The Test of Time: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

Director: Stephen Chiodo
Starring: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, and John Vernon

I think that we can all agree that none of us can agree on certain topics. You know, like gun control, politics, Coke vs Pepsi, or Star Trek vs Star Wars. However, one topic is never met with debate: clowns. Yes, these painted up creatures of “entertainment” remain the most frightening things ever invented. There’s just something about that makeup, the big shoes, and the over enthusiastic smile that terrifies a nation or two. With the IT remake ramping up for production and the Eli Roth produced CLOWN terrorizing folks on June 17th, it seems like a good time to see if another clown feature holds up against the test of time.

Under the examination: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.

killer klowns

That ray gun does not appear very accurate.

THE STORY: Mike (Grant Cramer) just wants to get lucky with his new girl Debbie (Suzanne Snyder). But things don’t work out like he hoped as something falls from space and they track it down. At first, they think they found the most strangely placed circus ever, but they quickly discover it just might be a UFO…well, a clown themed UFO. They’re right, and it doesn’t take long for the alien clowns to head to town and start…clowning around. Only Mike, Debbie, local cop -- and Debbie’s former bf -- Dave (John Allen Nelson), and the ice cream selling Terenzi brothers can save the day.

killer klowns cotton candy

At least it this death tastes good.

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: It’s tough to claim that something called KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is a work of cinema gold. It’s not. But then again, it’s all a matter of remembering what it is. It’s not meant to work with deep social commentary. It’s not meant to reinvent the genre. Instead, it’s meant to walk that line between B-movie camp and horror…and does so pretty, pretty effectively.

Director/co-writer Stephen Chiodo (along with his writer brothers Charles and Edward) add some great touches and homages throughout. I love the little things like laying out “seeds” in popcorn or balloon animals as hunting dogs or shadow puppets that kill. The film borrows from some of the greats like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE BLOB, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and ALIEN but then spins them into clown themed ideas. Like shoot them in the nose (not the head) or instead of pod people the unlucky end up in a cotton candy cocoon.

This clown loves his job.

Even better, visually Chiodo borrows a lot from the Tim Burton playbook (remember, this is 1988…the same year BEETLEJUICE came out and one year before Burton became stupid famous thanks to BATMAN). From the look of the circus to the clowns themselves, it’s all very Burton-styled. However, I, along with all fans no doubt, really love not only the effects, which look pretty amazing considering the $2 million budget, but the design and acting of the clowns. Each one not only is unique, but their massive heads look fantastically terrifying. And it’s nice to watch a movie that not only has a theme song (with the film title in the lyrics), but it also doesn’t push the concept longer than needed, clocking in at under 88 minutes.

I still think my favorite part of KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE remains when asshole local cop John Vernon ends up dead, sitting on the lap of one of the heftier clowns, getting used like a ventriloquist’s dummy. Not only does he have perfect duel blood streaks coming from each corner of his mouth, not only are his rosy red (blood smeared) cheeks disturbing as hell, but the line “Don’t worry, Dave. All we want to do is kill you.” works to creepy perfection.

This clown has a future in Las Vegas.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Well, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE isn’t for everyone. It definitely has a Lloyd Kaufman vibe to it, whose work abuses the term camp. The acting is exactly what you’d expect from a B movie (even the great John Vernon is just playing a cop version of Dean Wormer). At the same time, there really isn’t much of a plot and none of the characters matter or end up memorable. Well, save for the clowns.

THE VERDICT: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE sure as hell isn’t a perfect movie, but damn if it doesn’t capture that delicate line between B camp and horror. Out of all the terrible and forgettable sequels/remakes fans have had to endure from the horror genre, KILLER KLOWNS deserves another go more than most (though supposedly a sequel could finally happen in 2018…in 3D!). It’s just too weird and goofy not to love.





So that's how they did it...



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