Anyone who’s interested in director Jon Watts’s debut film, “Clown,” because of his well-hewn small-town chase picture “Cop Car” — or his upcoming gig at the helm of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” — should be warned that this gory, perverse horror film is very different from what Watts has been up to since.
With that caveat out of the way, here’s what fans of twisted genre fare should know: “Clown” has the goods. Refreshingly dark and sick, this is a movie for those who like cinematic monsters that hit so hard they leave a mark.
Andy Powers stars as Kent McCoy, a suburban real estate agent and family man who makes the mistake of donning a clown costume he finds in a client’s basement, to cover for an entertainer who failed to show up at his son’s birthday. Before long, Kent has discovered that the outfit is infested with the spirit of “the Cloyne,” an ancient parasitic demon that compels its hosts to kill and eat children.
“Clown” began life as a prank, with Watts and screenwriter Chris Ford concocting a fake trailer just as an exercise. Horror maven Eli Roth signed on to produce the full-length version, which toured the festival circuit a few years ago and is getting a belated release thanks in large part to Watts’ new cachet.
The movie initially plays as a joke, squeezing pitch-black humor out of Kent’s desperate, fruitless efforts to remove his clown suit. He takes a power drill to his rubber nose and scrubs his pale skin until it bleeds, but as explained by an in-the-know old creep (played by Peter Stormare), the Cloyne condition is permanent.
The performances in “Clown” are a little stronger than the norm for low-budget horror, which helps cover for the fact that there’s really not much story here.
But while the squeamish and the skittish will want to steer clear, this movie should appeal to connoisseurs of strong nightmare-fuel. As Kent’s hunger for kid flesh becomes insatiable, the film dares to keep its villain sympathetic, imagining how terrible it would be to be cursed forever by one ill-considered decision.
MPAA rating: R for horror violence and gore, and for language
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena