MGM // 1988 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 16th, 2001
In space, no one can eat ice cream!
Late night television is a breeding ground for the strange and the unusual. Many viewers have spent countless nights flipping through the stations in search of...that certain special something. You know what I mean, a movie so delightfully offbeat that it is certain to keep you awake into the wee hours of the night. In 1988, the talented Chiodo brothers came up with what I consider to be the number one midnight movie of all time: Killer Klowns From Outer Space. There has never been a movie (and, I suppose, never will be) as strange and wonderful as this shining masterpiece of the absurd. This movie is now considered one of the great "kult klassics" of our time, and anyone with a taste for oddball entertainment should make their way to the video shelves right now and seek out Killer Klowns From Outer Space. MGM has raised the big top on a special edition of sorts for Killer Klowns From Outer Space as part of their "Midnite Movies" collection!
The small town of Santa Cruz, California is in for one killer carnival! When a comet crash-lands in a forest, teenagers Mike (Grant Cramer, Hardbodies) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder, The Return Of The Living Dead Part II) sneak away from their make-out session to check out the damage. Instead of finding a smoldering rock, they discover a giant glowing circus tent!
Being the "dumb horror movie" clichés that they are, Mike and Debbie pop their heads inside the tent and find a zany confection of odd "carnival" oddities, including sinister popcorn machines and dangling cotton candy bulbs. Mike makes the uneducated guess that this is where they hang cotton candy to dry.
Instead they realize that the cotton candy is not for eating...it's for storing the dead bodies of local townsfolk! While making a hasty exit, Mike and Debbie come face to face with some of the scariest clowns ever to set down this side of the midway!
As our valiant heroes are about to learn, this isn't an ordinary circus. Instead it's a mega spaceship for some out-of-this world aliens that are bent on playing one of the deadliest jokes ever slapped on mankind! With the help of some goofball ice cream vendors (Michael Siegel and Peter Licassi) and Debbie's ex-boyfriend Dave (John Allen Nelson), the teens try to enlist the help of the local authorities to help stop these intergalactic ringleaders. Unfortunately, cranky Officer Mooney (John Vernon) thinks this is all one big practical joke...that is, until the klowns start to overrun his town!
The world is in dire straits of being destroyed by killer custard pies and deadly man-eating popcorn. Can Mike, Debbie, and the rest of the gang stop the killer klowns before they have the last laugh?
I love that this movie was made. It's like a gift from the movie gods. If you've never seen Killer Klowns From Outer Space, this DVD is the perfect way to experience all the sheer joy contained within Charles, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo's strange universe. Killer Klowns From Outer Space harkens back to the old monster movies where there were just as many chuckles as there were chills. Are the killer klowns scary? You bet! But they also instill a sense of wonder and humor that can only be experienced, not read about in a review. The Chiodo brothers are a special effects team of siblings that have worked on numerous films, including the "Large Marge" scene in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. They are the designers of these demented klowns, a mix between P.T. Barnum lore and H. R. Giger's twisted work. With their colorful leather-like skin and jagged teeth, the klowns could give even the most concrete carnival fan nightmares. There's fat ones, small ones, skinny ones and big ones...and they're all as ugly as the moles on my butt.
The script is a lot of fun, featuring a ton of clown gags tilted every way possible. Cotton candy, custard pies, and even shadow puppets aren't safe from the klowns' evil plans. The only way to play this material is with a tongue firmly in cheek, and writers Charles and Stephen Chiodo make sure that there is always a hint of manic fun to every horrific hijink. The movie was made on a $2 million budget, and the Chiodos make sure every penny is seen on the screen. Moviegoers can thrill to a spinning top exploding in mid-air! Or a car filled with mounds of webbed cotton candy...and human remains! It's obvious that the Chiodos' imaginations ran wild during the production of Killer Klowns. How else can you explain popcorn that comes to life, complete with drooling fangs?
And what movie is complete without character actor John Vernon (Animal House)? Of course, the correct answer is "none!" The Chiodos also realized this, and with smart casting placed John Vernon in the role of Officer Mooney, a tough as nails bastard who thinks that everyone is out to make a fool of him. "Go ahead Dave, make a dummy out of yourself! But you're not going to make a dummy out of me!" cries Vernon, using the script as a springboard to do some nice overacting (which is just what this movie calls for). Grant Cramer as Mike seems to smirk his way through the whole thing as if he finds it endlessly amusing that he's in a movie about deadly clowns from beyond the stars. Everyone else is on the same page, having a ball while dodging evil kernels of corn and devilish balloon animals. We even get late veteran character actor Royal Dano (House II: The Second Story) as a crotchety old geezer gobbled up in the klowns' neon tent. Life doesn't get much better than that.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space is presented in anamorphic widescreen in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. For a film that had a very limited budget, MGM has done a very nice job with the transfer. Though there are minor flaws in the picture (a slight amount of grain and edge enhancement), the image is overall very clear and bright. Colors were natural with blacks solid and dark. Though certainly not reference quality, this is probably the best version of Killer Klowns From Outer Space fans are likely to see.
