The Film: 4/5
**This review is based on a test disc provided by Arrow Video and may not reflect the final product. We will update the review if and when the final product is received.**
The set-up is pretty much the same: beautiful stars against a void of infinite darkness, then the logo bursts onto the screen with mighty fanfare. Except this one comes bearing a hard-driving rock theme song performed by the Dickies, those merry punk pranksters that were making their mark on the L.A. circuit not long after the Ramones emerged in New York City. If that wasn't enough to convince someone that 1988's Killer Klowns from Outer Space would be a sci-fi B-movie unlike any other then every scene that followed certainly would.
And just what in the Sam Hill is Killer Klowns from Outer Space? Glad you asked. It's the twisted, sickeningly funny brain child of those cinematic stop-motion animation geniuses the Chiodo Brothers - Stephen (who directed), Charles, and Edward. They wrote this movie, produced it into existence, and busted their collective ass making sure it not only lived up to their expectations but to those of anyone lucky enough to have seen the theatrical trailer sometime in 1988.
The circus has come to the sleepy California town of Crescent Cove, but the townsfolk don't know it yet. This particular big top is really an alien craft that has arrived direct from a previous engagement somewhere in outer space and staked out a prime piece of real estate in an isolated section of woods. The spaceship's occupants are an unpleasant, murderous gang of horrific-looking clowns who set off into Crescent Cove once their presence is discovered by a local farmer (Royal Dano) and resident cute couple Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder). When Mike and Debbie venture into the ship and find out to their horror that these clowns are killing people and encasing their bodies in cotton candy they take their case to Debbie's police officer ex-boyfriend Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson) and his viciously close-minded partner Mooney (John Vernon). At first the cops think these kids have been smoking a little bit too much of the wacky weed, but when the clowns' reign of comical terror starts accumulating a hefty body count Hanson must team up with Mike, Debbie, and the perpetually horny ice cream vending Terenzi brothers (Michael Siegel, Peter Licassi) and send these ghoulish creeps packing to whatever three ring fresh hell spawned them.
When we think of the cinematic year 1988 titles like Die Hard, Rain Man, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Big, Beetlejuice, A Fish Called Wanda, and Hellbound: Hellraiser II come to mind. The Trans World Entertainment release Killer Klowns from Outer Space came out in theaters long before most of those movies did on May 27 of that year and did very well at the box office for a scrappy $2 million indie schlock flick with nothing close to the marketing muscle those major studio releases had at their disposal. In its opening weekend it grossed $2.6 million on 893 screens across the country and would leave theaters later that summer with a domestic tally of $15.6 million. A few months later it opened in overseas markets and added another $28 million to its distributors' coffers for a total worldwide haul of $43 million. Go to Rotten Tomatoes and you'll see that Killer Klowns has a 71% rating and twelve of the seventeen reviews counted are quite positive.
I never knew that this movie was such a hit with critics and audiences at the time of its theatrical release. For some reason I assumed it received scant distribution before getting dumped onto home video where it was hoped this unloved red-headed stepchild of a motion picture would finally find love. It's actually stunning to know that for a brief moment in time moviegoers of the world were captivated by a movie about evil alien circus clowns who come to Earth to enslave the human race with guns that blast popcorn at deadly speeds, carnivorous shadow puppets, balloon animals that can sniff out their prey better than most bloodhounds, and cream pies with enough lethal potency to melt the flesh right off of our bones (And you thought Monsanto was bad?). Killer Klowns from Outer Space belongs in a certain category of underrated B-movies, those that deliver on everything they promise and then some.
How rare is it for a sci-fi horror feature laced with mischievous humor and malevolent invention to be a labor of love for its creators? Video store shelves from Portland to Pamplona were stocked throughout the 80's and 90's with hundreds of disposable genre crap. Many of them were cheap knock-offs of infinitely superior films retched into being for the sole purpose of turning a quick profit. But there's something special about Killer Klowns. This was a true passion project for its inspired creators, the Chiodo Brothers. So dedicated were they to making their demented dream a reality that they designed and constructed most of the film's colorful visual effects with their own money and labor. Together the three talented siblings infuse every frame of Killer Klowns with dark wit and imagination and raise its ambitions from the level of sweet-natured weekend video rental to that of a wry spoof of B-moviemaking in the 1980's in the spirit of Night of the Creeps and The 'Burbs.
The Klowns themselves are the iconic centerpiece of the film that bears their name. Each of the diabolical extraterrestrial pranksters are given distinctive looks from facial expressions and body types to their choice of clothing and the weapons they use to terrorize the people of Crescent Cove. The Chiodos' Klowns proved to be so popular that nearly two decades after the movie's release they were brought back to life as collectible action figures from SOTA Toys. This was of course done with excellent reasoning; the Klowns are creepy, hilarious, brilliant in design and execution, and performed by actors who work wonders with the look of their characters and the props created by the production despite having to stay silent for the entire story (with the exception of the few Klowns with the fiendish chortles that will freeze your blood and make you avoid the circus for the rest of your life). Charles Chiodo, who was responsible for the film's maliciously skewed production design, even gets into costume for the epic finale as the big boss monster "Klownzilla".
The highlights of Killer Klowns are the scenes with the Klowns running around town creating all manners of mayhem, so naturally the moments revolving around our human characters are doomed to suffer in comparison. With the exception of old pro John Vernon, clearly having a blast as the hateful Officer Mooney, the cast all perform adequately so as not to upstage the areas of the movie in which the Chiodos have the most invested. Cramer and Snyder make for a cute and believable couple that practically every cheap alien invasion requires, as does Nelson as the requisite heroic policeman who's both square of jaw and personality. Siegel and Licassi perform the bulk of the non-Klown comedic weightlifting with weirdo conviction. The late Royal Dano, a character acting godsend now and forever, amuses during his brief scenes in the first act as the farmer who discovers the Klowns' spacecraft. Keep an eye for stand-up comic and former sitcom star Christopher Titus in a small role as another Crescent Cove citizen.
The Chiodos keep the pacing of the proceedings frenetic and don't dwell on the grimmer aspects of the Klowns' nocturnal hell-raising. This movie received a PG-13 rating back in the day and with its full roster of morbidly humorous death scenes it certainly that rating. Fortunately the scenes are more comical in tone so even when someone loses their head or gets devoured by a shadow animal the effects come across as funny rather than frightening, which can be said for most of the movie in general. That's why we love what the Chiodos have wrought even if it also gives us another very good reason to be afraid of clowns.
The 1080p high-definition master used for this release was transferred from the original film elements by rights holder MGM for Killer Klowns' 2012 debut on Region A Blu-ray. Picture quality on the 1.85:1 widescreen-framed image is shaky at times but is the best that this movie has ever looked on video. Grain content is minimal, colors are warm and vibrant, and details appear soft on occasion but look fantastic in the brighter scenes. Klowns was originally mixed and released in Dolby Stereo and the soundtrack has been recreated through the English 2.0 stereo track included here by Arrow. The boffo score by John Massari and the Dickies theme song come through all channels with fine clarity and little trace of distortion, while the hackneyed dialogue can be heard just as well. All in all the track is comparable to the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 channel from the earlier MGM Blu-ray. English subtitles are also included.
Killer Klowns was first released on DVD in the late summer of 2001 and was one of the first movies I owned in that format. MGM's disc came loaded with some great bonus features created with the cooperation of the Chiodos and their extensive archives and every one of those extras has been included on Arrow's Blu-ray release along with some new featurettes you won't find anywhere else.
Starting off with the vintage supplements is a commentary track with the Chiodo Brothers that carries with every ounce of wit, enthusiasm, and imagination they brought to the making of their movie. The production stories and technical information are conveyed with the appropriate amount of levity and the brothers leave no ground unexplored. Dead air is also non-existent. "The Making of Killer Klowns" (22 minutes) is a pretty solid behind-the-scenes featurette that contains a lot of cool video footage from the production framed by a contemporary interview with the Chiodos. "Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr." (15 minutes) brings in the visual effects great to discuss with the brothers how the FX were created with limited funds and time. "Kreating Klowns" (13 minutes), just as the title implies, goes into detail about the practical effects that went into giving the demented villains life on screen. Composer Massari is interviewed for "Komposing Klowns" (13 minutes).
"Chiodo Brothers' Earliest Films" (7 minutes) compiles highlights from some of the brothers' youthful experimentation with stop-motion animation. Two deleted scenes, including a interesting visual gag involving a tightrope inside the Klowns' vessel, are presented here with optional commentary by the Chiodos. A blooper reel (3 minutes), "Klown Auditions" (4 minutes), storyboard and image galleries, and the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes) close out the previously-available features.
The new featurettes produced for this release by Arrow start off with "Bringing to Life These Things" (8 minutes), which gives us a brief tour of the Chiodo Bros. Studio and a glimpse at the original Klown masks and effects. "Tales of Tobacco" (18 minutes) is the first of a pair of new interviews co-produced by Red Shirt Pictures and is centered around leading man Cramer and his stories about being cast in the film, working on the production, and his thoughts today on the film's longevity as a cult film. Similar ground is covered in "Debbie's Big Night" (11 minutes), an interview with co-star Snyder.
Arrow's Blu-ray will also include a reversible cover sleeve featuring the original movie poster image and new artwork created for this release by Godmachine, a collector's booklet with a new essay about the film written by by Starburst critic Joel Harley that is illustrated with original archive stills and posters, and a bonus DVD copy. A steelbook edition is also available.
I loved it when I was a kid and I love it even more now that I'm an adult. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is one of those timeless cult films that never seems to go out of style even as the hairstyles and fashions sported by its human characters do. An insanely good B-movie spoof from a decade full of them (and most were utter crap), the Chiodos' depraved ode to alien invasion flicks and the nightmarish appeal of the circus is well worth owning on Blu-ray now that Arrow Video has worked their special magic and topped the previous MGM release with a few sweet new extra features of their own design.