Clowns run amok in 'Last Circus'

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:53 PM ET

What is there to say about a movie that opens and closes with maniacal clowns on homicidal rampages?

Well plenty, but let's start with this. In much the same way Brian Wilson is said to have locked himself in his room after hearing Sgt. Pepper, every hack slasher-filmmaker in Hollywood should watch The Last Circus and call it quits.

This utterly deranged, baroque midnight movie has it all: War, fascists, opera, European classical bouffon references (the sadistic "Joey" and the masochistic "Auguste"), disturbingly violent sex, quirky circus folk (including a hilarious inept little-person moto-daredevil) and clowns maiming each other.

Really, is there anything scarier than clowns?

This is a movie that features Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Hitler's Spanish ally, as one of the characters, and he's one of the most sympathetic people in the movie.

Alive with demented energy from the opening frames, The Last Circus opens during the Spanish Civil War, when a rebel village is under siege by the fascists. Every able-bodied citizen is called to arms for a suicide stand. Among them: a kid-friendly clown played by Enrique Villen, who is told to remain in makeup because "it will scare them to death" (See? I'm not the only one who feels this way about clowns.)

He turns out to be an efficient killer in the heat of battle, and one of the early unforgettable images in The Last Circus is that of a clown slashing throats with a machete with one hand, and firing his gun with another.

The outcome is never in doubt, however, and the next scenes introduce us to a young Javier, sharing what time he can with his dad through a detention camp fence. There will be a violent denouement to this act, with the father commanding that his son can only ever be a "sad clown, because you never got to be a child."

Flash ahead, and we meet the chubby Javier (Carlos Areces), sad-faced indeed, and preparing for his first job, as the professional bullying-victim for the brutish clown Sergio (Antono de la Torre), one of the most despicable characters in any film (and a purveyor of grotesque jokes about dead children and such).

Sergio's girlfriend, the acrobat Natalia (Carolina Bang) takes punches every night from her drunken clown, a beating which generally ends in noisy sex. At the same time, she begins teasing the doughy Javier, suggesting a relationship she has no intention of fulfilling.

Violent pressures build up, leading to a last act so insanely violent, it suggests Peckinpah on PCP. (Without playing spoiler, let it be said that one character, when maimed, looks a lot like Heath Ledger's Joker.) There's a naked flight from justice through a swamp and a last stand at a mass graveyard.

Really, it's a kitchen sink of depravity, with a touch of that Guillermo del Toro-esque intellectual pretension, an utterly different type of genre film. And with that, I've officially knocked a star off the rating of the next Final Destination movie.

(This film is rated 18A)


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