deliver a softly-spoken one-liner that oftentimes had me laughing out loud, and if it was not the one-liners it was the kills that had me giggling at how awesome they were. Unexpectedly, my favorite kill in the film was not the epic balloon animal one, but one where Stitches decides to test the “nine lives” theory on Tommy’s cat – a scene not stepping into animal cruelty limbo but one of extreme laughs. All in all this is a very simple story that focuses on the two most important elements in the slasher sub-genre, the killer and the kills. By doing this they are able to use the same overall slasher template that we know and love yet still give us a unique and highly engaging experience that stands out from the pathetic killer clown films that have failed in recent years.
While his writing is simple yet effective I found McMahon’s direction to be much more complex and just as satisfying. He immediately sucks us in during the film’s introduction with his execution of the bumbling Stitches and the insane amount of gore presented during his death. He shoots the film in a fun fashion and throws in that “high school’ feel for us, but when the party gets going he ups the ante. The home used was perfect for the events that would soon take place and provided a very creepy atmosphere for Stitches to run and play in. McMahon makes excellent use of shadows and low lighting, oftentimes focusing on Stitches’ silhouette as he enters a room to scare the viewer and provide some goosebumps. The look of Stitches was also great as he was not a skinny clown nor a fat clown, but a somewhat husky guy who fit the bill of a birthday clown who drinks and smokes too much. Basically, he was like Krusty the Clown from The Simpsons except he is more entertaining dead than alive. His mannerisms were unique, from the way he walked (pigeon toed) to the way he swung his arms when he would run, this was a very intriguing clown unlike any I had seen in the genre. Of course, the biggest selling point in McMahon’s direction is his execution of the kills. There was very little use of CGI and much like Adam Green’s Hatchet he literally used buckets and buckets of blood during the kills. I also mentioned earlier that the kill scenes were not quick by took their time, and I loved that he not only anguished the victim on the screen but the viewer as well with these tense and very exciting sequences.
Overall, Stitches is an incredibly fun horror film that pretty much serves as this year’s Hatchet. It is simple yet very effective thanks to its excellent execution of the horror and an engaging story that stands on its own, and gives plenty of gory vengeance for the viewer to enjoy.