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AICN HORROR asks STITCHES director Conor McMahon why clowns are so damn scary! Plus a review of STITCHES!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to check in with writer/director Conor McMahon about his new film STITCHES, which was recently released on DVD/Bluray. Here’s what Conor had to say about the film, why clowns are so scary, and other macabre things…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): For those who know nothing about the film, what is STITCHES all about?

CONOR MCMAHON (CM): The film is about a clown, Stitches, who accidentally gets killed at Tom’s 10th birthday when he lands on a knife in the dishwasher. Six years later, and Tom decides to have another party to get over his fears. But once the party starts Stitches returns from the grave to get revenge, killing the teens in the ways they ruined his tricks.

BUG: I describe this film as STEPHEN KING'S IT meets CAN'T HARDLY WAIT. Would that be a fair description of the film?

CM: Yeah, clowns and partying teens, that pretty much sums it up. I loved the film IT when I was growing up. The image of Pennywise is so iconic I remember when we were designing the costume and the make-up for Stitches my first note was, “Just don’t make it look like IT.” Tonally this has more of a comic vibe and it’s probably horror like EVIL DEAD 2 that inspired me most early on. That was the first time I’d seen comedy and horror combined and it immediately captured my imagination. I’ve been thinking of interesting ways to kill people ever since.

BUG: What is it about clowns that you think makes them so damn scary?

CM: I think one thing is definitely the smile. You just can’t believe anyone is that happy all the time. They have to be hiding something. Maybe Shakespeare said it best: “to smile and smile and be a villain.” Again, I think with my generation IT definitely had an influence, too. If you saw that at a young age you never felt the same way about clowns again...or giant spiders.

BUG: What kind of research into clown lore did you do in making this film?

CM: Originally I didn’t think there would be much to read about clowns, but the more I looked into it the more I realized there was this wealth of history and mythology to them. Some of this made its way into the film, like the painting of the clown eggs. When some people become clowns they paint their face on an egg. This is done partly to copyright the image. Then there’s also a more superstitious side to it - if you have part of another clown’s make-up design, it’s believed you are stealing part of his clown spirit. I remember seeing a photograph of a bank vault filled with hundreds of these clown eggs, and I knew I had to work that idea into the film. The hard part is trying to convince people that it’s actually true.

BUG: How did you come to choose Ross Noble for the title role?

CM: I’d always been a fan of Ross Noble’s stand up, and for Stitches I was looking for someone with both comic timing and who was physically funny. I sent him the script and he replied by saying “You had me at knife in the face”, so I knew he got the humor and vibe of the project. As it happened, Ross used to be a children’s entertainer, so he was able to channel that hatred he had towards children, and he could also do a few tricks like flipping the umbrella up with his foot, which we worked in. The only problem was that he was so good at juggling in real life it was hard for him to pretend to juggle badly.

BUG: Why is it when you see the real life of clowns, it always seems so depressing?

CM: It’s true--lowns usually strike me as lonely figures or people who have had tough lives. I can’t imagine it’s particularly well paid, either, for all the abuse they get. When you think of a lot of comedians you also think of depression or mood disorders. Perhaps acting funny is a way to mask that side of things. There’s also something slightly depressing about the fact that some clown’s aren’t very funny, but are trying so hard to get attention. That said, it’s hard to compete when kids have iPads and a clown has a tickling stick.

BUG: There's a great balance of comedy and horror in this film. What's your secret to walking this tightrope?

CM: It is a very tricky balance, and it’s something that was constantly on my mind when I was making the film. For the death scenes I thought that it would be funnier to show rather than to suggest. It’s like in RESERVOIR DOGS: you barely see the ear being cut off, but it’s disturbing because of the sounds and what’s left to your imagination. I went the opposite way with this film and tried to leave nothing to the imagination. If someone is getting their brain hacked out with an ice-cream scoop then you’re going to see it. I also decided to keep the film bright and colorful as opposed to dark or gritty. I’d watched a lot of Landis comedies, and I always liked how he kept the camera work quite simple and let the action happen within the frame, so that was also an influence.

BUG: You had some really imaginative kills in this film. Which one was your favorite?

