“The drug which gives the clown power Means the circus can never be stopped And his dream can go on unhindered ‘Til the last human being has dropped” Any excuse to use lyrics to the classic Human League track Circus Of Death 1979 and it fits here perfectly Seriously though if you suffer from coulrophobia (dat’s a fear of clowns) you best not read or look beyond this point.
Personally I love clowns especially when they scare the crap out of people, they are after all the punks of the showbiz world, all that colourful hair, big boots and depressive tendencies and as far as films are concerned have been well represented in adding a ‘shit the bed’ splash of terror to things. Favourites that are included in the not that small sub-genre are Tommy lee Wallace’s adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘It’ (1990) a film that had us all swimming together in fright, Rob Zombie’s House Of A Thousand Corpses (2003) and Devil’s Rejects (2005) with Sid Haig’s excellent Captain Spaulding and the criminally overlooked Xtro from Harry Bromley Davenport (1983). Actually thinking about it I am going to have to also cite 100 Tears by Marcus Koch (2007) one of the most splattertastic clown films ever made and to the best of my knowledge never submitted to the BBFC; it’s definitely debatable whether it would even get passed.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) is more likely to have you in stitches than anything else as it’s a riot of fun and laughs. Directed by Stephen Chiodo and written and produced by him and his brothers the premise is fairly simple. We are pitched into small student campus town America where a comet startles some necking teens as it blazes across the sky. An old man and his dog go to see where it landed and quickly bow wow out the story but intrepid teens Mike and Debby (Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder) go to investigate and before you can say “But where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don’t bother, they’re here” (sorry couldn’t resist) they are in a top a lot bigger than the one poor Mike had just been trying to remove. It’s a garish, vulgar and downright trippy place and is actually a spaceship sent down to earth on a mission to turn all the town people into giant bundles of candyfloss and no doubt Bad Taste style take them home and harvest them. This insane clown posse are more than up to the job and with our heroes enlisting the help of a local cop and two ice cream delivery drivers straight out of any frat film are pitched against all manner of sticky nastiness, which are going to take a ‘miracle’ for them to escape from.
They all get well and truly stuck in the middle and it really is a case of clowns to the left of them jokers to the right as the cast are bombarded with guns firing cotton candy and popcorn that mutates Gremlins style, balloon dogs, custard pies, pits of balls, wobbly staircases, small cars full of clowns and just about every circus trick in the book. It’s all dished out at a fast pitched pace making the movie a quickly driven roller coaster ride that hardly stands still for a minute. The set designs are excellent and you feel like you are tripping just looking at some of the rooms in the spaceship even if you are 100 % straight (possibly not advisable). One of the best characters in the film is undoubtedly redneck cop Officer Mooney played by veteran actor John Vernon who thinks it is all a big joke and you know he’s going to be laughing on the other side of his face before long. And did I mention that the theme tune was done by The Dickies?
The film has certainly stood the test of time with many people fondly remembering it from back in the late 80’s when it originally came out on video. There are plenty of scenes that will have stuck (like sticky candy) to people’s memory and it’s another fun b-movie title for Arrow to add to their roster. I had not seen this since back then and appreciated it a lot after all these years especially as it looks so fantastically vibrant, much more so than it would have done on a tape rented out of the shop so many times. This is not a gory film or one containing any nudity and the 12 certificate it has gained (no doubt after the 15 was on the featured artwork) is spot on as it’s a great film to show to younger teenage audiences, unless of course they have a thing about clowns, in which case you should make them sit through it twice bwahaha.
I knew nothing really about the team behind the film as the director was not exactly prolific in that particular field so the night after watching the feature I lined up the jack in the box selection of extras that this Blu-ray / DVD release contains and sat down to see what I could discover and I promise to dispense of further lyrics as I go through things. First up are a selection of featurettes headed by a 2001 MGM making of the film with the Chiodo bros. They talk about their upbringing and love of monster movies bringing them to make this and seem keen to show many of the things that went wrong on set as well as how they achieved some of the (not so) special effects. There’s also mention of a sequel…. Next there’s more on the effects side of things with Gene Warren Jr who supervised them. It’s pretty in depth and there’s quite a lot of information explaining how they did things such as make “the squiggly” effect from the ray gun. Charles Chiodo who wrote the story as well as played the Klownzilla King Klown seems to have a lot more to say on things and clearly leads the conversation. It’s certainly an informative part for anyone looking at how to make fairly cheap effects look decent. Then there’s ‘Kreating the Klowns,’ the costume design is excellent and makes the film look far better than it possibly deserved to and it is not just them but things like the balloon dog and futuristic Klown vehicles that are discussed. A lot of foam latex and wire work was used to make the Klowns work and it’s all handled into a back to basics way which makes it look far more real than using computer generated effects like those that would no doubt be employed today. Then there is a new feature with a tour of the Chiodo brother’s studios and there are stacks of great looking models some of which you will spot from other productions they have been involved in such as Critters, Elf and Team America. Finally here there’s a look at some early films the brothers made as youngsters.
On to some all new interviews and first is Grant Cramer reliving his role as Mike Tobacco., Picked out into his acting career whilst waiting tables he was never apparently a stalk and slash fan but preferred the more occult side of things and films that were weird, cool and comic book influenced. He seems a well-tuned in person as far as the horror genre is concerned and Killer Klowns strikes as being perfect for him. He has plenty of interesting stories despite never really getting any bigger parts than in Killer Klowns, which he looks on as his first real movie is really enthusiastic about his experience. Suzanne Snyder who plays Debbie and also starred in Weird Science, Night Of The Creeps and Return Of The Living Dead 2 amongst others also looks back on her time in Killer Klowns and evidently enjoyed her time on it. John Masari also gets some screen time talking about his work as composer of the film obviously he impressed as he was in the running with about 50 others to get the gig. Proof that clowning around does get you somewhere in life. Listening to what he does now it does remind a bit of Danny Elfman and indeed I keep thinking of the zany approach of the film as whole being a bit reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice which came out the same year and created another cult movie viewing experience. You certainly won’t feel short changed by any of the extra material it’s all very informative and detailed.
If that’s still not enough, there’s deleted scenes, bloopers, auditions for the Klowns, storyboards, images trailer, commentary track and if you get the special steelbox version and don’t open it in a certain way a spring loaded boxing glove flies out and smacks you straight in the mush (ok I may have lied about that bit). There’s hours’ worth of stuff to wade through though and Arrow have definitely gone all out on special clown duties here.
One other thing that should be mentioned is on researching this review I couldn’t help but notice the IMDB has an announced title for 2016 listed for The Return Of Killer Klowns From Outer Space In 3D with the Chiodos back in the driving seat and Cramer returning as Mike Tobacco. Whilst you wait for that, this will do nicely and hopefully bring a whole new generation to enjoy it. Killer Klowns From Outer Space, a great popcorn movie! On second thoughts you best skip the popcorn!