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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

If you are a little kid, or one of those people who happen to be scared by clowns (everyone is a little freaked out by them)  than beware. What isn't terrifying about them? Those permanent smiles, masking make-up, weird outfits, and those god-forsaken laughs! I would never torture someone with having to endure the presence of a clown, but this film is an exception. Definitely worth a watch, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a dumb-fun (with much emphasis on "dumb") ride that I enjoyed from start to finish. It (1990) -- the adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel of the same name --  is one of the only other well-known films that has tried out clowns for scares, but by taking a darker and more serious, and ultimately weaker and less entertaining, look at the creepiness of clowns. Killer Klowns is a mindless relief that has a blast with its outrageous idea, pure B-movie fun.

Alien clowns crash land on Earth in their flying circus ship. They get the attention of two young lovers, Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder), who mistake the crashing ship as Halley's Comet. They explore the ship that is disguised as a circus tent, quickly realizing that it is no such thing. While inside they discover two local citizens wrapped in cotton candy cocoons; they barely escape from the clowns who are equipped with popcorn-shooting (far from ordinary popcorn) guns. But by escaping they draw out the clowns who reek havoc on their new planet. Killer Klowns utilizes its campiness extremely well -- it doesn't cram the entire film into one painfully-isolated area, instead using an entire small town and its community. As the clowns terrorize the town, their exploits are effective in how they use their clownish charms to draw in their victims. The local authorities don't know how to deal with the unexplainable chaos; young "academy graduate" Office Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson) is brought into the story due to his afflictive relationship with Debbie; old, nihilist Officer Curtis Mooney -- played by John Vernon who's performance shows the only signs of acting talent -- dismisses even the strongest proofs of anything out of the ordinary happening by marking it as a town-wide prank.

The Chiodo brothers show-off their visual effects mastery, creating a type of villain that is as pleasantly creepy as it is visually fascinating. Working on a modest $2 million budget all of their resources and effort is put into the creating of their title villain and all of their gadgets. John Massari's music and director Stephen Chiodo's paranoia induced direction fits together like a combined glove. They are like little children who are giving crazy weapons and told that the world is their playground.  A specific scene where a clown does wall shadow tricks is wonderfully used and visually stunning; I was pleasantly surprised by just how good the visuals were. Each of the clowns has a distinctive, wonderfully disturbing appearances creating an original, fascinating villain.The clown's circus ship is a maze of neat gadgets, booby-traps and inhabited by a whole community of Killer Klowns with one intention in mind: To kill!

I did not care the least about the characters, I would have been satisfied with watching a film whose entirety is the clown's mischievous invasion with no annoying, weakly romantic side plots interrupting. This seems to be a constant flaw with every film of this kind (dumb, weird, and fun). We watch this film for the clowns, that is it; each character could die a miserable death and no one would bat an eye. Stick to what you got working for you: spurts of violence, aggressive visuals that would get John Carpenter's stamp of approval, and a plot that doesn't strain the mind. Must there always be a romance thrown in? I guess that is always the way to make sure your film is always commercial, if only the Chiodo brothers would have known just how popular this film would become. Then maybe they would have been a little more daring with it.

In all honesty, there is not much about Killer Klowns to praise -- besides the cheaply high-class visuals. The acting is not terrible; every performance is  merely adequate besides John Vernon's brief, but hilariously mean one. Audiences loved the film -- grossing roughly 230 million -- which lead to a forcedly spawned and poorly received sequel. This is one of those films that I would have fought to see at a midnight movie drive-in theater; having a similar genre-exploring, eccentric appeal as the ultimate midnight movie classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Unfortunately (and somewhat surprisingly), unlike some other successful B-movie flicks, like Mel Gibson in Mad Max (1979) or Bruce Campbell in The Evil Dead (1981), no careers were made through this film -- not even the hugely talented Chiodo brothers got any big breaks after this. Klowns from Outer Space is an easy film to enjoy, it is innocent in its intentions ( a little scare and a lot of fun) and impressive in its quality (those visuals still look good). Watch and learn why clowns cannot be trusted.


  1. I've heard of this film, of how it's one of those films meant to be bad, and i'd like to check this out. Great review of a film with a brilliant title, Adam


  2. I really haven't much of a taste for "cult classics", but the first time I watched this four, maybe five years ago, I was instantly hooked. One of my Halloween favorites. Excellent review.

  3. The film is very silly, mediocre too. But it's oddity has some sort of appeal, which makes it a pretty funny film. Terrific review!