Director Conor McMahon has grown significantly as a filmmaker since his offbeat horror romp Dead Meat, a zombie romp about a virus that makes the leap from infected animals to humans.
Stitches – his latest release which debuted in the States this week courtesy of Dark Sky Films – is a fine demonstration that he has fine-tuned his horror-comedy chops for the better. His tale about a party clown who is accidentally killed and resurrected to slaughter a group of teens is sharp, gory and pretty goddamn funny. It’s a blend of ’80s slasher archetypes and American Pie-esque gags.
ShockTillYouDrop.com had a chance to speak with McMahon while he was in town attending the Hollywood premiere of his film on April Fool’s Day.
Shock Till You Drop: Did this film come out of a desire to see more killer clown flicks?
Conor McMahon: Certainly, when I was thinking about doing it, I just wanted to do a horror-comedy and using a clown seemed like a good fit for that. I hadn’t seen one in a couple of years. [Stephen King's] IT seemed like the definitive one. It was probably about time to make another one. It seemed like there were more things you could do with a clown that I haven’t seen.
Shock: Talk about casting Ross. Did you look around at first or was he always in mind?
McMahon: From the start, I had been a fan of his stand-up. I watched a few of his videos on YouTube and just him jumping around the stage, I could tell he was physical. Turns out, he used to be a clown. He actually found it hard to juggle badly in my film because he knew to juggle really well. We just sent the script directly to him, we didn’t audition. We got a call back and he said, “You had me at knife in the face.”
Shock: Did he bring anything to the table that surprised you on set given his background?
McMahon: It would have been a shame not to use him. It was Ross’ first feature film, so each day he’d come up to me and have new ideas. Or even the fact that he used to be a clown, the tricks he could do… His script would be full of notes and he was always trying to bring something to them.
Shock: For you, what excited you about the process?
McMahon: It was my first time with a proper crew. I’d look at the monitor and go, “Jeez, this looks like a real film.” [laughs] I guess, for me, it was a good experience because I learned a lot. On my earlier films, it’d just be me running around with a camera and shooting fast. Here, I got an idea of working with a big crew and the good and bad things about that. The process can be a bit slow and that takes its toll. Also, combining prosthetics with small elements of CG was a good experience. In the past, I’d rely on prosthetics but you can enhance things with CG. The idea of doing these death sequences and making them not look like crap was great.
Shock: What was your favorite gag to pull off?
McMahon: Blowing the head up like a balloon was awesome. Purely because it was a difficult one to figure out how to do. At the start, we were like, is there something we can create that would expand from a normal-sized head to a larger one? In the end, we ended up doing three different heads that would blend together. On the day, the guy came out with this giant head on…it gave the crew an extra buzz.
Shock: What’s behind the power of a scary clown?
McMahon: I’m not personally scared of clowns, but for this film I love exploiting other people’s fear of clowns. For me, I was just coming at it as a comedy than making the clown really terrifying. There’s just something interesting about why someone would become a clown and I like the mythology of it all. The thing with the eggs and painting the face on them, this is something clowns really do. I was reading up on a lot of that. It made the whole idea of bringing a clown back to life interesting. It was something I had never seen.
Shock: With this done, what are you doing next?
McMahon: I’m writing two projects right now. One is about a witch, like a scary movie with a classic witch on a broomstick. Trying to do something with that mythology and I’m kind of half-working on a slasher film as well.