Audio is presented in Dolby Surround 2.0 in English (with French and Spanish subtitles). The one area of the disc that I was a bit disappointed with was this audio track. I think that Killer Klowns From Outer Space would have really benefited from a new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Alas, all we get is a 2.0 Surround track that sounds fine, though is hardly impressive. Dialogue, music, and effects are all mixed evenly.
However, Killer Klowns From Outer Space makes up for a lacking audio track with a great batch of extra features. Most of the MGM "Midnite Movies" titles have been void of any real substantial supplements. Not so with Killer Klowns, as MGM has seen fit to give us plenty of extras to chew on.
The first and best is a commentary track by all three Chiodo brothers (Edward, Charles, and Stephen). The Chiodos have a very deep love for this movie, and their jubilance is infectious. They have a good time relaying information as well as poking fun at their own movie (at one point quipping "did we really write that dialogue?"). This is a very fun track with lots of inside secrets on how many of the effects were done and where some of the ideas came from.
Five featurettes are next, each one focusing on various aspects of the production. The first, titled "The Making of Killer Klowns," is a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look at the making of the movie. Included is some rough footage of the production, interviews with the Chiodo brothers, and even some talk about a Killer Klowns From Outer Space sequel! "Komposing Klowns" is 12-minute a feature on John Massari, the film's music composer. Massari explains how he got the exciting job of composing the music for Killer Klowns. Interestingly, the Chiodo brothers told him that if one scene called for an obvious musical instrument (i.e., strings), instead use the opposite (i.e., percussion). Do everything backwards was the theory, and by golly, it worked! "Visual Effects with Gene Warren, Jr." is a 15-minute piece on the visual effects featuring glimpses at some of the early concept drawings, as well as pictures of the props from the film. This documentary also includes some rough footage from the production of the visual effects. "Kreating Klowns" is a 12-minute feature about the making of some of the sets and the klowns themselves. I found it interesting that the Chiodos used things like garbage can lids and bread baskets to make up some of the sets (talk about saving on production costs)! "Chiodo Brothers' Earliest Films" is a great look at the first films the brothers made when they were kids (around 1967). Since these shorts are silent, we get the treat of having the Chiodos commenting on the films as they play. The first is a movie about a plastic devil attacking a Thanksgiving turkey (!), and the second is about an action figure that comes to life and attacks a bunch of kids. Both of these shorts are vastly entertaining!
Two deleted scenes are available with and without commentary by the Chiodos. Both scenes are fun to watch, though I can see why they were cut from the finished film (especially the trauma-inducing Gremlins-like speech by Suzanne Snyder). "Killer Bloopers" is a rough gag reel of flubs and outtakes from the production. A storyboard gallery includes five separate scenes, each one storyboarded so the viewer can see the conception behind it. It's interesting for a quick look at the original ideas behind some of the best scenes.
Next is a photo gallery featuring all kinds of art and concepts for the film (including poster art, clay models, behind-the-scenes photos, production photography, advertising materials and more). This is a great collection of photos and artwork to peruse through. The last morsel is an anamorphic theatrical trailer for Killer Klowns From Outer Space.
As a bonus, two "Easter egg" extras are also included. To find them just let the main menu play for a few minutes, and then they'll pop up for your enjoyment!
This is as close to a perfect movie as they come. If Schindler's List is the epitome of human drama and courage at its best, then Killer Klowns From Outer Space is the epitome of goofball horror and demented movie making at its best. Killer Klowns From Outer Space will not be to everyone's liking. However, if you are one of the few (and lucky) who appreciate campy horror at its finest, I promise you that this will be your personal cinematic holy grail.
At the closing price or around fifteen dollars, this is the perfect way to spend your hard-earned cash. MGM has done an exceptional job on this disc, and the movie...well, I think it speaks for itself. The supplemental material is bountiful, the video and audio portions are very good, and as a bonus there's The Dickies singing the main rock theme, aptly titled "Killer Klowns From Outer Space." This movie is like a golden example of all that is right and good with the universe.
Not guilty! Not guilty! Not guilty! Long live the Chiodo brothers (and hopefully a sequel)!
Review content copyright © 2001 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2001 Nominee
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary by The Chiodo Brothers
* Two Deleted Scenes with Director's Commentary
* Storyboard Gallery
* Photo Gallery
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* Five Featurettes (The Chiodo Brothers and the Making of The Film, Behind-The-Scenes and On-the-Set, Komposing The Score, Visual Effects with Gene Warren, Jr., Chiodo Brothers' Earliest Films)