Feb 7, 2013

Clownhouse: 3 Kids and Some Monsters

1980s horror was good for beefcake.  Muscular male bodies were on display as often or more often than those of the girls in Fright Night, The Lost Boys, American Werewolf in London -- the list goes on and on.  So I sat down to watch Clownhouse (1989) with great expectations.

But I knew right away that something was wrong.

The plot plays with the standard movie cliche of mentally ill people being murderous.  Three of them, who like to dress as clowns, escape from their insane asylum and terrorize a house containing three brothers who are home alone: older teen Randy (Sam Rockwell, center), younger teen Geoffrey (Brian McHugh, left) and preteen Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters, right).

Casey has a dark past, too; insanity, perhaps a suicide attempt, and a strong case of coulrophobia (fear of clowns).  He's different from the others; maybe he's gay.

The gay-vague kid saves his brothers from evil clown-psychos.  Sounds tailor-made for a gay subtext, but I didn't see any, no homoromance, no buddy-bonding,   not even any brotherly affection.

Casey's brothers inflict psychological torture on him all day, and then at night the clowns come out to torture him.  What's the difference? 

Casey and Geoffrey are both on display a lot, and especially Casey -- he spends half the movie in his underwear.  He bathes; he undresses -- slowly; he walks down dark hallways, the camera lingering on his semi-nude body.

I'm all for giving preteen gay boys some eye candy, as in the skinny-dipping scene in La Gran Aventura, but the movie was rated R.  There were no kids in the audience.  Who was all this physical display for?

Maybe the semi-nudity was meant to emphasize the boys' vulnerability, as in Bless the Beasts and Children?  But Casey is displayed when he's not being threatened.  The underwear shots seem to go on forever.

And there were no boys to gaze at him, just the adults in the audience, trying to figure out what the director was intending. Are we really supposed to fixate on a preteen boy's body?

And why didn't 20-year old Sam Rockwell (left) parade around in his underwear, or ever take his shirt off?  You only get a glimpse of his rather impressive physique after the evil clowns have knocked him unconscious and are dragging him across the floor, and his shirt rides up.

 Who would give us a gratuitous display of semi-nude preteens but deny the desirabiity of a 20-year old?

A few years later director Victor Salva served 15 months in prison for having sex with Nathan Forrest Winters several times during the course of the movie (and filming it).  One wonders where the movie ends and the porn begins.

Salva has also directed Rites of Passage (1999), about a father and his estranged gay son terrorized by escaped convicts; and  the Jeepers Creepers franchise (2001, 2003), about an ancient demon who removes the body parts of boys to wear them.

The world is a hard place.  There are monsters. 


  1. I think what Salva did is reprehensible and he should still be rotting in prison. But I hope we can separate the art from the person. I thought this was a very creepy and well made horror film.

    Most reviewers usually say they knew immediately that something was wrong about this movie because of the scenes of the boys walking around in the morning in their underwear.

    Maybe I am just naive, but I didn't think anything was suspicious about those scenes before I knew about what Salva did with one of the kids.

    If you had come to my house, when I was a kid in the 80s, early in the morning, you would have found my brother and I sleeping, eating breakfast or watching tv in nothing but our briefs. We never thought a thing about walking around the house in our underwear. All 3 of my best friends slept shirtless in just their tighty whities and I grew up in an upper middle class neighborhood, so it wasn't like we were poor.

    I guess if you grew up wearing pajamas and putting on a robe to go to the bathroom, then yes you would have found that weird.

    1. It's true that real kids run around in their underwear a lot, but cinema conventions are a lot different from real life. Since it's art, it's always stylized, the result of dozens of conscious and unconscious decisions. That's why it always means something.


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