Killer Klowns from Outer Space – 30 Years Intergalactic Horror

Most remember the 1980s as a flashy time where everything and anything in Horror cinema was possible. Zombies, aliens, slasher villains such as Michael Myers and Freddy Krueger, as well as the hellbound Pinhead, were fighting for the crown of the Horror genre. Although, amidst it all, came something vastly different when the Chiodo Brothers release Killer Klowns from Outer Space on Friday, May 27th of 1988.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space still. © Trans World Entertainment.

For the less astute film fan, the Chiodo Brothers – Stephen, Charles, and Edward Chiodo – are a sibling filmmaking team responsible for the special effects in films such as 1986’s Critters, 1991’s Ernest Scared Stupid, and 2004’s Team America: World Police. Oh yeah, they also did the claymation sequence for the Large Marge scene in 1985’s Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. That said, their collaborative effort for Killer Klowns from Outer Space would combine all their talents, in regards to story, effects, and humor, making the trio legends among the Horror/Sci-Fi underground scene. In fact, the Rock band Chiodos even named themselves in tribute to the brother’s work! You see the love here?

All that in mind, what truly makes Killer Klowns from Outer Space unique and pioneering is the fact that it is one of the few films that tried to introduce clowns as Horror villains – even before the success of 1990’s It, a film which made the character of Pennywise a household name and took coulrophobia to a new level. Now celebrating 30 years, Killer Klowns from Outer Space has achieved a cult following, and, like the cotton candy-like cocoon the murderous circus aliens put their victims in, it continues to grow.

With production beginning in the spring of 1987, co-chairman for Trans World Entertainment (the film’s distributor), Moshe Diamant, was quoted as stating, “At least $6 million will be spent on special effects and design alone.” A pretty hefty amount, though through the years, various reports have said Killer Klowns from Outer Space‘s overall budget was slightly less at around 2 million dollars, and those who have seen it know every cent was used wisely and carefully. Believe it or not, the clowns and visual effects were allegedly created almost entirely by the Chiodos Brothers at very little cost – damn those boys are good!

Killer Klowns from Outer Space still. © Trans World Entertainment.

Starring Grant Cramer (The Young and the Restless series, Aliens from Uranus 2012), the son of Mighty Joe Young star Terry Moore, as Mike Tobacco, and Suzanne Snyder (Weird Science 1985, Return of the Living Dead Part II 1988) as Debbie Stone, the basic outline of the film is about an alien race, who just so happen to look like clowns, who come to earth in a circus tent-like spaceship to hunt for food. They are discovered by Farmer Gene Green, played by the late Royal Dano (The Outlaw Josey Wales 1976, The Right Stuff 1983), who incorrectly believes Halley’s comet crashed not far from his farm. Upon closer look, he is captured by the Klowns for later consumption.

However, not only farmer Green has noticed the bright light in the sky, but Mike and Debbie also head towards the spaceship in the woods to take a closer look. After examining the craft, Mike and Debbie are chased by the Klowns, but escape and drive to the local police station to report the incident to Debbie’s ex-boyfriend, Dave (John Allen Nelson: Crisis 2014, 24 series). Here, they are ridiculed by his deputy, Curtis Mooney (John Vernon: Dirty Harry 1971, Animal House 1978). Meanwhile, the Klowns are heading out on a killing spree, keeping the residents of Crescent Cove as snacks wrapped in cotton candy.

Anyone who has not seen the film, honestly, after 30 years, where have you been? This aside, for those of you living under a rock the plot might sound a bit far-fetched, but at least Charles and Stephen (the film writers) tried to explain why the alien invaders look like clowns and descend to earth in a circus tent-like spaceship, as protagonist Mike claims the Klowns could be an ancient race who inspired our modern day circuses. Having more or less the same plot outlines as Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, which had been released in 1987, a year prior to Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the movie may not do anything new storywise, but it surely knows how to impress otherwise!

Killer Klowns from Outer Space still. © Trans World Entertainment.

While it is not really all that scary for a Horror film, unless of course you truly are terrified of anything to do with clowns, Killer Klowns from Outer Space has some formidable, practical special-effects and costumes making every scene worthwhile. Helping it all come together, Darcie F. Olson, who would later work as costume designer for films such as 1989’s Nowhere to Run and 1990’s The Judas Project, did an excellent job making the Klowns look both funny and disgusting at the same time. Additionally, the infamous popcorn-gun the Klowns use to wreak havoc, the most expensive prop in the whole film, might look ridiculous, but it fits the tone of the movie perfectly.

In terms of memorable scenes, Killer Klowns from Outer Space does not fall short there either. With all too many to rattle off, one of the most over-the-top scenes is when the smaller Klown is threatened by a biker gang, just to give them their worst nightmare by punching one of their mate’s heads off. This explains perfectly what Killer Klowns from Outer Space is all about: goofy fun and gore. Which raises the question: how the hell did this film only get a PG-13 rating? One can only guess the dark humor of Killer Klowns from Outer Space won over the MPAA when rating the film.

Beyond the effects, gore, and strange humor, let’s not forget the music and sound design that add to the charming effect of the film. Featuring a Punk Rock variation of the famous circus clown theme, originally created by Czech composer Julius Fučík, performed by American Punk Rock band The Dickies, as well as some original music by film score composer John Massari (Ray Bradbury’s Chronicles anthology series, Jesus VR 2016), this is one of those soundtracks that, while you do not like to admit you own, you do!

Killer Klowns from Outer Space still. © Trans World Entertainment.

Fortunately for the geeks out there, in February of 2006,  a CD edition of the soundtrack was released by Percepto Records, but good luck finding a copy now with it going for an average of 75 to 100 dollars on sites such as Amazon and eBay. Although, have no fear, Massari revisited the soundtrack, conducting the Killer Klowns from Outer Space score with a live orchestra at the Montalban Theatre in Hollywood on October 22nd, 2017, and more recently on May 19th.

The bottomline is there is so much affection associated with Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and fans are always ecstatic for more. While it has been 30 long years, a hope for more is still possible with serious talks of a sequel coming, entitled The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space, yet no trailer or other details have been released. Clearly faced with obstacles through the years, seeing Killer Klowns from Outer Space was originally planned to be a series of films, fans wait with bated breath for more details on The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

All the facts in place, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a very memorable movie and a healthy mix of circus fun, alien invaders, gore and ’80s pop culture. Even though it might not be the greatest of all Horror-Comedies released, it is still definitely worth a watch 30 years later. After all, do you really want to tick off an alien clown with a Cotton Candy Cocoon Gun that dissolves human flesh to sugar blood so that you are easily consumed for dinner?

Trans World Entertainment

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