Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Horror: Stitches (Conor McMahon, 2012), Grabbers (Jon Wright, 2012)

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

The Horror: Stitches (Conor McMahon, 2012), Grabbers (Jon Wright, 2012)

Article excerpt

The second feature film from Irish director Conor McMahon (who made his promising feature length debut in 2004 with Dead Meat) deals with that horror staple: fear of clowns. Or, to give it its medical title: Coulrophobia. While some suggest this fear arose from negative experiences we may have had as children with these apparently harmless figures of fun (and indeed that's where Stitches seems to land on this), popular culture has embraced the clown as something that manages to stoke our deepest, darkest fears. In music, bands like Slipknot and Insane Clown Posse have cultivated their image based on this theme while Stephen King did for clowns what Peter Benchley did for sharks with the publication of his novel It (1986)--later made into a TV film(1990). It was King who set the benchmark for all contemporary malevolent clown incarnations with It's Pennywise: a sadistic inter-dimensional predator who terrorises a group of children by preying on their individual phobias.

In American cinema, B-movies like Blood Harvest (1987) and Killer Clowns From Outer Space (1988) have attempted, in ways that were often tongue in cheek and camp, to add to this growing mythology of the 'evil clown'. Even in the real world the figure of the clown became synonymous with evil after it emerged that the serial killer John Wayne Gacy worked as a children's clown at charity events and children's parties.

Stitches therefore enters into an established horror sub-genre but, unfortunately, seems to have little to add to it. McMahon's film recycles a whole set of horror tropes without originality or ingenuity and overall is a disappointing effort that fails to deliver on the early promise of his debut zombie feature Dead Meat.

The plot of Stitches could not be simpler. A child's party in what appears to be a contemporary house in rural Ireland goes horribly wrong when the drunken, cigarette smoking clown 'Stitches' (played by popular English comedian Ross Noble) manages to fall face first onto a protruding knife from perhaps that most banal of middle class appliances, the dish washer. In an effect that is used extensively throughout the film, blood sprays in jets all over the face of protagonist Tom (played by young English actor Tommy Knight) thereby establishing the films 'traumatic event' and serving as the reason for Stitches' vengeful return from the grave.

A transition introduces us to the kids '6 years later', now all teenagers in the full pangs of puberty, a distance in time unsubtly rammed home by a match-cut involving a squeezed zit and a cracked egg (you get the idea). From here, Stitches takes the standard route of most teenage horror films by establishing the group's hierarchy with the stereotypes that we expect: 'the stoner', 'the horny jock', 'the promiscuous girl', 'the nice but geeky protagonist' and so on. Every box is ticked by McMahon but without any real cleverness or deftness of touch. Borrowing heavily from American teen films like Mean Girls and TV shows like Glee we even have a camp figure in Tom's friend 'Bulger' (Thomas Kane Byrne) though this never amounts to more than cheap mimicry of a 'gay' screen stereotype.

Stitches then begins to work through scenes that 'homage' successful horror films but without adding anything original or remotely clever. The classroom dream sequence for instance--in which Tom's teacher in clown make up tears off a pupil's genitals and ties them to a balloon, invokes Wes Craven's Nightmare on Elm Street--is neither shocking or disturbing, but rather (unintentionally) comical. Another scene in the gym echoes De Palma's Carrie, complete with tracking camera shot, all of which only serve to illustrate that while McMahon is clearly well versed in the classic horror cannon merely quoting his favourite films is not enough to hold a film like Stitches together.

Indeed this non-descript referencing of American classics of the genre points up one of the films central problems--a lack of clearly defined place or indeed any sense of real 'Irishness', something that made his earlier Leitrim-set feature Dead Meat so entertaining and original. …

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