Clowns and dolls are super creepy, even at SXSW

South by Southwest horror fans (and possibly a few unsuspecting film festival attendees who wandered into the Vimeo theater on Saturday night) got a sneak peek at scenes from two upcoming horror movies: “It” and “Annabelle 2.”

Bill Skarsgaard as Pennywise in New Line Cinema’s horror thriller “It.” Clowns are scary; clowns in sewer pipes are even more scary. Contributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

Dubbed “Face Your Fears,” the panel featured directors Andrés Muschietti presenting “It” and David F. Sandberg with “Annabelle 2.”

“It” stars Bill Skarsgaard (yes, those Skarsgaards) as Pennywise, the evil clown we first learned to fear in Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name. Skarsgaard played vampire Roman Godfrey in the TV series “Hemlock Grove,” so we know he can go dark. Muschietti, who directed the 2013 horror film “Mama,” said he kept Skarsgaard away from the child actors in the film when not shooting, to heighten the fear factor.

Fans of King’s books have lived through some highs and lows when those novels are turned into films. But this one has already received a stamp of approval from the man himself. The scenes shown at SXSW were delightfully suspenseful, and the brief glimpses we got of Pennywise were downright terrifying without feeling at all hokey. The film, with its gang of kids in the 1980s banding together against an evil force, will no doubt draw some of the “Stranger Things” crowd as well (“Stranger” star Finn Wolfhard also stars in “It.”) “It” hits theaters Sept. 8; I can’t wait to see more.

As for “Annabelle 2,” well… sequels are often problematic. 2014’s “Annabelle” wasn’t nearly as good as its inspiration, “The Conjuring” (though “Conjuring had the benefit of the fantastic Vera Farmiga).

Do we really need another creepy doll movie? The clips shown at SXSW were full of the kind of jump scares that can start to feel repetitive. And the main victim of the evil forces at work here appears to be a young orphan girl with a physical disability — which feels a little bit like playing all the victim cards at once.

But Sanberg directed 2016’s horror hit “Lights Out,” so diehard fans of the genre may want to give it a chance when it opens Aug. 11.

Terrifying thriller “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” is not for the squeamish


For three generations in Grantham, Virginia, the Tildens have owned and operated the local morgue and crematorium. Tony (Brian Cox) has been showing his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) the ropes, but he’s not too excited to carry on with the family business. His girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) is ready for him to come clean with his father and Austin is close to mustering up the courage to tell him.

After a long day at work, Austin and Emma are planning to head out to the movies when the local sheriff drops in with a new body. It’s an anonymous “Jane Doe” found buried in the basement at the site of a home invasion. The cops at the crime scene can’t figure out what happened, saying that it looks like the other victims “were trying to break out” of the house. Sheriff Sheldon needs a cause of death for the Jane Doe body before he can fully report on the case to the press. He asks Tony and Austin to work into the night to tell him what really happened to her.

Tony is a self-professed traditionalist. He is less concerned with the crime scene details and more interested in nailing down the exact specifics that led to death. Each step of trying to uncover the story behind Jane Doe’s demise leads farther down a path of confusion.

This is the English-language debut for “Troll Hunter” director Andre Ovredal. He masterfully manages a foreboding sense of dread as each new secret comes to light during the autopsy. Not for the squeamish, the procedures in the film are detailed in a very graphic manner as the potentially ritualistic murder of this woman is slowly revealed.

To say much more would spoil the film’s surprises, but it’s fair to say that it hits all the right notes. Not only is the story clever, but the performances from Cox and Hirsch absolutely take it to the next level. As a powerful storm rolls in and the power starts to flicker, these actors elevate what could’ve been a simple genre exercise into something far more effective and truly terrifying.

“The Autopsy of Jane Doe” plays again at Fantastic Fest on Wednesday at 9 p.m. It has been acquired by IFC Midnight and is expected to be released in late December.