‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space’ is a fun, campy flick

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'While juggling aspects of comedy, science fiction, and horror, Killer Klowns provides a thoroughly entertaining experience.'
‘While juggling aspects of comedy, science fiction, and horror, Killer Klowns provides a thoroughly entertaining experience.’

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Written by the Chiodos Brothers
Directed by Stephen Chiodos
USA, 1988

Drawing heavily on their experience in the special effects industry of the 1980s, the Chiodos Brothers’ only self-written and directed film is as unique as it is entertaining. Killer Klowns from Outer Space delivers exactly what it promises – a campy flick about the invasion of a small town by murderous alien clowns.

While Killer Klowns has been somewhat awkwardly labelled a ‘Comedy Sci-Fi Horror’, the movie is really just pure, good old-fashioned Camp. It quickly establishes (or rather, exposes) its not-to-be-taken-seriously nature during the opening credits, as the maniacal laughter of clowns grows progressively louder until the film’s title flashes and the main theme is cued. The theme – an 80’s-style punk song with riffs built on classic circus music – was written specifically for the film, and with lyrics like “Some make us laugh, some make us cry/These clowns honey, gonna make you die!” it’s as silly as it is catchy.

At only 88 minutes in length (credits included), it’s a relatively short film. The brief running time is  largely due to the fact that the film’s core intro only lasts about six minutes, during which each of the main characters are established as quickly as possible. This means that no one ever really rises above stock character status, having laughable depth and zero dynamics. A cast full of walking tropes like the intensely overacted ‘good cop’ Officer Hanson (John Allen Nelson), and his colleague, the disgruntled ‘bad cop’ Officer Mooney (played by John Vernon, who is notable for playing both the disgruntled mayor in Dirty Harry and the disgruntled dean in Animal House) would normally be considered bad storytelling, but in this case it’s simply proof that the Chiodos Brothers were entirely aware that the human characters weren’t going to provide the film’s main hook. By glazing over them, they’re able to focus their efforts on the film’s more engaging secondary set of characters – the eponymous Killer Klowns.

From the moment that the invaders first appear – landing on Earth in a  circus tent spaceship – the filmmakers waste no opportunities fleshing out their intensely clownish appeal. Whether harvesting human bodies in cotton candy, throwing corrosive whipped cream pies, or tracking their victims with living balloon animals, the Klowns’ murderous antics are always a treat to watch. Unlike standard invasion films, it’s actually very easy to wind up rooting for the aliens, if only to see how many ways they can play on clowning to dupe their unsuspecting prey.

The imagery in the film is always fantastic, with bright circus colours and outlandish props providing the perfect counterbalance to the gruesome events that often accompany them. In one scene, a Klown drinks the gelatinized remains of a human through a lengthy crazy straw, creating a comedic delay in a moment that could otherwise be disturbing to some viewers. The ridiculous way that any Horror elements are implemented ensures that no one is will leave this movie with a newfound fear of clowns.

The Chiodos Brother’s special effects abilities are mostly visible in the Klowns themselves – while the costumes are somewhat rubbery in appearance, each of the Klowns is fully flushed out and very different from one another, giving them individual qualities and projecting differing personalities. While it’s often apparent that the film doesn’t have a huge budget, it’s always clear that the filmmakers put a lot of care into set design and construction. Small touches such as popcorn machines that provide power to the fun-house inspired ship can be found throughout.

Now, it should be noted that Killer Klowns is not – by standard definitions – a ‘good’ film. Its story is absurd, its main actors aren’t particularly talented, and its two million dollar budget often translates to a noticeably lesser production value. However, the whole thing comes together in such a strange and enjoyable fashion that it’s easy to imagine that the Chiodos Brothers actually intended it to be that way. While anyone watching it will definitely spend more time laughing at the movie than with the movie, the end result is still a lot of laughs.

– Kyle G.

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