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Review: Frights are scarce in the derivative and plodding horror film ‘ClownTown’

Chris Hahn, left, as Machete Clown, and David Greathouse, as Baseball Clown in the movie "ClownTown."
Chris Hahn, left, as Machete Clown, and David Greathouse, as Baseball Clown in the movie “ClownTown.”
(Ken Stachnik / ITN Distribution)

If Tobe Hooper had never been born, maybe the cheapie thriller “ClownTown” would seem scarier. A sort of combination of horror-master Hooper’s “The Funhouse” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this programmatic spook-show may get a promotional boost from recent headlines about unexplained clown-stalkings, but it won’t take long for genre fans to recognize that the movie is as dreary as it is derivative.

Jeff Miller’s script — directed by Tom Nagel — follows two young couples who are driving through Ohio when the locals send them down a back road that leads to a seemingly abandoned small town. By nightfall, they discover that their vehicle’s been sabotaged … and that this part of the state is infested with killer clowns.

The filmmakers have some fun with the different clown designs, and “ClownTown” briefly threatens to become interesting when a helpful local shows up and explains the tragic history of the region — and how it relates to the movie’s “Scream”-like prologue.

Very quickly though, the picture reverts to its previous plodding pace. The emphasis here is on atmosphere over incident, with the horror largely confined to freaks in whiteface chasing and torturing the heroes.

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“Funhouse” and “Chainsaw” get away with a similar approach because of their intensity and artistry. “ClownTown” doesn’t have those advantages. Instead, it tests the theory that a creepy clown lurking in the dark is always terrifying. It turns out that with repetition, some nightmares become boring.

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‘ClownTown’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinelounge at the Montalban Theatre, Hollywood

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