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Bigger & Badder in Texas Horror: Circus of the Dead

circusFamily man Donald , his two young daughters, and moonlighting wife become the target of a demented band of circus clowns.

*Insert tired review opener anatomizing the rationale of Coulrophobia here* Good. Great. GRAND. A-w-e-s-o-m-e! Glad we got that out of the way.

My personal experience with clowns has been nothing more than a nuisance. Clowns are not terrifying to me. Something about adults going bananas with their make-up artistry to perform as an overly enthusiastic creeper in front of children rubs me the wrong way. It’s much like dressing up as Santa Claus and having children sit on your lap so they can declare what a good little boy/girl they have been with hopes of getting that pony or Bat Mobile. Being Jewish, I never had to deal with that. As someone who knew Santa wasn’t real, it was clear to me that what lies underneath is just a man who may or may not have been dealt the right stack of cards in life. To this degree, I always thought I was surrounded by morons because my friends bragged about Santa visiting their house or clowns doing a stupid balloon dance at their party. Don’t get me wrong, Stephen King’s IT scared the ever-living shit out of me and that episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark on SNICK didn’t help matters but I knew that it was just a man underneath.

When I think of clowns and movies, John Leguizamo, Pennywise, and Killer Klowns From Outer Space come to mind. Not to mention, that clown puppet in Poltergeist. Regarding Circus of the Dead, these are real people. Real sicko clowns like serial killer and kiddie fiddler John Wayne Gacy. Okay, Victor Salva’s name needs to be thrown in there as well because he too is a clown, looks like Gacy’s next of kin, and is also a kiddie fiddler. Yet, people are still watching his homo-erotic movies. (I love homo-erotic horror. Just not the kind that involves underage boys.)

Back to Circus of the Dead, this is Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Natural Born Killer’s love child. Circus of the Dead just may be one of the most fucked up clown stories ever told. With a surprising 7.4 rating on IMDB and several Indie-Fest awards under its belt, this two-hour slice of Independent horror is praise worthy. Jumping in, I expected a creation of carnage with no compassion for its viewers. They say that “Everything is Bigger in Texas.” That may not be true for all things but when it comes to Independent horror, I know what I am talking about. Texas filmmakers have a ‘go hard or go home’ mentality and for folks like Billy Pon, he’s a genuine, die-hard fan of the horror genre and a kindred spirit. When I first met Billy Pon, I was a host for Texas Frightmare Weekend, the biggest and best horror convention in the U.S. One of the panels I had the pleasure of hosting was for Pon’s short “Dollboy” which blew me away. Before the Dollboy screening, Pon showed the anxious audience two faux Grindhouse trailers he had made titled, “Mister Fister” and “Circus of the Dead.” I saw this man’s potential and love for Grindhouse cinema right away. I was so impressed by Dollboy, I had no choice but to give Pon the Best Short Award for The Lagniappe Film and Music Festival.

The film directly follows our lasting Dollboy victim, Brandon, played by the talented Jed Duesler. This is a talent I would like to see more in the genre. Brandon has now become the band of clown’s play thing. His mouth is sewn shut and he’s tortured during the live circus show where he has no way of escaping because the viewers see it as an act. The band of fucked up clowns is led by the incomparable and sexually deviated Papa Corn, excellently portrayed by genre favorite Billy Oberst Jr. STOP! Before I introduce the remaining loons, I have to elaborate on Oberst Jr’s performance. Never have I EVER had the pleasure of putting necrophiliac and charismatic in the same sentence. It almost feels sacrilegious. When Papa Corn preaches away,  vigorously expressing his logic and carnage on his victims, you cannot take your eyes off of him. The audience should feel nothing but disgust for this character, I did for a bit during an extremely uncomfortable masturbation scene where he’s ejecting saliva all over the place. What? I have a saliva phobia. That’s worse than any fear of clowns to me. Regardless, we want more Papa Corn! I honestly cannot think of another actor filling those shoes. Oberst Jr. is the man. Moving right along, Papa Corn and company set their eyes on a juicy family they intend to torment over the next 24-hours and it isn’t pretty.

Papa Corn and his gang of lunatics stole the show and balanced out the amateur extras. The acting was pretty spot on though there were moments of weakness from the supporting cast. There’s a dwarf clown, appropriately titled “Jumbo the Clown,” that had a fair amount of butchery, along with the man-child Noodledome clown who we were first introduced to in Dollboy. Then there’s my favorite of the clowns, Mister Blister. This chain-smoking clown was so nonchalant!  What I would like to know is, WHERE THE FUCK IS DOLLBOY?????

Voluptuous Scream Queen Chanel Ryan and Indie-Horror veteran Parrish Randall’s performances were satisfactory. There were times where it was hard for me to get into Randall’s character because this is a man I have come to know and love for years after several one on one conversations regarding our love for film. He’s an incredibly nice, easy-going guy. Though, there were moments of torture that took me by surprise. Ask Parrish Randall to scream, cry, and have the audience believe he is in agony and he shall deliver. Color me impressed. Honestly, it’s considered a crime to make an Indie-Horror film in Texas without having Parrish Randall attached to it.

Many of the death sequences are POV shots, which I fancy. The films flaws for me are minimal; a few moments of weakness from supporting cast and lack of back story on the villains. Every clown has a story. I’d like to know how Papa Corn became Papa Corn.

In closing, Circus of the Dead is fresh, polished, and the special effects are the best effects I have seen since Stacy Davidson’s SWEATSHOP. If this is practice for Billy Pon then God help horror fans around the globe. How can you top vulva’s sewn in place of the victim’s mouths?

About The Author
Rebekah Herzberg
Rebekah Herzberg
VHS collector, horror fanatic, and lover of the 80's neon night life. I once ate a Texas BBQ burger compiled with Mac and cheese and fried green beans. I celebrate Hanukkah.

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