Although it won’t have auds in stitches at every turn, Irish comic horror pic “Stitches” gets decent mileage out of a scuzzy clown who returns from the dead and sets about getting the last laugh on the rotten kids responsible for sending him to an early grave. The titular villain may come up short on personality, but his wickedly inventive and super-grisly deeds are sure to satisfy gorehounds everywhere. A choice cut for genre events, the pic should notch respectable biz when it opens theatrically in Ireland and the U.K. on Oct. 26. Ancillary will be booming.Much more polished than helmer Conor McMahon’s zombie comedy “Dead Meat” or his hostage drama “The Disturbed,” “Stitches” picks up the popular notion of clowns being scary and mines it for all it’s worth. That’s the clear intent from the moment Richard “Stitches” Grindle (Ross Noble) appears in his seedy caravan in the coastal town of Wicklow. Engaged in noisy sex while in costume and puffing on a cigarette, he moans to his partner about having to leave, and perform for a bunch of “little bastards.” Not long into Stitches’ routine in the posh house of 10-year-old birthday boy Tom (Ryan Burke), the kids start cat-calling the hired entertainer. Things go from bad to accidentally deadly when the youngsters decide to stage some physical comedy of their own. The expired entertainer is bid farewell by his peers in a nearby crypt that, amusingly, is reserved exclusively for deceased members of the clowning trade. While peeping at the proceedings, Tom overhears a funny bogus mythology about “any clown who dies before completing his performance can never rest in peace.” Cut to 10 years later, and nerdy Tom (now played by Tommy Knight) is about to celebrate his 20th birthday with a bash at home. That can only mean one thing, and the beer has barely hit the ice before Stitches is on the warpath, and Tom’s friends — including binge-eater Bulger (Thommas Kane Byrne), preppy Richie (Eoghan McQuinn), bitchy Sarah (Roisin Barron) and bully Paul (Tommy Cullen) — meet their ends in well-executed and very gruesome variations of their particular party misbehaviors all those years ago. The highlight is a slaying that’s perfectly crosscut with footage of partygoers dancing to Cutting Crew’s cheesy 1986 chart-topper “(I Just) Died in Your Arms Tonight.” Eschewing computer effects, the well-paced pic has the look and feel of a 1980s horror throwback, but only a smattering of the knowing, era-specific sense of humor that’s helped comparable recent titles like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” and “Cabin in the Woods” to stand out from the pack. Victims are stock types, and the carnage-causing clown has some snappy sendoff lines, but in general, this deadpan deadbeat in greasepaint lacks the zip and zing that helps to launch franchises. Knight is OK as Tom, and there are appealing assists from Gemma Leah Devereux as Kate, Tom’s long-term crush, and Shane Murray Corcoran as best buddy Vinny. Topnotch prosthetics and makeup effects are filmed in all their color-saturated glory by lenser Patrick Jordan, and a noisy soundtrack ranging from hard rock to disco kitsch supplies just what the target audience came to hear. The rest of the tech work is pro.
A Signature Entertainment (in U.K./Ireland)/MPI Media Group/Dark Sky Films (in U.S.) release of an MPI Media Group, Irish Film Board presentation of a Fantastic Films, Tailored Films production in association with Solid Entertainment. (International sales: MPI Media Group, Orlando, Illinois.) Produced by John McDonnell, Brendan McCarthy, Ruth Treacy, Julianne Forde. Executive producer, John McKeon. Co-producers, Magnus Paulsson, Anders Banke. Directed by Conor McMahon, Screenplay, David O'Brien, McMahon.
Camera (color, HD) Patrick Jordan; editors, Chris Gill, McMahon; music, Paul McDonnell; production designer, Ferdia Murphy; costume designer, Allison Byrne; sound (Dolby Digital), Steve Fanagan; stunt coordinator, Donal O'Farrell; assistant director, John Burns; second unit camera, Michael Lavelle, Eleanor Bowman, Juliane Forde; casting, Nicky McGinley, Alison Crosbie. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (Midnight Passion), Oct. 9, 2012. (Also in FrightFest, Sitges, Brussels film festivals.) Running time: 87 MIN.
Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Shane Murray Corcoran, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Thommas Kane Byrne, Eoghan McQuinn, Roisin Barron, Hugh Mulhern, Tommy Cullen, Lorna Dempsey, Jemma Curran.