Propelled by the likes of Trick ‘r Treat and the V/H/S and ABCs of Death series, horror anthology movies made a comeback in the early 21st century — with varying results. One of the more under-the-radar efforts was Scary or Die, a low-budget but high-quality portmanteau that takes a Los Angeles-based, multicultural approach to its storytelling — sort of like Crash with zombies. The first tale features Latino protagonists, the second Asian and the third white, while the fourth AND fifth have black leads.
“Clowned” is the featured segment in the film, providing its grotesque artwork and taking up nearly half of the entire running time. It stars Corbin Bleu, AKA the black guy from High School Musical who needed a haircut, as a drug dealer with a heart of gold named Emmett who’s bitten by a strange clown he encounters after his little brother Andy’s birthday party.
Soon, Emmett finds himself transforming steadily into — you guessed it — a clown: whitened skin, elongated feet, ridiculous afro, distorted smile, wacky wardrobe choices and…a taste for the flesh of children? Makes you wonder what Ronald McDonald puts in those burgers.
The concept of “catching” clown-ness in a manner usually reserved in horror fare for vampires and werewolves is a nifty one. The plot is actually similar to the more well-known Eli Roth production Clown (“Clowned” preceding Clown the feature film but trailing “Clown” the fake trailer upon which the film was based), but this anthology segment arguably handles the material better, aided by its shorter running time, because really, there’s not much plot in either movie. Despite featuring one of the most strikingly nightmare-inducing cinematic clown designs in recent memory, “Clowned” is surprisingly heartfelt in its portrait of a sympathetic Frankenstein-like monster forced to reject his family in order to resist his sudden urge to chomp his little brother.
In the much shorter fifth story, “Lover Come Back,” an unnamed black woman (Shannon Bobo) narrates the story of the love of her life and how things went sour as she shuffles through the city at night, disheveled, obviously having gone through one hell of an evening. It’s atmospheric and poetically penned and voiced, its shadowy imagery lending a noir-ish feel.
The two most powerful segments in Scary or Die, “Clowned” and “Lover Come Back” propel it beyond typical direct-to-video horror fluff with poignancy, depth and a real sense of drama you don’t often finds in the genre without sacrificing the horrific elements.