Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) – Dark Bridges
Killer Klowns from Outer Space already has such a kult, excuse me, cult following that to a certain degree reviewing it is a bit redundant. However it, along with Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies and Flesh for Frankenstein were Dark Bridge’s retro features this year, and seeing it on the big screen for the first time since it came out was something I couldn’t pass up. As an added bonus Mandy, who made the trip with me this year, had only seen it on DVD.
It’s the weekend and the boys and girls of Crescent Cove, including Mike (Grant Cramer, Willy’s Wonderland, New Year’s Evil) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder, Night of the Creeps, Return of the Living Dead II) are parked at Top of the World when what looks like a meteor passes overhead and crashes in the woods. They decide to go and investigate.
A local farmer Gene (Royal Dano, Messiah of Evil, The Outlaw Josey Wales) has also seen it and finds a circus big top in the middle of the forest. He also finds some clowns who are anything but funny. Arriving shortly afterward Mike and Debbie realize the tent is actually a spaceship and barely escape as the klowns shoot at them with a popcorn gun and use a balloon dog as a bloodhound to try and track them.
By this point, it should be obvious to even the most jaded of viewers that the director Stephen Chiodo and his brothers Charles and Edward who co-wrote it with him, had fashioned a wildly inventive horror comedy. The trio had made a name for themselves as effects artists working on the first two Critters films and designed Killer Klowns from Outer Space to show that they could write, direct and produce a film as well.
And they really did prove their talents, creating a laugh out loud funny film with only a handful of characters besides the leads, the town cops, Dave (John Allen Nelson, Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell, Feast III: The Happy Finish), and the wonderfully acerbic Curtis (John Vernon, Animal House, Dirty Harry) and the Terenzi brothers Paul (Peter Licassi, Santa Barbra, Cheeseball Presents) and Rich (Michael S. Siegel, Love, Unemployed, Where the Journey Ends). Everyone else is there to die by way of killer shadow puppets, lethal cotton candy, living popcorn, etc.
All of the effects scenes in Killer Klowns from Outer Space are filled with remarkable results for what was a relatively low budget film. That ability to get the most out of a dollar doesn’t stop at the effects. The set design, especially of the ship and the abandoned funhouse, are impressive. And the scenes of the klowns parading down the main street complete with klown kars look like it came from a much more expensive film.
While the film is mostly played for laughs, even a child klown’s reaction to the taunt “What are you gonna do, knock my block off?” is more funny than gory, it has some unsettling moments. For example, a car chase involving a klown in an invisible car is legitimately creepy as are scenes involving a dead cop being used as a ventriloquist’s dummy. The scenes of heroes being chased through the spaceship’s surreal interior in the film’s climax have a feel that’s reminiscent of the pursuit of Cesare at the end of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Although it’s built a devoted following over the years Killer Klowns from Outer Space failed to get the Chiodo brothers jobs in fields beyond special effects and puppetry. Even the often promised sequel has never materialized. A video game based on it is due sometime this year though there’s been no word on it since January.
Regardless of that, Killer Klowns from Outer Space holds up remarkably well for a film that’s over thirty years old. Apart from scenes of the spaceship taking off and landing, which looks like early CGI, the effects still look good. Even more remarkable, most of the jokes are still funny although watching Vernon’s bad cop roughing up suspects feels a bit off given the events since the film was made. It’s still a film worth seeing, especially on a big screen with an audience.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is available on Blu-ray and DVD as well as Digital Platforms including MGM+ and Tubi. And if you’re not done Klowning around, FilmTagger can suggest some further viewing.