His slasher double-bill fails to materialise, but maverick filmmaker George Clarke wins over the mob regardless
There are few things that will light up a horror fan’s eyes quite like a splatter-filled double bill in their local cinema. Unfortunately, this is an all-too rare occurrence in Northern Ireland, save for screenings at the self-built cinemas of Comber’s own horror gurus, the Spence brothers.
Thankfully for Belfast's connoisseurs of claret, Yellow Fever Production’s tireless director, George Clarke, has a keen eye for a gap in the market, and tonight sees him bringing not one but two of his self-penned and directed features, Onus and Splash Area, to the Movie House Cinema on the Dublin Road.
Or at least that was the plan. Unfortunately, due to some last-minute red-tape issues regarding certification, the audience is kept waiting for an hour. Indeed, it appears to be uncertain whether or not the screenings will go ahead at all.
Clarke appears, apologetic, and informs us that, to his regret, Onus will not be shown after all, but that a streaming link for the thriller-with-a-twist will be provided for all paying customers. This is a shame (by now there are many empty popcorn containers littering the aisles), but a regrettable situation that Clarke assures us is no fault of Yellow Fever’s or the cinema’s...
So it is straight into the main event then, a screening of Splash Area, Clarke’s creepy-killer-clowns-in-east-Belfast opus. A fairly stomach churning yet chucklesome opening (featuring plenty of viscera juxtaposed with a shudder-inducing masturbation gag) is followed by a suitably dynamic HG Lewis-style title card. The tone is set.
It is clear that those who aren’t serious fans of gore and the occasional sick laugh will find little to love here. Framed around an outrageously inappropriate uncle telling his young nephew and niece a scary bedtime story, the movie revolves around three teens being stalked by a gang of murderous clowns on Halloween night. Ultimately, they turn the tables and bump off the killers before things get worse. 'They’ll only get a year inside anyway.'
While the premise might be shaky, the execution is technically impressive, especially considering the movie’s very limited budget. The bloodshed (delivered courtesy of an array of weapons including knives, machetes, machine guns and chainsaws) is not only plentiful but of the highest standard. It is little surprise that the feature picked up the Best SFX and Jury's Choice awards at the 2012 Freak Show Film Festival in Orlando, Florida, beating movies with budgets upwards of $1.8 million.
The visuals are complemented by an appropriately squelchy soundtrack (the foley work during a sticky floor scene stands out) and plenty of disorientating POV shots. Clarke’s ability as a cinematographer is evident throughout, with some gorgeous camerawork and lighting making the best of his locations.
Unfortunately, Splash Area doesn’t fare well in terms of plot. The story sees the three protagonists deciding early on that they will hunt down the nefarious jesters, although most of the time thereafter we follow the trio running away, a la Scooby Doo. At one point it seems that we might be close to finding out why all this is happening (a question the characters ask a lot), but then it comes to nothing, with key antagonists disappearing after pivotal scenes.
Of course some will argue that plot doesn’t really matter in an exploitation flick, but even the wackiest of late night movies need something to base the sensationalist silliness around – a little more meat on the bones, as it were. Without this, Splash Area drags its heels, bringing the good parts down.
There is still plenty to applaud though, such as lead actor Anthony Boyle’s manic performance as a revenge-hungry teen in a ludicrous mummy outfit (his climactic fight with one of the clowns stands out), and a cameo from Onus lead and Yellow Fever favourite, Robert Render.
As the tag-line says, there are ‘no treats, no tricks, just guts’, and in this respect you have to pay George Clarke his dues. Having cranked out five features in the past three years, his DIY ethos is admirable. Like the great movie mavericks, Clarke has a knack of getting his films made, his way and in his style, working with unstoppable drive and ferocity. Like it or not, the Yellow Fever gang are here to stay. It will be a pleasure to see what they come up with next.