Title: Killer Klowns from Outer Space Director: Stephen Chiodo Writers: Charles Chiodo, Stephen Chiodo, Edward Chiodo Stars: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson
The year is 1988. It is a quiet summer evening in the small US town of Crescent Cove. Like many other teenagers here, teenagers Mike and his girlfriend Debbie have found their way to the local make-out spot overlooking the town. Nothing can go wrong with a bottle of champagne and private time in the back of the car, right. Right??
Suddenly a bright pinkish light can be seen streaking across the night sky. It seems to land someplace in the nearby woods, and Mike suddenly loses all interest in making out with his girlfriend. But what is this? A huge circus tent here, out in the middle of the forest? This is worth investigating!
Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this film ever since I first watched it in my early teens. And when I started as a film critic, I knew I had to write about it at one point.
In many ways, Killer Klowns from Outer Space can be seen as a piece of genius filmmaking. On the one hand, it is a madcap, shameless B-horror spoof with such a wild and downright insane premise that it could only have been made in the 80s, itself the golden age of B-movie horror schlock. And I love it for that. On the other, it is a film that gave me nightmares for months back when I first watched it. As a young teenager, I had an irrational fear of both UFOs and clowns! No wonder then.
Send in the Klowns!
So how to describe the story of Killer Klowns from Outer Space? Call it a “story” or plot would be a stretch, I think, as the film is a mess. A lovely, horrible, demented mess! And strangely enough, this makes it so much better. Much like the circus act this film aims to be (and we’re talking the cavorting clowns, not the agile trapeze artists), it is all fun, and a little scary, especially if you’re younger.
The title should say most of what this film is about, but here is some synopsis: A UFO lands in the forest outside a small American town. We’ve seen it before in countless “they came from outer space”-sort of movies. But this particular UFO is shaped like a big glowing circus tent. And the aliens themselves, called Klowns (that is, Klowns with a K), are shaped exactly like huge, bestial clowns with big red noses that would make even Stephen King’s Pennywise blush. And these clowns, uhm, I mean Klowns, are out for carnage, blood, and cotton candy!
Discovered the circus tent UFO out in the woods, Mike (played by the then 27-year-old Grant Cramer) and Debbie (played by the then 26-year-old Suzanne Snyder) manages to escape with their life after being chased by Klowns wielding popcorn guns and a balloon tracking dog.
The Klowns then proceed to attack the town with all manners of diabolical circus implements. People are trapped in balloons and cotton candy cocoons for later consumption. Living popcorn attacks innocent bystanders. People are eaten up by shadow puppets and dissolved by acid cream pies!
After fighting off some murderous popcorn creatures, Suzanne is soon captured by the Klowns and taken away in a balloon tied to the back of a clown car. Mike recruits some friends on a rescue mission to the circus UFO. On the way there, they have to dodge Klowns killing everyone in sight.
Darkly Funny and Unsettling
It is hard to judge directing, acting, or drama of a film titled Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The films are basically a series of largely unconnected scenes of Klowns killing people in the most insane and wacky ways possible, all with a circus twist. One uses his hands to produce a shadow puppet dinosaur that eats people. People are spun into cotton candy, where they dissolve into drinkable liquid. There are acid pies. A dead policeman is used as a hand puppet.
Given the obviously low budget of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, one would expect that the special effects that this film relies on would be mediocre at best. This is not the case. The Klowns themselves are works of special effects artists. They are both darkly funny and morbidly unsettling.
The Chiodo Brothers
Yes, they might sound like some circus act. The Chiodo brothers (Stephen, Charles, and Edward) have long since become cult legends in the American film industry, especially for their special effects work with puppets on the Critters movies, Team America and Ernest Scared Stupid. Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the film the Chiodo brothers worked on where they themselves directed, produced, and wrote the script. And for better or worse (mostly better!), it shows.
I remember the first time I watched a behind-the-scenes featurette with the Chiodo brothers. They even began the interviews with something like, “Yes, it was us. Blame us!”. The film that was supposed to be a science fiction horror comedy scared kids worldwide to the point of having nightmares. The film’s cult status is well earned.
I should also mention the music of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Composer John Massari created a memorable soundtrack that has become iconic in its own right. One of my favorites from this is the so-called “Killer Klown March.” If you haven’t heard it yet, go check it out on Spotify.
A Long-Awaited Sequel?
There has been talk of a sequel to Killer Klowns from Outer Space for years now. First, 3D was considered, with the messy title of Killer Klowns from Outer Space 2 in 3D. Later, the Chiodo brothers started discussing a possible series, maybe on Netflix or another streaming service. And it seems that things are slowly, very slowly, progressing towards something, be it a series, sequel movie, or something completely different.
If you haven’t yet seen Killer Klowns from Outer Space, I highly recommend it. Is it a good movie? Maybe not. Is it a masterpiece in its own right? Absolutely. So have some popcorn, maybe even some cotton candy, and enjoy this insanely and fantastic mess of a film.