Summer of Horror 2017: The Green Inferno, Clown An Eli Roth double header

The Green Inferno

Last year for Summer of Horror I finally watched Cannibal Holocaust. It’s one of the very few films I’ve ever seen that I have a moral objection to. Mainly because of the genuine footage of animal slaughter, but also because it used those scenes as a kind of steroid to make the rest of the horror more nauseating. It worked.

Of course, I’ve come to realize that cannibal movies in general tend to sicken me more than other types of gory horror, even the most extreme zombie movies. And really, when you think about it it’s often the same kind of imagery. Maybe it’s the lack of supernatural elements that make it more realistic. Something about people being chopped up and dismembered and eaten alive by other people… it’s just easy to provoke a reaction.

Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno isn’t even as extreme as Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s still fairly nauseating. The first cannibal kill of the movie is by the far the worst, and it effectively raises the stakes for the rest of the captured characters and makes you root for their escape. There are moments that hint at more extreme violent acts to come, but it never really clears that first bar. Which is surprising since there’s one character just begging for the worst possible comeuppance for most of the film.

There isn’t much humor in the film at all, but what is there seems out of place and juvenile. There’s a diarrhea joke, a masturbation joke, and an escape plan that involves getting the whole village stoned, with predictable results (“Oh god… they’ve got the munchies!”). But if Roth is trying to say anything with this movie, it’s probably to take potshots at the kind of trendy, condescending college activism that motivates the characters to take their ill-advised trip into the jungle. That’s more or less the extent of the social commentary. Roth is pretty open about this being his tribute to Cannibal Holocaust, which he cites as his favorite film. I can’t help but question his taste level knowing that bit of trivia now…

Side note: The end credits include most of the cast and main crew’s Twitter handles next to their names. I dunno… seems tacky to me.

Clown

Folks is scared of some clowns, y’all. I get it, they’re creepy, but I’ve always been a little surprised by how universal the fear of clowns is in adults. And yet, horror cinema has largely left that well untapped. Apart from a few select scenes in Poltergeist and It, there doesn’t really exist an iconic “scary clown” movie that hits all the right marks. Clown makes a solid attempt to be that film.

Oddly, it started out as just a trailer for a non-existent movie – a short proof of concept. But because of the decision to randomly put “from master of horror Eli Roth” on screen, it ended up getting the attention of the actual Eli Roth, who offered to produce a feature length version. It’s like the cinematic equivalent of the kid who asks Jennifer Lawrence to be his prom date on YouTube and she ends up accepting.

The setup literally plays out before the opening credits are finished: a schlubby realtor finds a creepy old clown costume in one of the properties he’s selling, and wears it to save the day at his kid’s birthday party when the real clown bails. But the next day, he can’t take it off. The wig, nose and jumpsuit seem to be fusing with his skin, and before long it’s clear the guy is physically transforming into a child-devouring monster-clown.

I really like this premise because it finally offers a concrete reason for why clowns are so damn scary. The red nose and mouth, white skin and big feet are all given macabre demonic origins. A body horror element is worked in as the main character gradually devolves from man to “Cloyne” – the Icelandic demon on which modern clowns were inspired – and his hunger for child flesh grows.

Unfortunately, for a 100-minute long film that establishes the premise in the first 5 minutes, Clown rarely slows down and actually getsĀ scary. Because we don’t spend any time getting to know the main characters before the horror begins, the stakes seem a little low. In The Fly, we get to spend so much time getting to know Seth Brundle as a person (and Veronica too), it’s all the more gutting to see him degrade. That element is missing here, because the guy is pretty much Clown from the get-go. There’s a great horror scene set in a Chuck E Cheese’s near the end that gets pretty tense and scary, but for the most part the movie leans on the premise of children in peril to make you feel scared, without building much suspense.

I’m a new parent, so watching a demon clown literally prey on children works on me better than most I’d imagine. It doesn’t pull many punches in that regard, and for that I applaud the movie’s guts. If there were more atmosphere and suspense, I could see Clown being the successor to It. As is, it’s merely “pretty good”.

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