Written By: Casey Powers
Directed by: Stephen Chiodo
Cast: Grant Crammer, Suzanne Snyder, and John Allen Nelson
Coulrophobia (noun) : pathological fear or loathing of clowns
The fear of clowns is a very common phobia and one that has been exploited by horror movies for several decades, and to be completely honest, I just don’t get it. I have never thought of clowns as being scary. In fact I actually enjoy clowns. I think they’re funny, and with that frame of mind I can say that Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a downright fun movie. It has very little scares, but it’s still entertaining from beginning to end.
The film starts off with a scene lifted directly from the original Blob from 1959. A shooting star passes over make-out point, titled “the top of the world” in this film, and love birds Mike (Crammer) and Debbie (Snyder) decide to track it down. After wandering through the woods the couple finds a circus tent sitting in the middle of the forest. The two decide to do what all young people do in horror movies when they find a strange building: they break in and explore. After getting inside they realize the circus tent is actually a spaceship and its pilots are actually a group of clown-looking aliens bent on killing any earthling they encounter. Mike and Debbie barely manage to escape and try to warn the police. Like all 50’s sci-fi flicks, however, the police are less than cooperative. The only two police in town, Deputy Dave (Nelson), Debbie’s ex-boyfriend who clearly still has feelings for Debbie, and curmudgeon Sgt. Mooney, hilariously played by John Vernon, are reluctant to listen to their warning. Eventually Dave goes out with Debbie and Mike and sees the killer klowns in action. The three decide that they have to stop the colorful aliens and save the town.
In case it was not evident enough from the title, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a film that does not take itself seriously. This film is laugh out loud funny, and intentionally so. As mentioned before, the film directly lifts scenes and tropes from 50’s sci-fi/horror films. And unlike other horror parody films like Scary Movie or Shaun of the Dead, Killer Klowns from Outer Space does not have parody stamped on its forehead. It takes the formula from the 50’s movies and copies and pastes it here. Young people find a ridiculous monster outside of town and try, in vein, to get the police to stop the threat before it’s too late. Ultimately the young people take it upon themselves to save the town. In case that sounds familiar it’s because it’s the exact plot I just described for this film.The homage to classic sci-fi films is somethingthat casual movie fans will probably miss, but are nevertheless enjoyable for those who can see them. The only difference between this film and those classics is that the tropes in the formula are taken to extreme levels.
Instead of the ridiculous monster being a giant lizard or a monstrous puddle of goo, the monsters are 8 foot tall brightly colored clowns. The humor comes from the fact that all of the characters play it straight. There is no moment where they mug at the camera or give the audience a wink. The movie knows it’s silly but it never acknowledges it. The humor ultimately comes from the fact that this absolutely ridiculous scenario is contrasted against the stern seriousness of the characters. It’s like the movie is intentionally unintentionally funny. However there is in-text humor as well. The klowns have quite a few genuinely good gags, and the Terenzi brothers, played by Michael Sigel and Peter Liscassi, are more interested in getting laid then in the alien invasion.
While the humor takes center stage there is some genuine scares in the film, though they are few and far between. As a child I was disturbed by this film’s idea that a group of aliens could just go through town and kill everyone. They are some rather creepy scenes that give this horror/comedy its horror badge. The scene where the klown tries to lure a little girl away from her mother so he could murder her is unsettling, and the scene in the police station where a klown uses Sgt. Mooney as a ventriloquist dummy is downright disturbing, even though that scene focuses around a cartoonish looking clown.
Speaking of the klowns, they are one of the two major components that make the film work. While the writing is tongue in cheek, and the acting is pretty solid the klowns are the reason anyone comes to see the film. And they are so entertaining that it’s impossible to look away while they are on screen. They can switch from being truly funny and whimsical in one instant to murderous and monstrous in the next. Not to mention their methods of murder are unique and imaginative. While they prefer to use cotton candy rays, the klowns also use other creative weapons like popcorn guns, acid cream pies, and living shadow puppets. It makes the audience constantly wonder what other tricks the klowns have up their sleeves.
The other major aspect of this film that makes it work is the special effects. These effects aren’t good considering the film’s low budget; they are good in spite of the film’s budget. The animatronics in the klowns’ faces really makes them come to life. They still hold up to this day and really are a testament to practical effects. It’s not surprising the film had good visuals considering Stephen Chiodo and his brothers and co-screenwriters Edward and Charles all have a background in special effects. In fact this is the only major film that any of them have written or directed, and it works. They wrote the script knowing what they could and could not do with the special effects, so the effects never seem over stretched or struggle to fit into the tone of the film, because the film is based around them.
Overall Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a movie that lives up to its premise. Odds are if you smiled at the title you’ll enjoy this film. It’s hilarious, imaginative, and over the top (or should I say big top? *badum-tss*)
I recommend watching with a large group of friends with plenty of popcorn and cotton candy to go around.
About the author: Casey Powers is a horror fanatic with a degree in film from the University of New Mexico. When he is not writing about horror movies he is writing them. He hopes to be able to turn his scripts into Hollywood produced pictures one day. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.