Review: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

In Space.... No One Can Eat Ice Cream!

In Space…. No One Can Eat Ice Cream!

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)
Rated PG-13 / Color / 88 minutes
Directed by Stephen Chiodo
Also Known As: Clowns asesinos
Purchase it: Amazon.com (DVD) | Amazon.com (Blu-ray)

Stephen, Edward, and Charles Chiodo were born to be special effects wizards. Growing up, they created numerous Super-8 shorts, and would become rather proficient with stop-motion animation. Since their humble beginnings, they have created the “Crites” from CRITTERS, the trolls in ERNEST SCARED STUPID, the marionettes for TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE, and Will Ferrell’s claymation pals in ELF.

But they will probably always be most famous for crafting one of the best Horror-Comedies from the 80s, namely KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE! Written and produced by the Chiodo brothers, with a limited budget (just under two million dollars), this cult classic grossed over forty-three million dollars worldwide [source], which is impressive, even by today’s standards!

In KILLER KLOWNS, the Chiodo Brothers used the template of a 50s alien invasion movie, where small town youths attempt to warn the adults of the impending doom from another world. (See also: THE BLOB and INVADERS FROM MARS) Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and his girlfriend Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder) are spending quality time on lover’s lane, when they witness a low-flying meteorite. They immediately go to investigate, and come across a circus tent in the middle of the woods. Curious, they wander in and quickly discover that the “tent” is actually an alien spacecraft!

The aliens themselves all resemble clowns and are storing humans in cotton candy cocoons for eventual consumption! Upon making this gruesome discovery, Mike and Debbie make a narrow escape, then rush to the police station to report their ordeal. Naturally their tale is met with skepticism, but eventually Debbie’s former flame, Officer Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson) relents and decides to investigate.

In the meantime, the clowns march into town and, at first, begin quietly abducting victims. But as the population begins to dwindle, they brazenly march down main street, ensnaring anyone foolish enough to be caught out in the open. During the siege, Debbie is captured in a giant balloon and whisked away (via “clown car”) to the mothership!

Man... Debbie has really ballooned since Mike last saw her.

Man… Debbie has really ballooned since Mike last saw her.

Mike, Dave, and the idiotic ice-cream peddling “Terrenzi Brothers” (Michael S. Siegel and Peter Licassi) pursue Debbie’s abductors to a deadly funhouse. But even after they make it through that, they still have to square off against the alien invaders, and their leader: The mighty “Klownzilla!” Will our heroes save Debbie and escape the ship, or will they all become intergalactic carnival treats? Watch this flick to find out!

I’ve been a big fan of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE ever since I was a kid. I can’t exactly recall when I first saw it, or how (either VHS or HBO), but regardless, it has forever embedded itself within my brain. What’s the secret to KILLER KLOWNS’ continued staying power? I’d have to say a lot of it has to do with the sheer creativity and ingenuity that is on display here. The fact that the Chiodo brothers had a strong background in special effects allowed them to go wild with their ridiculous premise, designing numerous klowns (no two of them alike) plus cotton candy blasters, and popcorn guns!

And that’s one of many things I love so much about this movie: Its heavy reliance on practical effects! Aside from a handful of (extremely well done) stop-motion sequences (e.g. the shadow puppet scene), everything you see on the screen is there! The klowns, their weapons, various sections of their ship, and their vehicles were all built from scratch, so the actors have physical props and characters to interact with!

Speaking of the cast, the leads put in decent performances, but they’re all two-dimensional characters that prove to be ultimately forgettable. I mainly chalk this up to the script following 50s sci-fi conventions, where the main characters are typically dull, and/or poorly written. However, veteran actor John Vernon gets to shine as the grumpy Officer Curtis Moody. He’s bitter, angry, a bit paranoid, and borderline abusive: You know this guy is going to get his comeuppance at some point.

Jeff Dunham's true terrifying form revealed!

Jeff Dunham’s terrifying true form revealed!

And he does, but it’s pretty darned creepy. Earlier in the film Moody declares “You won’t make a dummy out of me!” when Mike and Debbie try to convince the cops that clowns are about to bring genocide to the human race. Then later in the movie, Moody is literally turned into a dummy by a klown that he arrested. It’s funny to be sure, but it’s also kind of chilling, especially when puppet-Moody declares “Don’t worry Dave. All we wanna do is kill you.”

And that brings me to another of this movie’s strengths: Its ability to find a good balance between humor and horror. You’ll be chuckling one minute about how the klowns are turning people into cotton candy, and then cringe when one of them jams a straw into a cocoon and starts slurping the bodily fluids from the victim inside. You’ll probably laugh when a group of klowns melts a security guard with acidic pies (then tops him with a cherry!), but then hold your breath (and/or sit on the edge of your seat) when one of them attempts to lure a young girl away from her mother, in order to crush her skull with a huge clown hammer.

This movie has rightfully cemented its cult film status, and has withstood the test of time. Though it suffers from a distinct lack of interesting (human) characters, KILLER KLOWNS overcomes this issue with a strong (and highly amusing) premise, great effects, and an awesome soundtrack, courtesy of composer John Massari and punk rock group, The Dickies (who perform the film’s memorable theme song)!

killer klowns 03

Those Klowns got piiiiie jokes, they’ve got piiiiie jokes. Pie in your face from the skyyyy jokes!

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is highly enjoyable and should not be taken seriously! If you’re a fan of b-cinema, this is required viewing. And if you know someone who suffers from a light case of Coulrophobia, sit back in sadistic glee and watch their reaction if you subject them to this movie! KILLER KLOWNS will always be a huge favorite of mine, and hopefully it will continue to find an audience among newer generations. I adore this crazy flick, and am pleased to award the Chiodo brothers’ magnum opus with:

As of my posting this review, the Chiodo brothers were planning on creating an all new sequel to this film, called THE RETURN OF THE KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE IN 3D! Set thirty years after the original, Grant Cramer was set to return as Mike Tobacco, who aids the denizens of a besieged town against the diabolical bozos. I’m all for this, and I know a lot of others too, but it seems like the larger studios aren’t interested.

In a 2014 interview with Dread Central, the Chiodos revealed that they had a finished script, and were ready to go. The only problem? Two major studios (MGM and Sony) don’t want to relinquish the rights, mainly because they see no profit in a Killer Klowns sequel. As of March 2016 it’s been reported that Stephen Chiodo now plans to abandon a traditional sequel or remake. Instead he intends to bring the Killer Klowns back as a TV series. Whether or not this actually comes to fruition has yet to be seen, but if the Chiodos get things back on track, you can be sure I’ll update all of you faithful Vault Dwellers about this long-promised Klowns revival!