CM: My favorite death is probably the one where Richie gets his head blown up with a balloon pump and then it explodes. Because we weren’t using CGI and we were doing it all practically, it was one of the more difficult ones to figure out. Ben and Aoife, who work at Bowsie Workshop did all the practical effects, and they built a number of different sized heads that the actor could wear. Then finally we blew it up using good old fashioned dynamite. Being able to do a scene like that makes me love working in the horror genre.

BUG: Are we ever going to see a STITCHES II?

CM: If someone writes the check I’ll start figuring out how to kill some more kids. But it’s definitely something I’d like to do if the opportunity was there.

BUG: What do you have coming up next? Are you planning on sticking with horror?

CM: I think what’s great about horror is that even within the genre there is such variety. I’d love to do an Irish supernatural film that’s just dark and scary. But I’d also love to push the boat out even further with the comedy gore, like the way EVIL DEAD 2 or BRAINDEAD did. So yeah, I think I’ll be sticking with horror for some time. Maybe when I’m 50 I’ll do my black and white famine epic.

BUG: Last chance: why should people check out STITCHES when it comes to BluRay and DVD this week?

CM: Because you get to see a clown pull someone’s intestines out and make it into a balloon animal.

BUG: STITCHES is available now on DVD and Bluray! Check out the trailer below and my review of the film after that!

New on DVD, BluRay, iTunes (Find this film on Netflix here)!


Directed by Conor McMahon
Written by Conor McMahon, David O'Brien
Starring Ross Noble, Tommy Knight, Gemma-Leah Devereux, Eoghan McQuinn, Shane Murray Corcoran, Thommas Kane Byrnes, Roisin Barron, Hugh Mulhern, Tommy Cullen, Lorna Dempsey, Jemma Curran
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Having heard a lot of positive buzz about the new killer clown flick STITCHES, I was chomping at the bit to check this film out and afterwards, though I feel there are some pacing problems with this film, I think it did live up to its reviews calling it a cult classic in the making.

Stitches is the name of a clown who as most clowns are it seems, is down on his luck and on the verge of a mental break. All too similar to SHAKES THE CLOWN, the film opens with Stitches swigging whiskey and having sex with a woman in a worn down van. Again, like SHAKES, STITCHES seems to hate his job, his life, and especially kids. But who can blame him as he makes his way to Tommy’s birthday party and the kids pull one prank after another on him, resulting in him falling into an open dishwasher and getting a butcher knife stuck through his head? After that gory sequence in which young Tommy is doused with copious amounts of blood, we flash forward to a dream sequence (or is it?) where Tommy follows a group of clowns into a graveyard and experiences an ancient clown ritual.

Flash forward to present day, and Tommy has become Tom and also developed a phobia of clowns (and rightly so). Deciding to have a birthday party, Tom invites the whole school, but one guest shows up uninvited—Stitches, back from the grave and ready to inflict clowny vengeance upon the kids who killed him.

Boiled down to its basics, STITCHES is IT meets CAN’T HARDLY WAIT as a childhood mistake comes back to haunt a group of kids who have grown up to be assholes in their teens. The buildup to Tom’s big party is rather slow, but once the party ensues, the film seems to kick into high gear as Stitches proceeds to off the teens in some of the most imaginative kills to hit the screen in ages.

Brains are scooped out with ice cream scoopers, intestines are made into balloon animals, and there’s an umbrella scene that takes the cake in terms of gore and creativity. One can tell the filmmakers had a blast coming up with each of these kills, which reflect the failed attempts and clowning from the original party at the beginning.

STITCHES is also pretty scary, if you’re scared of clowns, that is. Along with many scenes of Stitches lurking around in the darkness and moving awkwardly, there’s a fantastic sequence of the clown funeral pulling the curtain back on the secret society of clowns and their bizarre rituals of egg painting, performing, and unique face paintings. There’s a lot of scary clown culture that this film taps into, but it feels like the tip of the iceberg.

Though it takes its sweet time to kick into gear, once it does there are a ton of scares, laughs, and gore to enjoy. The humor hits its mark about 90% of the time, especially the personalities of the drunk kids at the party who make fun of Tom for being scared of clowns. And though I never really thought IT was very scary as a film, I do give it up that Pennywise’s visage is frightening. STITCHES taps into that pretty well without being an out and out ripoff, and does so by making the final hour a gore-filled rollercoaster ride through clown town until the end credits. STITCHES is filled with gags and gore and is sure to appease the gorehounds and spook the clown-o-phobes alike.

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.

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