Twelve-year-old Casey (Nathan Forrest Winters) has been terrified of circus clowns since he was three, so when the Jolley Circus comes to town the very weekend dad is away in Cleveland and mom is visiting her sister, oldest brother Randy (Sam Rockwell) insists that Casey and middle brother Jeffrey (Brian Mchugh) attend a show. Casey is totally freaked out by clowns Cheezo, Bippo and Dippo (Timothy Enos, Frank A. Damiani, Karl-Heinz Teuber), so when he later claims to have seen them at their house his brothers ignore him. But in fact three escaped mental patients (Michael Tree, Bryan Weible and David C. Reinecker) have killed the real clowns, stolen their costumes and concealed their identities behind exaggerated circus make-up. They terrorize Casey, ducking out of sight whenever Jeffrey and Randy are around; Casey must finally face his fear and stand his ground. Though hampered by an uninspired script and its obviously low budget, writer-director Victor Salva's first feature plays cleverly on the visceral dislike many people feel for clowns and the result is often truly creepy. Salva's low-budget 1986 short, Something in the Basement, caught the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, who helped him find financing for Clownhouse, but despite the film's genuine virtues, it's notorious because Salva, then 30, molested child star Winters during filming; Salva spent 15 months in jail.