A daft, clown-based riff on Nightmare on Elm Street is a neat idea, but Conor McMahon's comedy-horror hybrid is neither funny nor scary.
Loose cannon comedian Ross Noble makes his inauspicious big-screen debut in this tonally discordant comedy-horror from Irish director Connor McMahon, the man behind 2004's CJD-inspired zombie film, Dead Meat.
Noble plays dishevelled clown-for-hire Richard 'Stitches' Grindle. We first encounter Stiches (in a sight gag lifted straight out of Bad Santa) having booze-fuelled sex with a groupie, before reluctantly heading out to entertain a party of baying brats. Birthday boy Tommy and his friends, nonplussed by his tired routine, take it upon themselves to make the clown's visit as unpleasant as possible. But things get wildly out of hand when a mischievous prank propels Grindle towards his grisly demise.
Six years later, Tommy, still traumatised by the event, is coerced by friends into throwing a party for his 16th birthday after word gets out that his mum is out of town. The scene is set (sort of) for Grindle to rise from the dead and wreak bloody revenge on his unwitting killers.
Stitches possesses a certain scuzzy charm which won it some admiration when it premiered at London's Frightfest earlier in 2012. McMahon and co-writer David O'Brien revel in the film's outlandish premise, drawing on the bizarre history of clowning to account for Grindle's zombification. The splatter is elegantly orchestrated, with a couple of inspired death sequences carefully engineered to provoke outraged laughter.
Tommy Knight turns in a commendable and strangely affecting performance as the anxiety-prone 16-year-old Tom, but this proves problematic during scenes in which he is bullied by his former friends. With these scenes, McMahon seems to be aiming for a darker take on The Inbetweeners' pains-of-adolescence comedy, but, due in part to Knight's sympathetic turn, these sequences simply leave a nasty aftertaste. The problem is compounded by a witless script – while a base shock-tactics approach works for the visual gross-out humour, there's nothing inherently funny or provocative about a bunch of obnoxious kids being relentlessly horrible to a psychologically troubled peer.
Noble, meanwhile, is sorely underused. He has the opportunity to indulge in the odd spot of absurdist physical comedy, but is otherwise condemned to deliver increasingly toe-curling one-liners as he dispenses with the youngsters. Of course the jokes are meant to be awful, but they're delivered with the resignation of a man realising he's made a terrible mistake. A risible would-be comic scene, in which Grindle detaches his apparently enchanted red nose and uses it to sniff out his victims, succeeds in undermining any tension that has been thus far established. It's also spectacularly unfunny.
Fun-sounding schlocky premise and modest Frightfest buzz.
Suffers from the age-old comedy-horror problem: no laughs, no scares.
McMahon treads water while Noble trips at the first hurdle.