(Conor McMahon, Ireland, 2012)

BY LAURA KERN | April 19, 2022

Coulrophobia—the fear of clowns—is no joke. Pennywise, that damn clown hiding under the bed in Poltergeist, and just good old trips to the local circus paired with a child’s dark imagination have been nightmare fuel for many. But inside the horror realm, Stitches is perhaps the closest you will ever come to laughing out loud at the escapades of these often reviled, brightly costumed jokesters.

Richard Grindle, aka Stitches (a spirited feature acting debut by English stand-up superstar Ross Noble), is an irresponsible drunkard, à la Bobcat Goldthwait’s Shakes—ill-equipped for children’s entertainment yet working in the field anyway. “Everybody happy?” is his catchphrase, and of course the answer is always, “No, far from it.” And one particularly unfortunate gig proves to be his last. The little bastards (Stiches’s words) at the kid’s birthday celebration aggressively ridicule him, and he accidentally ends up dead, with a large butcher knife though his eye. But based on ridiculous lore established by the film—a clown who doesn’t finish an event will never rest in peace—he returns six years later to the same kid’s party to claim his revenge. The concept alone of a ghost clown—and, more novel, clown souls embedded in eggs painted with their likenesses—is weirdly delightful.

Still traumatized by his previous disastrous party, Tommy (one of the kinder kids) is hesitant to ever throw another one. His instincts are correct, and his Sweet 16 essentially becomes the site for a series of highly inventive death set pieces that employ some jaw-dropping practical effects. This is true crowd-pleasing slasher nastiness, best witnessed with a large, cheering audience. You may feel guilty enjoying these gory offings, because unlike the Saw sequels and other films whose sole purpose is to methodically kill off their characters in increasingly brutal ways, Stitches actually garners sympathy for its teenagers. But likable characters aside, since the movie’s entire aesthetic is so cartoonish (this is, after all, a killer-clown movie), even a poor cat being drawn into Stitches’s path of destruction by a bouncing red nose is entertaining rather than totally distressing.

Irish writer-director Conor McMahon, inspired by the kinetic, hilarious brilliance of Evil Dead 2, has fared better when working in the horror-comedy sphere. With Stitches and now his recent amiable but super-gory return to the absurd, Let the Wrong One In, his name can be added alongside Sam Raimi, Edgar Wright, and Peter Jackson to the short list of filmmakers able to masterfully balance humor and terror. 🩸


is a writer, editor, and horror programmer based in New York. She is the editor of Bloodvine and her writing has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Film Comment, and Rolling Stone.

TWITTER: @killerkern

How to see Stitches

The film is also available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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