Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) Blu-ray Review: Krazy, Kampy Fun

During the 1990s, my father and I had an annual tradition on or near Halloween. Whenever Killer Klowns from Outer Space came on the television, we would stop whatever we were doing and watch it. We didn’t have cable back then, and my parents still don’t to this day. Oddly enough, we also never owned the movie on VHS or DVD. But one of the local stations (CBS, I believe) would air it each year as Halloween drew closer. I think it was always being shown during the middle of the day on a weekend, when the network had no original programming or sporting event during that time slot. I’m not sure if the network is still doing that, or if they substituted other movies in its place. But I do remember being ecstatic each time the movie aired.

Flash forward to 2015, and I had just been terminated from a job that I truly despised. It was a few days before Halloween, and I felt depressed. I think it was prior to my termination that I found out Killer Klowns from Outer Space was being streamed on Hulu. Although I don’t live with my parents anymore, or near them for that matter, I felt the need to revisit the tradition my father and I had in place. It was probably a decade-long gap, maybe more, from when I last saw the movie to that time. To my surprise, the movie had aged very well, and there were moments that made me laugh out loud and at least one scene that made me squirm. Never did I think I would get that latter feeling from a movie with such a silly title and premise.

As an adult, revisiting something from your childhood can either be a good or very bad thing. In recent years, I’ve found myself unable to ever watch any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie from the ’90s again. Actually, anything Ninja Turtles-related is pretty hard to stomach nowadays. The same goes for a direct-to-video feature called Prehysteria! (exclamation intentional). Unlike those aforementioned movies, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is something I can easily pop in and enjoy no matter how old I am. What the Chiodo brothers did with their low budget is extraordinary and better than most of the effects-heavy blockbusters coming out today.

It’s a simple and also silly premise. One night, as several couples are gathered at a well-established make-out corner of the small town of Crescent Cove, a bright, comet-like object flies past them and lands in a nearby part of the woods. It’s never disclosed how old the people are in the film, but one has to assume that, if a bunch of them are gathered in one spot making out with their significant other, they have to be in high school. And, if so, this is one of the many cases in which the actors they have cast are obviously way too old for the roles. It’s a minor nitpick, but when a movie like this doesn’t take itself seriously, it’s forgivable.

Anyway, Mike (Grant Cramer) and his girlfriend, Debbie (Suzanne Snyder), go try to find where the object landed. They come across what appears to be a circus tent with giant, scary-looking clowns roaming the area. It turns out these clowns are aliens, and their tent is a giant spaceship. With their unique weaponry choices, such as one gun that sprays popcorn on its victims and another that wraps people up into cotton-candy cocoons, the clowns (or in this case, “Klowns”), go on a murderous rampage. Along with one of the local police officers (John Allen Nelson), Mike and Debbie try to put an end to the Klown killing spree. Sorry, I had to.

What is the motive of the Klowns? Well, no one really knows. Maybe they want to take over Earth. Maybe they have some experiment they’re working on, and they need as many human bodies as they can get. But, honestly, who cares? One of the great things about Killer Klowns from Outer Space is that it doesn’t have one character whose sole purpose is to explain the possibilities of why they’ve landed, and why they’ve decided to kill or capture every person they see. Nor is there a definitive answer for their invasion. It just plays out as it is, and we witness the characters as they try to evade peril at every corner.

The Chiodo brothers (Stephen, Charles, and Edward) approach Killer Klowns from Outer Space with unapologetic grace. It’s a magnificent tribute to the 1950s-era, B-grade horror films in which practical effects reigned supreme, and the level of overacting was on par with the film’s campy tone. The jokes are not exactly high-brow, and that’s perfectly fine for a movie such as this. One running gag involves a dim-witted duo who gets an ice cream truck because they think it will attract all the girls in town.

Other jokes include anything the Klowns do to their victims. It’s not just their wrapping people up in cotton-candy cocoons or trapping them in colorful balloons. The Klowns also come equipped with cream pies that can (and do) kill a man by melting him down to nothing but bones. The cherry on top of the gag is literally when one of the Klowns places a cherry on top of the newly-formed, steaming mountain of cream, blood, and bones. It’s ridiculously wonderful to behold.

Mostly known for their visual effects work, Killer Klowns from Outer Space also marked the first and (sadly) only time that one of the Chiodos (Stephen, in this instance) hopped into the director’s chair for a full-length feature. At a brisk, 86-minute runtime, the film doesn’t overstay its welcome. It never forces its jokes down a viewer’s throat, nor is there any major tonal shift that turns the film into a straight-up horror movie.

It is self-aware of the concept, and the Chiodos take the idea and run with it. No jokes are stretched thin to the point of tedium, and the visual-effects work (all practical) is truly something spectacular. The Klown designs are expertly crafted and somewhat frightening to look at, but there is never a moment of sheer terror in Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Again, that’s fine. This is a film that doesn’t need to be scary. It goes along with the silly premise, gives the Klowns some character, and, in the end, is one of the most enjoyable and quintessential ’80s features.

Arrow Video’s new restoration of Killer Klowns from Outer Space arrives on Blu-ray with a new 4K scan of the original camera negative, presented in 1080p. The picture is nearly flawless, with only a few scenes that are covered in dirt and debris – mostly some of the nighttime scenes have this noticeable issue. The audio presentation is in stereo 2.0 and 5.1 DTS-HD MA, making all the sounds come through perfectly clear. Subtitles are also an available option for those hard of hearing.

This new Blu-ray comes jam-packed with several hours of special features for fans to enjoy. The Chiodos have several segments in which they give interviews about their early uses with Super 8 filmmaking, the making of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and a tour of their studio. There are also interviews with several behind-the-scenes people and actors Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder.Another section showcases all of the brothers’ early short films that were shot with Super 8. Other features include a commentary from the Chiodos, image galleries, deleted scenes, bloopers, and the original trailer. This special edition comes with a reversible sleeve cover featuring some new artwork that is appropriate for the film, unlike that terrible Blu-ray cover from 2012 that made it seem like a more serious horror film. Inside is a booklet with an essay by film critic James Oliver called “Circus Bizarro: Killer Klowns, Then and Now,” and a double-sided poster for fans to display in their home.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space flopped when it first opened in theaters, but has since garnered a pretty strong cult following. For years, there have been talks of a possible sequel, and, while I’m all for it, I’m perfectly OK if it doesn’t happen. I’m sure the Chiodos wouldn’t give in to the overuse of CGI, but I also have this feeling that they may not capture the original film’s spirit in the same way.

The moment its infectious theme song by the Dickies is introduced over the opening credits, Killer Klowns from Outer Space hits the ground running with thrilling and goofy moments at nearly every corner. At times corny but never serious, the Chiodo brothers’ film is an entertaining homage to B-movies and stands well on its own – and the test of time – as silly, escapist fun.

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David Wangberg

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