It’s interesting to look at the state of horror these days. Thankfully it’s fairly strong in numbers with releases happening every month. If you'll pardon the digression, my two cents on the state of horror helps to explain my feelings on "Stitches" more accurately.
I give everything in the horror genre the best chance possible when I watch a new release. I will say that I gravitate to films that I grew up watching from the 70’s and 80’s like “Halloween”, “Alien”, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, “Suspiria” and countless others. Certainly, there have been some great releases in the past few decades as well, like “The Strangers”, “Insidious” and the “Scream” series. But when I go to watch a new release there’s always a part of me that hopes it will somehow take me back to what I first loved about the genre. It’s not a bias on my part, just a hope for a little nostalgia. Watching Conor McMahon’s film “Stitches” gave me that twinge of nostalgia that often seems forgotten. It’s clear he has a strong love for the “Nightmare on Elm Street” films due to the blatant references throughout the movie. That said, while the film get an "A" for effort, the tongue in cheek attitude it reveals went a little too far over the taste line.
“Stitches” is directed by Conor McMahon and tells the story of a washed up clown named Stitches (played by Ross Noble) that is performing at a birthday party for young Tom and a group of his friends. The kids grow tired of Stitches and his failing clown gags so they decide to play a prank to liven things up. Tying his shoe laces together, the kids push Stitches to watch him fall but unfortunately Stitches head is impaled on a butcher knife, killing him instantly.
We see later that Tom follows a procession of clowns in a graveyard as they perform a ritual for the deceased Stitches. They paint his face make-up onto an egg and keep it in a case. Fast forward six years and we find that Tom and his friends are all teenagers. Tom (now played by Tommy Knight) is having visions of a re-animated Stitches days before his upcoming birthday. He decides to have a party and his best friend Vinny (played by Shane Murray Corcoran) escalates the invite into a full blown teen party. The night of the party Stitches emerges from his grave to seek revenge upon the kids that caused his death years earlier.
“Stitches” has a distinct tongue-in-cheek quality, nostalgic going for it. I spent a good amount of the film wondering if their goal was to be goofy or if it was just poorly made. When there’s a clown as the killer, you know there will be puns. All of Stitches kills are followed by a one-liner relating either to himself or how the kids were killed. The Freddy Kreuger influence is heavy in these moments. Freddy is known for his quips like “You’ve got the body, I’ve got the brains” and what we hear every week on the BGH podcast: “Welcome to prime time, bitch”.
Stitches took a cue from Freddy by killing each kid according to their stereotype. The chubby kid that can’t stop eating gets his head torn off so Stitches can scoop out his brain like ice cream to say “Now there’s some food for thought”. Every death follows this formula. Tom also takes a drug called Hypnocil throughout the film to stop his visions of Stitches, which is the other huge "Nightmare" influence from part one and "Dream Warriors." These moments were fun and a nice trip to the past, but toward the end of the movie they became tired and far too over the top.
It seems that McMahon pulled from “Freddy’s Dead,” which in the timeline of Freddy films, and horror at the time, was the weakest for true character portrayal. Anyone remember Freddy busting out the Nintendo power glove? It all came off cheesy and overdone. McMahon tried to put Stitches into that slasher icon category too quickly in this film debut. He also references “Sleepaway Camp” through the dialogue of the teens and the way that they treat one another. It’s brutal and raw. And not in the good way.
While the Nightmare references went too far and felt out of place at times, I have to praise this film for its imagery. It’s a very well shot movie that provides a strong correlation to the feeling of tongue-in-cheek mixed with horror. While there is some CGI, most of the deaths were practical and bloody -- my goodness, with the bloody. Some of the deaths still stick in my head, like the teen who gets disemboweled and his head blown up “Scanners” style. I was surprised at the level of gore shown. I’m not a gore-hound but I appreciated that all of the deaths looked well made and harkened back to the practical effects that used to be the only option on film.
While “Stitches” had strong visuals and tried to pay homage to 80’s slashers, it crossed the line by the final act of the film. Again, I give McMahon a strong thumbs up for the nostalgia and effort, but the execution was poor. If he would have spent less time creating a lore around Stitches and dropped a few of the clown puns then he would have had a strong contender to join the ranks of Freddy and the gang. As a beginning work for McMahon this is overall fairly strong. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does in the future.