Between famously creepy faces like Gacy and Pennywise, not to mention countless appearances at circuses, carnivals and birthday parties going back longer than anyone is likely willing to admit, clowns have more than earned their reputation as paint-crusted, big-shoed agents of the devil.
So, considering the (presumably) eons of fear-inducing evil that has helped to make clowns the nightmare fuel that they are, it's easy to see why writer-director Conor McMahon and his lead actor, stand-up comedian Ross Noble, would want to use them as the main character in their horror-comedy 'Stitches.'
Taking its cue from slasher films and teen-sex comedies of the '80s (although there's certainly more of an 'American Pie' vibe going on in this movie), 'Stitches' attempts to bring some sincere guffaws to the tried-and-true horror formula that brought many an inadvertent chuckle in now-classic films like 'Friday the 13th,' or even such lower-rung, but still-classic horror flicks like 'Prom Night,' 'Sleepaway Camp' and 'Silent Night, Deadly Night.' But rather than attempt some sort of deconstruction/rebuilding of the genre (á la 'Scream'), 'Stitches' plays is mostly for straight laughs, while trading in the traditional jump-scares for absurd, revolting deaths.
Sadly, for a horror-comedy mash-up, 'Stitches' is neither funny nor scary; it's just bland, torturous and excruciating to sit through. The main drawback is that the film simply lacks a consistent perspective for what it thinks is funny. Is it funny to see a drunken, burned-out birthday clown get his face impaled on a knife at a kid's birthday party? Is it funny to see various unlikable teens be cut down by the now undead clown during the story's obligatory house party, years later? There are a lot of laughs to be mined from hormonally-charged teens in any situation and I'd imagine somewhere there exists a writer who could make something like this work – as either a straight-up horror film or even a comedy hybrid – but despite the efforts of McMahon and Noble, it just doesn’t come together in 'Stiches.'
The premise is as basic as can be: A clown dies in the middle of his birthday party routine at the hands of some obnoxious children. Later, a coven of black-magic clowns (a term used by those involved in the film) ensures that he'll rise again one day to seek vengeance. The film then jumps to six years later when said obnoxious children are in high school, just brimming with excitement at the possibility of endless debauchery during a house party being thrown by anxiety-ridden David Morrissey look-alike, Tom (Tommy Knight) on the eve of his birthday.
Naturally, Stitches crashes the party, imbued with all sorts of crazy supernatural powers, which he uses to pick off those unruly cretins that did him in six years prior – as undead clowns from beyond the grave are wont to do. But once the carnage begins, it quickly becomes apparent that there's really nothing at stake, which kind of makes you even more indifferent toward the whole thing.
Remember when 'Attack the Block' came out, and a critic took issue with it because the main characters mug a woman in the beginning? The critic was essentially saying he couldn't become invested in the protagonists because of that initial act, even though they eventually go on to some kind of redemption. Well, in that regard, 'Stitches' is similar, except that the kids in 'Attack the Block' were well-drawn, interesting characters, whereas the kids in this film are nonentities that elicit zero emotional response, whether they're in imminent peril, or having their body ripped limb from limb.
But maybe the trick here is that the audience is supposed to be on Stitches side, right? Well, unfortunately, no. Noble's psychotic ghost clown is equally ineffectual as an element of humor, a terrifying killer, or as someone with whom the audience might connect and actually root for. No matter how you look at it, the problem is the same: There's simply nothing for the audience to respond to. Yes, the film is intended to be a joke, but on who?
Bad films can still be entertaining, either through deliberate inadequacy, charming ineptitude, or a careful combination of the two (e.g., 'Miami Connection'). 'Stitches,' however, is neither. On the plus side, at 87 minutes, the film is mercifully brief, giving anyone who watches it ample time to sit back and really reflect on the choices they've made.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Stitches' comes as a single Blu-ray disc in the standard keepcase. There're several skippable previews before the top menu.
'Stitches' has a 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer that's actually a bit nicer than one would have expected from a film of this ilk. There's a good deal of fine detail present throughout the film that really shows through in the textures of clothing, environments and the pore-less skin of the young cast. But it's in Noble's clown make-up, the way it is caked-on and looks like he's been forced to rot in it for six years that really shows the image off. He may be a boring, ineffectual character, but he looks pretty good on this disc.
There's also a great deal of depth in the image – which is surprising considering the majority of the film takes place at night, or amongst some inadequate indoor lighting. Despite this, there is no evidence of crush, or of the blacks eating up any of the finer detail that's on display. Contrast, too, is very good, as blacks tend to be dark and inky, but still allow colors and detail to shine through.
All in all, this is a decent looking transfer with the only real drawback being its obvious low-budget roots tend to make it appear a little cold and mechanical. There's no warmth in the image; it's all very precise, but also disturbingly sterile at times.
Despite having a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, 'Stitches' comes away with one of the most uneven mixes in a long time. On the plus side, there are plenty of examples where the audio utilizes the full range of the 5.1 mix. Surround effects are frequently present – although they're not particularly strong – and there are occasions where the LFE asserts itself in a more subtle and effective manner.
Unfortunately, the issue seems to be a battle between the dialogue and the sound effects – which the sound effects clearly have won. Even in a film where the characters don't really matter, and therefore, what they say is equally unimportant, it would still be nice to have the option of hearing and understanding the dialogue without constantly adjusting the volume to compensate for the bombastic score and ever-present sound effects. Although most of the dialogue comes through the center channel, and everything else the front or rear channels, the characters' voices are very low and frequently muddled.
This mix highlights the score and the sound effects quite well, but doesn't balance those elements out with the dialogue in a way that they can coexist or benefit from one another.
'Stitches' is the kind of film that will probably rent really well in brick-and-mortar locations (if you can still find one) or via download. It's the kind of film you just can't help yourself from being attracted to once you've read its synopsis, or seen the poster or cover box. Sadly, there's just nothing in the actual movie that's worth recommending. It's a joke, clearly; it's just not very funny. Additionally, the sound is not great, and even with the better-than-expected picture, there's nothing to recommend here. Skip it.