Oooh, I love uncomfortable humour, especially in the darkest of moments. But you’ve got to have impeccable comic timing to pull it off. Fortunately, Irish slasher comedy Stitches has the eminent Ross Noble in its case list. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to be very funny for very long; most of his scenes are played for visual gags rather than his dialogue (which is boring).
After a dreamy opening credits in which Stitches’ make-up has its own dedicated designer credit, we’re introduced to Richard “Stitches” Grindle, a grimy clown who lives in a grimy caravan right on the precipice of a dodgy cliff. He’s awkwardly banging uglies with his girlfriend, then slips out to go do a kids’ birthday party.
The kid has the worst mum ever, because she not only lets Stitches take the wrong amount of money out of her hand, but she also lets the foul-looking bastard into her house. This is after she cuts a tiny cake with a massive knife mere centimetres away from a pushing-and-shoving group of small kids, then shoves it blade-side-up in the dishwasher, and leaves the dishwasher door open, because you know, health and safety is for plebs?
Stitches is heckled by the kids – they chuck scoops of ice cream at his props, and pour cola into his top hat. And you would too, because Stitches is utterly shit and half-arses every act he does. The birthday boy, with doe egging on from his friends, harmlessly throws a football at him, but it happens to catch Stitches at just the wrong split-second moment in the middle of an act, and he slips, trips and falls backward, impaling himself in his left eye. But we’re not done yet! Still standing (um, that would have killed him instantly), he fumbles about like a character getting ready to run away in Scooby Doo, sloooooowly draws the knife out of his eye (spraying birthday boy Tommy), threatens to kill the kid and then promptly accidentally impales the same eye again. And dies.
From his treehouse, little Tommy spies on the funeral using his telescope, but catches sight of a bizarre clown death ritual with some fucking inspired macabre, Burton-esque visuals. They catch Tommy eavesdropping and bellow to him that “a clown that doesn’t finish a party can never rest in peace” and that “a joke is never funny the second time around”.
Fast-forward 6 years to when the kids are now of acceptable on-screen killing age. Tommy is a responsible young man, meek and bullied, and on anxiety medication. This, and the kid (Tommy Knight)’s muted acting gives the first two acts of the film a surprisingly melancholic heart, so it’s refreshing to see a movie not skirt around the fact that an incident such as this would scar a young child for life. He hasn’t had a birthday party since the incident. He’s clearly never forgotten that day, and it’s getting worse, as he’s now seeing clown faces in everything, even in a weird out-of-body vision in school involving testicles being yanked off his friend’s body and twisted into a balloon animal to roaring applause.
Two of Tommy’s friends convince him to have a massive rager for his upcoming birthday and invite tons of people (i.e., potential slasher victims on a mass scale), and from here on in we get the stereotypes of party teens and the types of cliches that these kids have grown up to become. The party setting is lazy, but it keeps the background chaos and location constant, and serves as a stable background for Stitches’ inevitable revenge killings.
And boy, are these killings inventive. They’re cheap, and they look cheap – everything’s done on a black background (even if they’re outside in a large garden, and an exploding man’s head full of balloon gas suddenly becomes blank-faced upon zooming out), but they are deliberately comical to make up for it. “Splatter” is an understatement.
There’s some wild, Rube Goldberg-esque choreography for some of these – in one, an umbrella is shoved through someone’s neck and out through their eye socket, popping the eyeball out, which falls into their gaping mouth; they then fall back down on their back, causing the umbrella to open fully and splatter blood everywhere, like an horrific jack-in-the-box. If this film had a bigger budget, it would be truly sickening, but it’s so cheaply, cartoonishly done that it’s honestly like something out of an old Tom & Jerry short.
It’s too bad that the movie’s promise for some black humour is randomly dropped, and the movie chases after jokes cheaper than the look of the balloon animal Stitches makes out of some poor kid’s intestines. Shots of an early kill are intersected with similarly set-up shots from a sex scene in a nearby room. Then we finish the scene with the line “taken from behind”. Sex jokes in a scene in which the victim is female? Hmm.
Then we’re objected to the pretty nasty murder of a cat. On paper, it might sound funny (it’s killed 9 times), and it’s clearly a soft toy being grabbed by the leg and swung and slammed against a chair over and over, but it’s just one of those cardinal rules of horror that you don’t show an on-screen kill of something vulnerable. And the cat never hadn’t even done anything to Stitches (apart from playing with his red nose that he uses to sniff out his victims). Then there’s a creepy paedo rape joke, then a fat joke, etc, and then it all starts to get a bit stupid from there.
Even the clown lore starts to get tiresome. Given that the plot is thin and the characters are boring cliches, maybe it would have been better to have made this into a video game in which the various pyrotechnical ejecting of blood could be fussed over. A man of wit, Noble was never a physical comic, so he’s criminally wasted in a role that anybody could have taken.
It’s fun for the visuals – and they are horrifically creative – but don’t expect much else. Especially if you’re a medical student wondering why people seem to be walking and talking after what should have been fatal head injuries (judging by the fantastical displays of blood erupting from their heads).