Face-Off: Stitches vs. Clown

On September 8th, Stephen King's evil clown Pennywise will be returning to the screen in Andy Muschietti's IT. With the release of that film so close, this week's Face-Off had to be about killer clowns, and just when I was starting to think of which killer clown movies I might be able to put against each other Arrow in the Head reader Martin Tollberg wrote in with some Face-Off suggestions that included a very promising killer clown battle: Conor McMahon's 2012 slasher STITCHES vs. Jon Watts' 2014 creature feature CLOWN. A pair of films about clowns terrorizing young people, this seemed to be the perfect match-up to help us prepare for IT. When killer clowns battle, which will win - the slasher or the monster?
Stitches may be the shabbiest clown you'll ever see, as Richard Grindle has put no effort at all into his profession. There's a reason why he asks to be paid up front - it's not likely anyone would pay him after seeing his performance. Sure, he has the big shoes, the goofy outfit, the makeup and nose, all that stuff, but he also looks so filthy that you'd be afraid you might catch a disease just by shaking his hand. He looks even worse after dying and then rising from the grave six years later.
Kent McCoy isn't a clown by profession, but out of necessity. When the realtor finds out that the clown won't be showing up for his clown-loving son's birthday party, Kent dons a costume he finds in the basement of a house he's selling. It's got a colorful wig, a red nose, and while the suit is a bit odd, looking like snake skin, it's clowny enough. Unfortunately, he's never able to take that costume off, it becomes a part of him and gradually transforms him into a monstrous creature with clownish features.
Stitches is a funny clown, but the humor is very inappropriate for a person who's working around children. He's a vulgar, irreverent slob, with laughs coming from how awful he is as a person and how bad he is at his job. Stitches gets even funnier when he becomes a vengeful member of the undead, knocking people off with variations on party tricks and cracking one-liners about the kills. This film is a horror comedy that leans quite heavily on the comedy side of things, and the comedy is effective.
If you're looking for laughs, you've come to the wrong clown. If Kent purposely does anything funny while wearing his clown suit, we're not privy to it. Kent's story is a tragic one, and his transformation into a clown-monster is treated in a very serious manner. You might get some chuckles out of CLOWN here and there, but the humor is quite dark - you have to be able to laugh at Kent's painful struggle to remove the clown costume, or at things like a freak accident causing a death.
Stitches was performing at a little boy's party when the kids decided to play a prank on him, resulting in him getting a knife through the head. Six years later, that same boy hosts a high school party and Stitches shows up to crash it by killing the kids responsible for his death. He does so in some hilariously disgusting ways, tearing off limbs, ripping out guts, pumping a head full of air until it explodes, scooping out brains with an ice cream scoop, etc. This slasher doesn't disappoint with its death scenes.
CLOWN doesn't have fun kills like STITCHES, but it still wracks up a body count and is full of gross-outs. The cringeworthy moments begin with Kent's bloody attempts to get the clown stuff off of him (the red nose takes skin off his nose with it) and continue through his transformation, as he begins hacking up some horrendous phlegm. Soon enough Kent is being taken over by an irresistible urge to consume children, leaving behind nothing but bloody bones. The standout death involves a flying saw blade.
The way STITCHES tells it, anytime someone signs up to be a clown they have to paint an egg in their likeness. They must keep this egg safe, and when they pass away that egg will be ritualistically enshrined with the eggs of other fallen clowns. Stitches is able to come back from the dead because he died in the midst of a party, and a clown who doesn't finish a party can never rest in peace. Once he's back from the dead, his egg becomes the source of his power. If it's destroyed, Stitches will be destroyed along with it. This mythology is treated about as seriously as everything else in STITCHES, which is not at all, but it's good enough for the story.
According to CLOWN's interesting monster mythology, all clowns owe their existence to a creature called the cloyne, which long ago inhabited a cave in a snowy, mountainous region. It had skin as white as snow, nose red and blistered from the cold, and it would lure children into its cave, where it would consume them. Every year it would consume a child for every month of winter, five in total. Over time, the image of the cloyne became the humorous image of the clown. The cloyne was a demon, and the costume Kent has put on is its skin. He is turned into the cloyne, and the only way to go back to himself is to either eat five children or be decapitated.
Overall, director Conor McMahon handled STITCHES in a way that's nearly as irreverent as its title character. It moves along quickly (the end credits are rolling within 80 minutes) and throws out a constant barrage of humor and/or bloodshed. At times it feels a little sloppy, but that's just part of its charm. STITCHES isn't aiming high, it's not slick or well polished, it just wants to entertain. It manages to do exactly that, then sends you on your way with a smile on your face.
Director Jon Watts took a ridiculous concept and treated it extremely seriously. Maybe too seriously. When I put on a movie about a man transforming into a clown monster, I expect to get more laughs out of it than CLOWN delivers. The movie is so dark that it felt very slow to me. With this subject matter it should have been much livelier. Still, I can see why the director's career has blown up since, because CLOWN is an exceptionally well made film and he showed a lot of promise with it.
CLOWN is a good movie in its own right, but when it goes to battle with STITCHES I find that it can barely compete. STITCHES worked better for me in nearly every way and provided a lot more entertainment. It's a lot of fun, while CLOWN had me thinking "I wish this was more fun." STITCHES is the life of the party. CLOWN promises a party, but when you show up the mood is very dour and depressing.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or would you be more likely to entertain with CLOWN than STITCHES? Let us know your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment, and also let us know what your favorite killer clown movie is. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can send them to me at [email protected].



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