Stitches (2012)

First published by Little White Lies

What better figure to straddle the genres of horror and comedy than the clown, that rictus-grinned merry-maker whose true feelings and intentions are always concealed behind an impenetrable mask? From Pennywise in Stephen King’s novel It to the Joker in the Batman comics, from Mr Jelly (and Mr Jolly) in TV’s Psychoville to the aliens in Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) – and of course the inimitable Captain Spaulding – these prankster in smiley make-up can inspire terror as much as laughter in children and adults alike.

When, however, we first meet Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle (Ross Noble), he is in the process of drunkenly taking a woman from behind in a dingy, cliff-top caravan as she cries, “Fuck me, clown!” This lecherous, foul-mouthed jester comes straight out of Shakes the Clown (1991) – but when he arrives late and the worse for wear at a hellish children’s birthday party, a sequence of unfortunate events will lead to his bloody demise, as well as the on-going trauma of birthday boy Tom. Six years later, teenaged Tom (Tommy Knight) is still taking anxiety pills and quietly mooning over his emo neighbour Kate (Gemma-Leah Devereux), when his sixteenth birthday party attracts an unwelcome guest, rising from the grave and out for vengeance in outsized shoes and a fright wig.

“It ain’t ’92,” comments Tom’s camp, corpulent friend Bulger, bitching about the beardy outmodedness of one of his fellow partygoers. There’s a double-irony here: first, because the object of Bulger’s derision is played by none other than director/co-writer Conor McMahon in cameo; and second, because Stitches is a supernatural slasher so stuck in the kill-count aesthetics of the Eighties that 1992 seems less behind the times than way, way ahead. ‘Stitches’ refuses to die like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, and quips away like Freddy Krueger, while dispatching his adolescent victims in suitably clownish ways (rabbits down the throat, eye-skewering umbrellas and balloon pumps to the brain) that push the limits of defiantly pre-CG splatter.

Indeed, it is for the over-the-top inventiveness of its latex gore effects that Stitches is most memorable. Unfortunately, though, despite the best efforts of its young cast, the film is more crude and mean-spirited than ever actually scary or funny. The level of humour here is typified by the sequence in which a kid is seen using a social networking site called ‘MyFace’, as a set-up for the line, “You invited everybody to come on MyFace.” It is a contrived gag that might just work for  viewers as adolescent as the principal characters (i.e. viewers prevented from seeing the film by a likely 18 certificate), but will be less amusing to anyone older. Perhaps that is the intended effect: for Stitches, with all its retro Eighties sensibilities, seems designed to appeal more to the teenagers that we once were than to the adults that we have since become. Meanwhile the Irish setting brings a new accent to an otherwise rather old and tired mode of horror.

© Anton Bitel