Friday, May 18, 2012


When the DVD for CLOWN HUNT arrived at ER HQ I knew there was only one man up to the task of reviewing it – our resident beer snob, futbal freak and Most Dangerous Game expert Bryan Senn. When he's not chuckling at my taste in lowbrow swill or imploring me to give soccer another try, Senn authors articles for genre cinema mags (including a Barbara Steel feature in the upcoming ER #51), and such books as Sixties Shockers: A Critical Filmography of Horror Cinema, 1960-1969 (McFarland, 2011; co-written with Mark Clark); A Year of Fear: A Day-by-Day Guide to 366 Horror Films (McFarland, 2007); and Golden Horrors: An Illustrated Critical Filmography of Terror Cinema, 1931-1939 (McFarland, 1996), among others. He lives in Washington State with his wife and son, several cats, and a boa constrictor named Fang.

Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like-a satirical jab at the Most Dangerous Game theme (people hunting people for sport, first suggested by Richard Connell's famous 1924 short story "The Most Dangerous Game") with circus clowns taking the brunt of the sardonic roundhouses (though the hunters themselves receive their fair share of derisive body blows).  Shot in Texas in 2010 and released directly to video in 2012, the obviously low-budget CLOWN HUNT posits that clowns have become big game for Texas rednecks, who buy hunting licenses and join (semi)organized hunts to bag their limit of clowns out on the open range.  In this particular chuckle-filled universe, clowns apparently live together in herds out in the wilds, performing random clown tricks as well as partaking in such odd activities as bouncing kittens off trampolines(!) and smashing baby chicks with their oversized shoes(!!).  A group of rednecks run the gauntlet of "Save-the-Clown" protestors (whose activities are appropriately chronicled by KLWN-TV) to descend on local landowner B.J.'s (David Keith, the only "name" actor in the film-obviously there for one day and a quick paycheck) "Chuckle Ranch" and set up camp for the start of Clown season.  "First week of the season is Happy clowns only," one hunter reminds the group.  "Sad clown season doesn't start 'till the second week."  As the band of hunters prepare for opening day, they drink, mud-wrassle (an hilarious homoerotic homage), and scout the local clown fauna.  They also recall the legend of "Albino Willy," a famous clown who's "been seen all over the world, but nobody's been able to cap his ass."  As the hunt begins, Albino Willy shows up and leads an impromptu clown revolt, so that the hunters soon become the prey.

CLOWN HUNT offers more gags and pratfalls than story and characters, the latter of which are pretty much ciphers, though one hunter (played by the film's writer/director/co-producer) appears more sensitive than the others (even offering the politically-correct observation that "they really don't like to be referred to as 'clowns' anymore; they would prefer to be called 'laugh-makers'").  In a clever riff on the notion of intolerance, he turns out to be a closeted clown himself (he retires to his tent each night to don clown makeup).  When he finally "comes out" as a clown, the nonplussed expressions on the faces of his heretofore unsuspecting backwoods buddies speak volumes.

It being basically a one-joke movie, CLOWN HUNT's entertainment value comes from the variations that branch off from said joke.  Some are clever ("I was readin' Big Shoes Big Guns the other day..."; or the clowns dying in character, complete with comical feet in the air for their death throes), some are tasteless (such as Albino Willy placing a shovel under a hunter who's defecating into a hole, resulting in the drunken man's confusion when he finishes and finds nothing there), and some are tastelessly funny (when one clown becomes so frightened by the sound of a gun going off, he drops a load of jelly bean scat before running away).  How much a viewer will enjoy this film stems from how one reacts to the various gags that come fast and furious throughout the 70-minute running time.

Writer-director Barry Tubb foregoes any exploration into what kind of a society evolved (or de-volved) into hunting clowns, nor are there any explanations as to why clowns seem to behave like herd animals (given that they are indeed just people in make-up and oversized shoes, as demonstrated by the closeted clown hunter in the group).  Consequently, Tubb sacrifices myriad opportunities for social or political satire, focusing instead on a stream of sight (and sound) gags (yes, there are fart jokes) that tend to become both puerile and repetitious over time.  And Tubb obviously had difficulty coming up with a suitable ending for his Bozo opus.  The climax begins well enough via an amusing, small-scale Road Warrior homage (as the few remaining hunters, driving an odd assortment of vehicles, try to run Albino Willy, riding an ATV decked out with a giant clown head[!], to ground), but deteriorates into the firing of a giant rocket-missile (complete with clown nose) and a nonsensical final shot of Willy's white wig floating in New York Harbor(?!).  CLOWN HUNT might have done better as a concise comic short or even a faux trailer.  As is, it comes dangerously close to wearing out its big-nosed welcome.

Director-producer-screenwriter-actor Barry Tubb forged a career appearing in supporting roles on television in the 1980s in such series as Hill Street Blues and the Lonesome Dove telefilms, and movies such as MASK (1985) and TOP GUN (1986).  Becoming disenchanted with Tinseltown, however, he worked on Broadway and then moved to France in the '90s, appearing there in a Wild West show (born and raised in Texas, Tubb was a champion bull rider at age 15).  He eventually turned to the production side of filmmaking near the end of the decade, helping BLOOD TRAIL (1997) and GRAND CHAMPION (2002) before tackling the trials and tribulations of red noses and oversized shoes with CLOWN HUNT   Said Tubb, "I wanted to make my own movies because Hollywood just wasn't cutting it for me.  The movies I was reading weren't as good as the stories I knew growing up."

While a tale of "clown hunting" may not qualify as a "good" story (and certainly wasn't something Tubb "knew growing up"), it at least makes for an intermittently amusing one that comes off as a unique pie in the face to Connell's concept. – Bryan Senn

CLOWN HUNT is available from Amazon.

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