KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE – DVD review

Managing editor’s note: This is an older film, but we’re posting it now because we don’t have a review in our database . . . and also to introduce a reviewer new to Movie Met!

It has become a cliché that clowns are scary. The faces hidden by make-up, the deceptive lapel flowers, their inexplicable mastery of car-passenger physics. Who are they? What do these jovial  menaces want from us? “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” a low-budget gem from the Chiodo Brothers, puts forth one possible explanation—they want to kill and eat us.

A space ship, looking remarkably like a circus tent, lands in the deep woods outside the small town of Crescent Cove. A group of aliens, looking remarkably like circus clowns, emerge and begin a reign of polka-dotted terror and destruction. Only a small group of townies in the know stand between them and their blood-thirsty plans to turn the town’s inhabitants into, well, basically, cotton candy protein shakes.

But to describe Killer Klowns in terms of plot devices or as an homage to 50’s drive-in movies is beside the point. Its considerable charms lie elsewhere, in the eccentric humor and marvelous visual inventiveness on display. As is often the case with creative minds, limited funds have produced incredibly creative solutions. The Chiodo Brothers have covered all the candy-colored bases in their twisted takes on the clown arsenal. The clowns/aliens shoot cotton candy guns, create carnivorous shadow puppets, and spread popcorn that grows into beasties with a hunger all their own. Even a balloon animal becomes a tool of terror in their hands. Stephen, Charles and Edward Chiodo cut their teeth on stop-motion animation, but their skill with a range of prop and makeup effects is fully on display here (they later went on to do miniature and stop-motion effects work on such high-budget features as “Team America: World Police,” “Elf,” and “Dinner For Schmucks”).

The visual effects by Fantasy II Filmworks have an inventively low-rent, B-movie flair, and are integrated into the proceedings with wit and an obvious love for the genre conventions they are emulating. The chase on the highway and the hand-shadow sequences are special highlights, and the death-dealing parade through town achieves a kind of comic grandeur. They even manage notes of genuine creepiness among the seltzer gags and flesh-melting pies, aided by clever sound design.

The clowns themselves look like they came from a movie that had considerably more than the estimated $2 million budget.  Each clown is unique and surprisingly believable, even in close-up, utilizing a mix of prostethic suits, actor masks and puppet heads. Love those teeth! The variety of body types and movement among the clowns, the brightly-colored costumes, the sets and props they employ – all circus iconography perversely and hilariously co-opted. They are worth the price of admission all by themselves.

As the filmmakers freely admit in their engaging commentary track, the script and its delivery is  often amateurish, and the quick eye can catch many technical gaffes. Again though, that’s beside the point. Indeed, it’s part of the fun. While the performances are mostly run of the mill, enjoy the great John Vernon (Dean Wormer in “Animal House”) in full-on dyspeptic mode as the callous Officer Mooney, who meets a grim fate that will have you seeing Charlie McCarthy in a whole new light.

The film also stars Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder as the young couple who sound the alarm, and John Allen Nelson as the officer who doubts their story at first. Fans of character actors will relish the brief performance by Royal Dano as the ill-fated local who finds the ship first. And look fast for comic Christopher Titus in a walk-through role.

While the plotting is stale and some of the (human) comic relief falls flat, you will hardly notice if you give yourself over to the affectionate, funny vibe, and the cheerful, vibrant technical work. Add in a nice electronic score by John Massari, and a terrific theme song by The Dickies to kick it all off, and you’ve got clowns that will win you over. If they don’t kill you first.

Video:
“Killer Klowns from Outer Space” is an MGM “Midnite Movies” release, rated PG-13. It is in theatrical release format, 16:9 widescreen ratio (1.85:1). The digital print is solid, with only occasional flaws. The matte paintings look great and the circus colors pop appropriately, though several moments have noticeable grain due to the quality of the original print.

Audio:
The audio is stereo surround Dolby Digital, with French and Spanish language subtitles. Dialogue is clear, and the well-done sound effects are brought to the fore in the mix at appropriate times.

Extras:

  • An enjoyable audio commentary track with the three Chiodo Brothers, where they discuss much of the detail of low-budget, special effect-heavy filmmaking.
  • 5 featurettes (The Making of Killer Klowns, which features discussion by the Chiodo brothers, and some grainy but fascinating behind-the-scenes video; Komposing Klowns, analyzing the music with score composer John Massari; Visual Effects, with FX director Gene Warren, Jr. and Charles Chiodo; Kreating Klowns, featuring behind-the-scenes and on-the-set footage; Early Films of the Chiodo Brothers, fun stop-motion footage from childhood films.
  • 2 deleted scenes, with director commentary
  • a blooper reel
  • storyboard and photo galleries
  • original theatrical trailer

Parting Thoughts:
Low-budget movies with charm and wit and craftsmanship are hard to find, and here you have one with ample rewards for your viewing  effort. Part loving homage, part fun factory entirely of its own design, “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” evokes the sci-fi and horror films of many of our childhoods, and puts a spin on them that is entirely fresh and winning. Cult status is assured and well-deserved.

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