"Not As Funny As A Comedy Ought To Be": Ross Noble In Stitches

The northern funnyman makes a solid acting debut in this Irish comedy-horror, but the jokes fall flat...
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The northern funnyman makes a solid acting debut in this Irish comedy-horror, but the jokes fall flat...

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Funded by the Irish Film Council and production company Fantastic Films, Stitches is the latest full-length feature from filmmaker Conor McMahon, whose previous credits – including low-budget zombie film Dead Meat and online comedy-horror series Zombie Bashers – almost exclusively involve the undead.

It's no surprise, then, that comedy-horror Stitches doesn't stray too far from this theme. The plot is fairly standard slasher fare: Richard 'Stitches' Grindle, a jaded, foul-mouthed clown (played by gangly comedian and acting debutant Ross Noble), meets a rather grisly end at the party of 10-year-old Tommy when one of the birthday boy's friends ties his laces together, causing him to fall on a kitchen knife. Of course, it's not really the end for Stitches, who returns from the grave six years later determined to settle the score at Tommy's 16th birthday party.

It doesn't take much imagination to cast Noble as a gruff clown: that's essentially his shtick in real life. He's not the greatest actor in the world, but he doesn't have to do much more than look like a weirdo and pull out the occasional one-liner, both of which he does with typical enthusiasm.

Speaking of the jokes, they vary from quite funny to terrible. After kicking the head of one teen clean off, Stitches quips, 'This party's really kicking now!' Sigh.

It doesn't take much imagination to cast Noble as a gruff clown: that's essentially his shtick in real life

Leaving aside the face-painted foe, the central characters are pretty generic. There's the quiet, intelligent protagonist, Tommy, who everyone thinks is a bit odd but who actually has the whole thing worked out; the girl he loves from afar, Kate, a kind but sassy mosherette (who's not unlike Jordana from Richard Ayoade's Submarine); Tommy's trio of mates, one 'lad', one camp fat guy and another one so unremarkable I can't remember him; the baddies, a boyfriend-girlfriend duo who walk around menacingly and do things like kneeing Tommy in the balls.

That said, the melting pot is quite interesting, in the same way that EastEnders is interesting: there's enough going on to keep your attention, even if the characters fit neat stereotypes. You could chop the whole clown-back-from-the-dead storyline and still construct a reasonably well-formed teen drama around the remaining players. (I may think this only because I fancied Kate and wanted Tommy to get with her so I could live vicariously through his fictional success.)

It would be remiss not to mention the expert use of gore in Stitches. Director McMahon had a larger budget to work with than he's used to – Dead Meat was made for €110,000 – and it seems most of it went on prosthetics and fake blood. His experience in the field of comedy-horror really comes across in the death scenes, which are ridiculous, gruesome and really rather entertaining.

Stitches employs some familiar cinematic techniques, using cross-cutting and quick panning to humorous effect, and the mix of fast-paced dialogue and slapstick comedy with genuinely horrific murder scenes is reminiscent of Shaun of the Dead.

That said, Stitches is an average film at best: the story is fine, the acting is decent and the jokes are (mostly) passable. It has its moments – the bicycle chase scene, in which Noble is forced to commandeer a kid's tricycle, is a highlight – but it's simply not as funny as anything labelled a comedy ought to be. And no amount of gore, however well employed, can make up for that.

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