There’s easily eight to 10 films this year that didn’t deserve their blockbuster financing and distribution. Then there’s films like Circus Kane that show how to do more with less. The scary thing is imagining how much better it would be with even an average Hollywood budget.
It’s always fun finding VOD gems like Circus Kane, which are more entertaining than you expect with more competent directing, acting and writing than a disaster like the $25 million budgeted Rings.
Much of the credit goes to the inspired premise. Social media influencers receive an invitation to attend the revival of disgraced circus master Balthazar Kane’s haunted house. If anyone manages to survive they’ll receive $250,000. Among the invitees are a former scream queen, a gamer, vlogger, blogger and a snarky memorabilia shop owner.
The script, by James Cullen Bressack and Zack Ward (Bethany), actually gives the characters better than average horror movie intelligence. No one wants to rush through the dark open door and they take smarter precautions when wandering into a suspicious looking room.
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That goes a lot in making the characters more than simple horror fodder. The cast does quality work in quickly establishing their characters. Despite the premise, I was invested enough in them that against all horror movie logic, I was rooting for them to survive. Mark Christopher Lawrence was very funny as the gamer/horror expert. This was a rare case when the black guy went out of his way to not die stupidly.
One name that might sound familiar is Jonathan Lipnicki who you likely won’t recognize from his younger scene stealing days in Jerry Maguire. This might not be the career resurgence needed to work alongside the Tom Cruises of the world again, but Lipnicki was solid. America’s Next Top Model winner Nicole Arianna Fox is also effective as rocker Carrie.
Director Christopher Ray has the toughest challenge with the budget. The haunted house doesn’t have a ton of rooms and there’s numerous scenes of characters standing around listening to one person talk. Those are the biggest instances that remind there’s some budget limitations. That doesn’t prevent Ray from working in some tremendous scares. There’s a slew of legit creepy and unnerving moments.
In some cases, Ray just amps up the tension with some teases, but when he pays off on the death scenes, they fully deliver. Occasionally, the blood sprays and splatters seem cartoonishly exaggerated, but the carnage and mayhem is largely played straight.
The ending was pretty clever, playing nicely into the opening scene. It probably warrants another viewing to look for any earlier clues.
Distributors Uncork’d Entertainment and DeInstitutionalized is smartly playing up the rekindled interest in killer clowns. Circus Kane gets released on VOD the same day — Sept. 8 — as the big budget adaptation of Stephen King’s It.
I probably need to whip up a list of 2017’s best VOD releases. Circus Kane will almost certainly be right near the top and is an easy recommendation for horror fans.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Uncork’d Entertainment