Greetings from the edge!
Come to the midway with me as we take a look at Circus Kane. Will we find a wonderland of horror and frights or just another moldy sideshow corndog re-fried one time too many? Starring Tim Abell as Balthazar Kane, Mark Christopher Lawrence as Billy, and with Richard Moll as The Pale Man. At the very least, it’s nice to see Moll is still acting. Whether you remember him from Night Court or the first House movie or even being the one redeemable performance in the 80’s schlock fest The Dungeon Master, it’s good to see him again.
We open up with stock circus footage and a small child entering the dressing room of the titular Kane as he explains his philosophy to one of the clowns of his circus. The child talks with Kane and is shown some magic in what is by far the best scene in the movie.
From there we go to a montage introducing us to our cast of characters: the proprietor of a horror movie memorabilia shop, a gamer, a blogger, a former thief, a punker, a scream queen, and a teen. They all receive an invitation to Balthazar Kane’s new haunted house and an offer of $250K if they can make it all the way through without giving up. After meeting briefly, our victims… er, cast are all hustled at gunpoint into a van and shown a video laying out the rules of Kane’s haunted house. Before our cast is gassed unconscious, we find out that Kane was apparently involved in a death during a pyrotechnics accident and hasn’t been heard from in years. No warning signs here, folks!
Some time later, the van arrives at a huge gothic mansion and our cast is disgorged into the fading light. And they still go into the house! From here they must make it through Kane’s maniac mansion to win the money, but are they about to find out that the scares are all too real?
I know they’ve been promised $250,000 but, seriously, drugged unconscious and you aren’t at least a little suspicious this may not be all above board? One character does mention that he can still get cell reception, “So how bad could it get?” Really!?!
I’d like to talk about our little Scooby band of erstwhile victims but, for the most part, they are so poorly realized that it makes it kinda pointless. The only really sympathetic character is “Roxy” the punk rock girl who wants the money so she won’t lose her little brother. The gamer “Billy” is whiny and fat… and that’s about that for him. “Big Ed” the memorabilia shop owner is an unlikable movie-quoting jerk with a heart condition, a know-it-all who cheats his customers. “Scott” the former thief that is vaguely implied to be trying to do something better with his life, has a weird obsession with Mark Wahlberg in his “Marky-Mark” phase. “Greg” is introduced having a fight with his girlfriend and, besides being less of a jerk than “Big Ed,” doesn’t get much to do. “Jake” isn’t around long enough to even make an impression. “Carrie” is a former scream queen whose main characterization is a low cut top, and finally, “Tracy” is our teen who screams a lot. Seriously, Tracy, you’re just going to muscle in on Carrie’s action like that!
The special effects in Circus Kane are blissfully free of bad CGI, a rarity in modern low budget cinema. Circus Kane’s effects are of the practical variety but, sadly, this does not mean they are all that great. The masks on the killer clowns look just like that, masks, better than what you can pick up at your local drugstore, but not by much. With several telegraphed traps and kills that buckets of gore just can’t make up for, I have to salute Circus Kane for keeping it in camera for effects, but it’s just not enough to be memorable.
It could be argued that they were going for that low budget haunted house look, and if that’s the case, they succeeded. However, it sadly fails to impress in originality or real horrific flare. I kept thinking that our sideshow killers would actually be much scarier with less makeup and the final reveal of Kane leaves you wishing he wasn’t hidden behind so much latex and prosthetics.
Circus Kane opens with real promise and, sadly, fails to live up to it. It eschews bad CGI but, outside of a few scenes, can’t keep your interest on the acting front. The characters are generally unlikable or simply forgettable, the kills are telegraphed, and the gore, while nicely practical, is pretty boring. I couldn’t help but think that there was a better film lurking in the background of Circus Kane and that’s a shame. There is a “Twist” ending, but it is too little too late and you’ll probably guess it far before the reveal. Circus Kane might be fun to watch with a few friends on a riffing night with snacks and cold beverages, but I can’t recommend it by itself. If you want a little circus based horror/drama, give the HBO series Carnivale a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Nerdy Speculation Corner: Warning, may contain both spoilers and dangerous amounts of geekery!
Sadly, the best parts of this film are the flashbacks that seem to be telling a far, far better story than the pedestrian slasher that makes up the majority of the film. Tim Abell does such a good job as Kane in the scenes without the over-the-top burn/zombie makeup that it is a real shame that the time was not taken to capitalize on his excellent characterization. Heck, the fact that he appears in so little of the film and so much of that as a Freddy Krueger-esque over-the-top ranting villain makes me want to see the back story. Maybe we’ll get the chance to see him do something similar in the future with more acting and less corn syrup.
Come back next week when we’ll be taking a look at The 13th Friday. Seriously? How about just calling it “Copyright infringement the movie!” To be fair, this film has more cultist and rituals and less ice sports themed serial killers… I think. So join me, and we’ll see if The 13th Friday is filled with chills and thrills or if it’s just another halloweenie.