Stitches (US - BD RA)
Gabe mostly enjoys his time with a very unfriendly, undead party clown...
Jaded Richard Grindle (Ross Noble) is the sleaziest clown working the children's party circuit in Ireland. Arriving late to one birthday, his timing is off, the bratty kids a nightmare and a prank goes horribly wrong - he falls on a kitchen knife and goes to that Big Top in the sky. Years later the same nasty kids attend another more grown-up bash. Little do they know, thanks to a black magic clown cult, Stitches will be the uninvited guest of honour, seeking revenge on those responsible for his untimely death. (From the official synopsis)
I think it’s safe to say we live in a time where the frightening qualities of clowns outweigh the memories of a time when they were considered jovial entertainment for children. If a clown character is going to don the traditional greasepaint and red nose for comedy the odds are that the joke will be ironic or, at the very least, dark. Stitches is the latest entry in the grand ‘scary clown’ tradition and it isn’t quite sure if it’s an ironic comedy or a gross-out horror, but it’s sure ready to try and be both at the same time. It doesn’t quite work, but you’ve got to respect its determination. Co-writer/director Conor McMahon is best known for his work on…um…well, he’s not very well-known. He’s directed some shorts, episodes of a web series called Zombie Bashers, and two STV cheapies I’ve never heard of – Dead Meat and The Disturbed. Regardless of experience, he clearly has a general idea of what he’s doing. The film’s lack of funding is pretty obvious, but I imagine the budget was even lower than it appears. McMahon has issues with tone and rhythm, but makes good use of an amateur cast and limited locations. The issues with modulation clearly begin with the script, which McMahon co-wrote with one David O'Brien. Perhaps the writing relationship was not the most harmonious thing, because there doesn’t seem to have been any agreement on which direction to take the limited, EC Comics-inspired concept. Tonal inconsistencies have worked for horror/comedy hybrids in the past, but, usually, there is an underlying sweet or sourness to guide the audience through the ups and downs of comedic horror. In this case, the comedy takes vast precedence over the horror and the push/pull between styles of rarely mixes.
There are also just too many ideas floating around throughout the first act. As the movie begins, it promises to be some kind of surrealistic comedy that plays on the strengths of comedian Ross Noble, who plays the title clown. Soon after, though, it seems that we’re dealing with one of those naughty kid movies that were popular in the early ‘90s, but only for a few minutes, because then we’re set firmly in gross-out horror territory…though only for a sequence, because then things turn all pervy high school flick. And everything found in this first half is so disappointingly stereotypical, based on the subgenre being briefly aped. Finally the promised house party begins and the movie settles into its obviously intended groove. Genuinely interesting bits of ‘evil clown’ mythology is occasionally injected into the mix. These little stories and glimpses of Stitches’ gory supernatural abilities (he pulls a rabbit from a victim’s throat, his nose is detachable and has a mind of its own, he scoops a boy’s brains out with an ice cream scoop) are clearly the reason the movie was even made. Once again, I’m met with a feature-length horror movie that would’ve worked much better as a short or part of an anthology. And it’s not just the unnecessarily slow-moving first half, the whole movie could do with some tightening up, which pretty unfortunate considering that McMahon and O’Brien apparently make their livings outside of writing/directing zero budget horror comedies. Almost every scene drones on a little too long, rendering the joke unfunny. It’s especially sad, because there are some great gags here, better than I’ve seen from a high-concept gore show in some time. The super-slow-motion gore is plenty clever, appropriately gross, not to mention well-executed, and it completely justified the film’s existence, but there are also some enjoyable little character interactions, the best of which break with the film’s overly traditional approach to genre material.
I can’t find the specific specs online anywhere, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that Stitches was shot digitally, using one of the better HD camera models. The image is colourful and glowy with soft gradations blends. Details aren’t hyper-sharp, but only because high contrast isn’t a high priority. Previous Dark Sky releases have had some issues with sharpening effects/edge haloes, but that’s really not an issue here. The majority of lines here are well-defined while still appearing pretty soft, thanks to the plush photography. A couple of the darker shots (most of which seem to have been shot outdoors) have slight issues with overall definition. Otherwise, patterns and textures are still plenty complex without any notable artefacts. Colour quality is quite impressive and incredibly eclectic throughout, including natural outdoor shots, unsaturated night shots, and hyper-saturated party scenes. The colours are tightly fitted with smooth gradient blends (important for that plush look), appropriate highlights, and black level support. The dark bits are solid without low-level noise effects or too many hues bleeding into the blacks.
There’s no mistaking that Stitches was made on the cheap, but for the most part, it covers its budgetary restrictions with attractive photography and decent performances. However, the constraints really show on this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, which is quite thin. The most effort is put into the slo-mo gore scenes, which are heavily layered with definitively gross foley and given surprising stereo, surround, and even LFE involvement. The rest of the film does feature its share of directional enhancements and immersive ambience, but most of it sounds artificial and weird. Nobel’s voice seems to have been entirely over-dubbed in post, perhaps to add an otherworldly quality to the whole thing, but the effect usually sounds more like a production error. On occasion, the limits of the mix are particularly obvious, specifically a scene where Stitches watches teens dance through the staircase banister. As he gazes, he music the kids are dancing to is muted by a creepy circus theme. This makes stylistic sense, yet we can still hear the dancers’ footsteps hitting the floor for some reason.
The extras begin with a commentary featuring writer/director Conor McMahon and star Ross Noble. This is an expectedly jokey track with McMahon and Noble speaking over each other and giggling at their own jokes, but it does feature plenty of behind-the-scenes information. The interesting thing is that Noble is the one determined to discuss uninteresting factoids about locations and special effects trickery. It seems that both participants are aping other commentary tracks they’ve listened to, rather than letting things flow naturally. As the film progresses, they loosen up a bit and find their own flow. Downtime and long silences are a relative rarity, but there are obvious moments where McMahon is stuck and uncomfortable without anything to say.
Up next is a fluffy making-of featurette (20:00, HD), featuring interviews with McMahon, Noble, effects tech Ben O’Connor, and other cast members Tommy Knight, Thomas Kane Byrne, Shane Murray Corcoran, Eoghan McQuinn, Roisin Barron, Gemma-Leah Devereux. The behind the scenes footage is entirely devoted to the final half of the film where Stitches is killing kids. This keeps the focus on effects and characters. Things end with a blooper reel (4:10, HD) and trailers.
It’s nice that co-writer/director Conor McMahon wasn’t content to merely make a gross-out, clown-themed short, but there’s so much unneeded filler that I can’t recommend Stitches as anything but a great horror comedy short that has been unfortunately stretched to feature-length. Still, I recommend the film overall, just with the warning that the first half is over-padded. The silly, clown-themed gore scenes are enough for most horror fans to enjoy the experience and the mostly unknown cast really shines. Dark Sky’s Blu-ray looks great, sounds a little weird, thanks to some weird mixing, and features a couple of entertaining, but relatively fluffy extra features.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 2nd April 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, PCM 2.0 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Writer/Director and Actor Commentary, Making-Of Featuette, Bloopers, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Conor McMahon
Cast: Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Thomas Kane Byrne, Shane Murray Corcoran, Eoghan McQuinn, Roisin Barron, Gemma-Leah Devereux
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 87 minutes
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