Who knew there could BE such a thing as a BAD flick about a loveable CLOWN who gets, um, PROBED by rednecks!? Exploitation cinema has a rich history of rape/revenge pictures with the immortal I Spit On Your Grave being king daddy of 'em all. So, one would figure substituting a clown into this time-tested formula would inject a healthy dose of inspired irony into the genre. Not so in the case of Vulgar (1997, 87 minutes, Unrated). It's all dribble glass and no joy buzzer. But those wishing to judge for themselves should by all means avoid the Blockbuster-friendly version that's neutered somehow or another to get an R-rating.
The movie: It's incredibly noble, or perhaps just tragic, someone so miserable as Will (Brian O'Halloran) would pursue a career as a children's party clown with such tenacity. But dire financial straits quickly force Flappy down a darker path. Namely, bachelor parties! Will conjures a cross-dressing clown aptly named Vulgar to crash such festivities before the "real" entertainment arrives. Except he didn't figure on encountering the likes of The Fanellis who christen Vulgar's first gig with a crack across the skull -- and that's just for starters. Ed and his boys Frankie and Gino (Jerry Lewkowitz, Ethan Suplee and Matthew Maher) then pour booze down Will's gullet and force him to profess an affinity for certain sexual acts before Ed proudly proclaims, "I'M GONNA MAKE HATE TO YOU!!!" And then, of course, he DOES! Hence the whole purpose of the flick and the only scene that works. Afterward, Will buries the experience with absolutely no inkling of wanting revenge. Instead the flick switches back out of daring exploitation and into mediocrity with a hackneyed second half featuring Flappy becoming a hero and nationwide TV sensation. But surprise, surprise Ed and the boys decide it's time for an encore! Actually, it's Mr. Lewkowitz's ruthless, nasty, seething performance that makes this picture worth recommending at all. Indie heartthrob Kevin Smith also inexplicably appears as a fussy gay TV producer. Apparently his character's homosexuality is intended as a surefire shortcut to hilarity. CineSchlockers desperate to ogle a down-and-out clown flick with genuine laughs, but absolutely no cornholing, might consider Bobcat Goldthwait's surprisingly amusing Shakes the Clown.
Notables: No breasts. Four corpses. Underwear flinging. Gratuitous police standoff. Puking. Incestuous slow dancing. Gratuitous rise-to-success montage. Angry diddling. Knife-wielding derelict. One Freaks T-shirt. Ill-fitting toupee.
Quotables: Not everyone loves a clown, especially Will's mama (Jay Petrick), "I'm talking about YOU being a constant source of embarrassment! A colossal disappointment! Oh, it's times like this I wish I'd had the courage to take that short trip down the back alley!" Frankie whines, "You promised he was gonna be PRETTY!!!" Flappy on his heroism, "Call me old fashioned, but I guess I've always had sort of a soft spot in my heart for kids with guns pointed at their heads."
Time codes: Fellas play "Name that Transvestite Clown" over lunch (19:19). The oh-so sinister turn (26:35). Will goes all Charles Foster Kane on us (30:00). An unpleasant situation gets WORSE with the aid of a propane torch (1:02:27). CineSchlocker ears will perk to Syd's Caged Heat reference (1:14:35).
Audio/Video: Presented in a widescreen (1.77:1) transfer with overall image quality consistent with the micro-budget, 16 mm production. While the audio's been pumped up by an ambitious Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
Extras: Apparently a two-disc, double-commentary ode wasn't ENOUGH ALREADY, so "Judge Not ... In the Defense of Dogma" has been shoehorned among Vulgar's bonus materials (37 mins). Mr. Smith also dominates the commentary by writer/director Bryan Johnson, O'Halloran and producers Monica Hampton and Scott Mosier. Greatly self indulgent? Mandated by the fevered online masses who worship, catalog and debate all things Kevin Smith save perhaps his bodily excretions? Both!? Regardless, there's more laughs on this track than on screen. That's undeniable even though the spotlight never quite finds Mr. Johnson as it should. About 12 minutes of deleted, alternate and flubbed scenes. Photo gallery with more than 30 images. An especially amusing extra are REJECTION letters from various festivals with Slamdance being the wittiest of the bunch. Theatrical trailer, plus reels for Tail Lights Fade and, yep, Dogma. Motion-video menus with audio.
Final thought: This would-be exploitation flick doesn't push Vulgar's much deserved vengeance NEARLY far enough. It could've been BRUTAL! Instead it's a grossly unsatisfying whimper. Recommended.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.