Horror-on-Sea Film Review – CleaverS: It Runs in the Family

Following a murder spree in the small town of Still Rivers, Sheriff Hatcher (Jimi James) and his Deputy Jody-Ann Howells (Georgie Smibert) find themselves in pursuit of a killer clown called Cleaver (Paul Rogers) and his estranged daughter Mary-Beth Layton (Holly-Anne Dodkins). When they find Cleavers van on the side of the road they begin to investigate, but soon realise that it was a trap set by Cleaver who manages to get the upper hand. As Sheriff Hatcher finds himself at the mercy of Cleaver, Jody-Ann finds herself transfixed in the chaos and cleaver makes his escape.

Five years have passed, and Jody-Ann remains unable to move on from the night that Cleaver got away, but despite her constant perseverance to track him down she always seems to be one step behind.  It almost seems a futile task until she finds Misty (Gemma Louise Troughton), a girl who with her own agenda for revenge says she has information on how to find Cleaver. But with Misty in jail Jody-Ann is left to make a decision, if she helps Misty escape from jail her career could be over, but if she doesn’t will, she ever be closer to finding Cleaver on her own?

In a parallel chain of events Tanya (Jessica Michelle Smith) and her family are travelling across country, unaware that they have attracted the attention Cleaver. Their first mistake was offering to take a strange young girl home after finding her lost on the road. Their second was accepting an invitation to go inside.  Cleaver has not yet fulfilled his thirst for murder and killing is now a family affair!

CleaverS: It Runs in the Family is the latest horror from writer-director Mj Dixon, which sees the return of one Mycho’s most notorious killer; Cleaver. Despite initially following on from the events of the original, Cleavers is very different film which moves away from the slasher style of the original. MJ takes the horror on a road trip from hell, combining a mixture of action and horror he delivers an unpredictable and innovative execution in his most ambitious film to date.

Taking inspiration from films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), horror fans will recognise some of the subtle references which creates a familiar feel. However, when it comes to the over execution is far from being a re-imagining. Cleverly assimilating the various story and a constant change of direction, it maintains the elements of an original Mycho movie, but with Cleaver leaving a very distinctive mark on the genre is something very different to what we have seen before.

Despite moving away from the slasher of the original, when it comes to the gore Cleavers still feels very much at home delivering the blood in abundance. With a series of inventive kills and some impressive special effects, it manages to leave a lasting effect on the viewer. Credit has to go to the effects team who have raised their game once again especially when it comes to the victims whose fate was unfortunately not a quick death. It is a real eye opener of what can be achieved considering the budget and shows how the effects have continued to evolve when compared to some of their earlier movies.

One of my favourite elements of Cleavers is the camerawork; whether it be a simple conversation or a fast-paced chase the movement and angle are used brilliantly to immerse you into the scene. One scene which stands out for me is a conversation between Jody-Ann and Misty in the prison, where the sliding camera and Dutch angles are used to build the intensity of the conversation, whilst also depicting the hierarchy of the situation between the two. It is a simple concept, but really adds to the intensity of the moment.

The most impressive scene for me however occurs during the smooth tracking shots where Tanya is being pursued by Cleaver during a frantic chase.  The natural flow of the camera works brilliantly to encompass you into the action as it moves with the characters, but it is the moment when the camera suddenly descends back without cutting to give you an aerial view where it really impresses.

More than just a visual execution, Cleavers is built around a great story and script which helps develop the characters to define their individual personalities. Creating a natural comedy with the conversations between the characters, the cast make the most of the scripts sharp quip humour to help the maintain the films pace.

MJ has always created strong female characters and Cleavers continues that tradition on both sides of the law. Deputy Jody-Ann Howells is one of the returning characters from the previous films, played once again by Georgie Smibert who reprises the role.  Played with an intensity which is almost devoid of emotion, her character has become divergent from the character she portrayed in previous film, as she has become fixated solely on bringing Cleaver to justice.

Georgie delivers a powerful performance as Jody-Ann, who in a reversal of roles has adopted the haunted obsession of her former superior Sheriff Hatcher from the preceding film Cleaver: Rise of the Killer Clown (2015). A trait which seems to be adopted by those who have met with the Cleaver and survived.

Also making a return is Holly-Anne Dodkins as cleavers daughter Mary-Beth Layton; who now reunited with her estranged father Cleaver has developed the alto ego Lil Miss Cleaver. It is the character of Lil Miss Cleaver where Holly-Anne really comes to life. Her makeup and appearance may not look is not as extreme as Cleaver, but her ominous painted grin is eerily effective when she kills with a smile.

There may be comparisons to her character to Harley Quinn with her erratic and volatile persona, but despite her age I think she comes across a lot darker, killing maliciously without any sense of morality. Following very much in her father’s footsteps, she is not so much daddy’s little girl, as daddies little Cleaver.

Paul Rogers had some big boots to fill as he dons the makeup to portray Cleaver, whose disturbing visual appearance and degenerate demeanour is as recognisable as his twisted dark humour. Thankfully Paul Rogers does an excellent job as Cleaver, doing more than just mimicking the previous performance from Andrew M. Greenwood, as he adapts the role to make it his own. With a bit more, freedom to evolve the character, Paul gives Cleaver a darker, more sinister feel. Creating a more unnerving insanity with his intentions, whilst still retaining a playful childlike humour. After all aren’t clowns supposed to be funny?

When it comes to independent film making Mj and Anna Dixon have continued to push what can be achieved on a minimal budget over the years and has still continued to evolve. Thankfully Cleavers: It Runs in the Family is no different as he continues to raise the bar from independent film making. With a great story, twisted humour and plenty of blood, it once again surpasses the expectations of what fans expect. I am always impressed at how much they continue to evolve as filmmakers and with the excellent technical execution of Cleavers: Killer Clown surpassing the limitations of the budget – this is easily their most impressive film to date.

CleaverS: It Runs in the Family will have its World Premier at Horror-on-Sea on Saturday 12th January at 20:00

You can find out more about the feature films playing at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and details of tickets on the website.

Horror-on-Sea Film Review - CleaverS: It Runs in the Family
  • CleaverS: It Runs in the Family
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Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!