MGM // 1988 // 86 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // October 15th, 2012
"Popcorn? Why popcorn?"
"Because they're clowns, that's why!"
It's hard to argue when non-fans criticize horror movies for being repetitive and unoriginal. A lot of them are. Even those of us who dig scary movies have to admit that examples of truly great movies are few and far between. Part of the problem is that whenever a fresh idea catches on, it inspires a swarm of lesser imitators that clog up multiplex screens and streaming media queues. In the worst cases, the copycats hurt the reputation of the movies they are copying. Right now, the biggest offender is found footage horror. In the 2000s, it was sadistic torture. In the '80s, slasher movies were all the rage, packing theaters with the promise of inventive kills and gore galore.
When special effects siblings Stephen, Charles, and Edward Chiodo made Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 1988, they ignored the slasher trend, riffing instead on the alien invasion movies of the '50s; and they weren't alone. One of Killer Klowns' biggest influences, 1958's The Blob, got its own '80s remake that same year. Although both movies looked backwards for inspiration, Killer Klowns updates those old ideas by combining the alien menace with a wicked sense of humor that bleeds through every aspect of the film. The Chiodos' clowns might not look as menacing as Tim Curry's spike-toothed Pennywise in It, but their otherworldly appearance is arguably a scarier brand of nightmare fuel.
I'm not sure how scary this movie is to modern viewers (it depends on how terrified you are of real clowns, I guess) but it doesn't really matter. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is still worth watching because it's so darn much fun -- an inspired bit of horror comedy that harkens back to '50s genre movies and the effects wizards who brought those early monsters to life.
Following a meteor that lands outside the town of Crescent Cove, teenagers Mike (Grant Cramer, The Young and the Restless) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder, Weird Science) discover what appears to be a circus tent in the middle of the forest. Within the brightly colored walls, however, they find rooms full of people entombed in cotton candy cocoons and a crew of grotesque, raygun-toting alien clowns. Although Mike and Debbie manage to convince Debbie's cop ex-boyfriend Dave (John Allen Nelson, 24) and the ice cream slinging Terenzi Brothers (Michael Siegel and Peter Licassi, Santa Barbara) to help fight the clowns, the cantankerous Officer Mooney (John Vernon, Dirty Harry) refuses to take their warnings seriously, even as townsfolk continue to disappear into clouds of deadly pink floss.
Killer Klowns might be cheesy, but it sure isn't lazy. Lesser horror filmmakers confuse shock value with story, and gore with entertainment. Killer Klowns might be the only movie the Chiodos ever made, but it is an impressive debut, bursting with creativity. The Klown designs are distinctive, and the methods of circus-related murder endlessly clever. In the Chiodos' hands, no manner of amusement is safe: puppet shows, ball pits, balloon animals, pies in the face. In this movie, even popcorn can kill you.
The Chiodo Brothers take their love for classic rubber monsters and apply it to a movie idea that is as silly as it is terrifying. Real-life clowns scare people. This movie works because the Chiodos take that fear seriously. They take it so seriously, they even come up with possible mythologies to explain the existence of clown aliens. The suggestion that the concept of circus clowns was planted into humanity's collective subconscious by ancient clown astronauts might be the best idea in any movie, ever.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space has more going for it than fun, goofy monsters. The human characters are just as memorable, from the overly earnest teen heroes and the bickering Terenzi brothers, to John Vernon's oh-so-hateable Officer Mooney. Vernon chews his scenes like the stickiest caramel apple, sneering as he calls teenagers "hoodlums" and "little farts." Even when he's in danger of becoming a cartoon, the Chiodos give him telling asides that flesh out the character of a blustery old cop who's afraid of being put out to pasture.
Killer Klowns is surprisingly great movie that comes to Blu-ray in a surprisingly great package. The biggest surprise is a gorgeous AVC-encoded 1.85:1 1080p transfer. Wide shots can be soft, but the detail in close-ups is nothing short of amazing. Exaggerated evil clown faces are scary enough without being able to see every crease and rubbery lip wrinkle. Color is just as impressive. The image is strong and stable, with rich hues that shine through bright satin alien outfits and glowing circus tent spaceships. Darker scenes suffer from crushed blacks, but even so this is a stellar, filmlike transfer that raises the bar for hi-def B-movies. The 2.0 DTS-HD audio isn't as breathtaking, but the mix is clean with plenty of punch. It's the only also way I know to hear the awesome Killer Klown theme song in 24-bit lossless audio. The only problem with the mix happens during Mike and Debbie's initial exploration of the spaceship, when the audio goes out of sync for about a minute. It's an odd glitch that doesn't hurt the overall film.
Killer Klowns comes to Blu-ray with the same batch of excellent standard-def bonus features as the 2001 DVD (minus the photo gallery). Unfortunately, if you want to peruse these extras, you have to use the pop-up menu while watching the movie. There is no main menu. It's pretty annoying.
* Audio Commentary with the Chiodo Brothers. In this engaging track, the brothers talk about their film influences, share amusing production stories, and are generally every bit as entertaining as the film.
* "The Making of Killer Klowns" (21:40) This interview with the Chiodo Brothers, covers basic behind-the-scenes info, interspersed with archival video from the shoot.
* "Komposing Klowns" (13:15) Composer John Massari talks about the process of writing music for the film, using specific scenes as examples.
* "Visual Effects with Gene Warren, Jr." (14:52) Charlie Chiodo and Gene Warren discuss the long and varied list of practical effects employed in the film, including matte paintings, forced perspective, models, optical printing, and stop motion animation. The conversation gets pretty technical, which should appeal to the kind of people who like watching visual effects bonus features.
* "Kreating Klowns" (12:50) This featurette goes through the construction and design of the Klowns and their weapons, costumes, and vehicles.
* "Chiodo Brothers Earliest Films" (7:10): The Chiodos provide commentary over two silent movies they made as kids: a short stop-motion adventure starring a Thanksgiving turkey, and an elaborate late-'60s short called "The Beast and the Egg."
* Deleted Scenes: Two excised scenes, presented in full frame with optional Chiodo commentary. In "Bad Experience" (2:14) Debbie talks about a traumatic circus-related childhood memory, while "Tight Rope" (2:22) extends the spaceship chase sequence at the end of the movie with even more cool design ideas.
* "Killer Bloopers" (2:49): A medley of oopsies and production mishaps caught on video.
* Two Vignettes: "Klown Auditions" (3:56) shows the clown performers being coached through how to move, while "Holy Smoke" (0:07) is the TV edit of the movie's most famous line.
* Theatrical Trailer (1:53) "Killer Klowns from Outer Space...it's crazy." It sure is.
There is nothing quite like Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Its mix of black humor, practical creature effects, and old time filmmaking might sit somewhere between Gremlins and John Carpenter's The Thing, but the Chiodo Brothers elevate what should be a disposable one-joke horror flick into a work of sublime creativity. This is the movie every 12-year-old in the '80s with a camcorder would have made if he could. It's as full of joy as modern horror movies are drowning in cynicism, and it makes the leap to Blu-ray with an impressive transfer and a killer kollection of bonus features.
Should've let the man ride his bike. Not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Early Films
* Official Site