A mix of Straw Dogs, the gritty style of Don Shebib and more standard horror tropes, The Clown Murders is a grim thriller that straddles between more serious Canadian fare like The Rowdyman and the slew of “rural revenge” Canuxploitation movies that followed such as Bullies and Death Weekend. It also stars a young John Candy in a serious role.
The main plot centers around Phillip, a businessman who intends to tear down a farm in order to construct some new apartments. The farm is inhabited by two handymen, Tom and his slightly deranged son who enjoys cutting the heads off of chickens. Both of them are upset that the farm is being destroyed, as are some of Phillip’s college friends: Peter, Charlie, Rosie and Ollie (played by John Candy).
During a friendly card game, the four friends decide to pull a friendly Halloween prank on Phillip. The plan is to kidnap his wife Allison (played by Susan Keller) at the Polo Club’s Halloween party, preventing Phillip from closing the deal on the farmland. The four friends order clown costumes for not only themselves, but for all the party guests so that Phillip won’t be able to identify them. On Halloween night, the others distract Phillip while Charlie chloroforms Allison and puts her in the back of the car. They don’t know what to do with her at first, so they take her to Charlie’s house. There things get kind of boring as we see the inner struggles of the four friends, and their relationships to both Phillip and Allison are explored. Through flashbacks we discover that Charlie and Allison almost got married once, and that he still obviously harbors feelings for her. The others are obviously jealous of Phillip’s financial success. Ollie and his appetite are the big joke of the group, and Rosie delights in being mean to his friends.
As all this character development is happening, Phillip makes his way to the police station and makes a complaint to the police sergeant, an unsympathetic Al Waxman. Before long, the four friends realize that they have gone too far, so they all pile in back in the car and head out to the farm house to hide from the police. But once they get there, the conflict within the group rises to critical levels. And to top it all off, we are treated to some spooky music and a POV shot of someone stalking outside the house.
The atmosphere is broken by blaring music coming from a stereo inside the barn (left over from barn dances). To relieve the tension, Peter grabs a shotgun and goes to blast out the speakers. When Charlie follows, he sees someone in a clown costume up in the rafters, maniacally swinging an axe. He escapes into the chicken coop, but the fence is wired for electricity, and Charlie suddenly realizes he is trapped.
Inside the house, passions flair over Allison. We find out that many of the other friends are jealous over Allison, but none so much as Rosie, who now wants to rape her. Ollie comes to her rescue and holds the bedroom door up against Rosie’s constant attempts to break into the room to fulfill his desires. He finally gives up when he hears Charlie’s yells and goes out to see what is happening, accompanied by Peter.
From inside the electrified chicken coop, Charlie describes the killer clown, and immediately suspicion turns to each of the four friends. As they are considering who among them might be terrorizing the others, Rosie turns his attention back on the house and happens to see Ollie having sex with Allison through the window. He explodes, and pulls Ollie outside by the collar where he beats him up. When Rosie goes back upstairs the clown appears and begins choking him with the shotgun pressed against his neck. With the four friends at each other’s throats and a killer clown, this movie launches into a whole new direction.
The Clown Murders is very Canadian, drawing influence from English films like the aforementioned Straw Dogs while retaining an atmosphere similar to Goin’ Down the Road and Paperback Hero. It isn’t a totally successful marriage, but it’s still fun, and the slow start is redeemed by the genuinely odd last 30 minutes. It’s interesting to see a movie that is so obviously influenced by the Canadian films of it’s time, and it has John Candy in probably the only serious role you will ever see him in!