Killer Klowns from Outer Space Review

The Film

In the early 90’s my friends and I used to indulge in all night drinking and crap video watching. The basic format was that we would all pop to the local village video shop and pick up some of worst looking movies we could find. We’d hire three or four and buy a load of lager. Then we’d head back and watch videos until the next morning. Now I have to point out that during this time I saw some truly awful movies. Those of you who think that Batman & Robin or The Avengers is the worst movie ever just haven’t seen some of the stuff that straight-to-video can offer! One of the films we saw was this one, purely because of the title (which is the reason the execs gave the movie the green light). It would be nice to say that I found a load of gems via these drunken nights, but I’d be lying. Killer Klowns was the only one I found and it really is a B-movie classic.

Budgeted at $2 million, Killer Klowns from Outer Space would seem to be an overly ambitious project for a debut. But the Chiodo brothers did not let it faze them one bit. Charles, Edward and Stephen Chiodo wrote the film and the screen credits don’t stop there. The film was directed by Stephen, the production designer was Charles and all three are credited as producers. It has to be said that none of the three brothers have exactly gone onto be prolific in the film world, in fact the opposite is true. I have to say I am mystified as to why this should be the case, as Killer Klowns did great business in the video market. With so many mediocre offerings in the cinema let alone straight-to-video it’s a shame that these guys don’t get more opportunities.

Plot-wise this film is just like Ronseal Quick Drying WoodStain… “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. Except it is in a DVD case not a tin. Oh and you can’t use it to stain wood. There are Killer Klowns and they have come from outer space. That’s it, that’s the plot in its entirety. You want in depth characterisation and a plot full of dark intrigue and complex narrative? Go and get a Merchant Ivory film. Of course there are complications such as characters and relationships but these really are unimportant in the scheme of things.

This film is the archetypal 50’s B-Movie; it just so happens that this one was made in 1988. The most obvious influence is The Blob and it doesn’t even try to hide it. A mysterious craft lands and two teenagers, Debbie (Snyder) and Mike (Cramer) investigate. They discover the Killer Klowns and their dreadful purpose (They are Killers). So they obviously run to the authorities to get help. Of course the police force (all two of them) don’t believe them. Not only that but Officer Mooney (Vernon) is a fascistic sociopath who hates all teenagers and officer Dave Hanson (Nelson) is resentful towards Mike. There is a nice twist on the character’s relationships early on, but this is no more than a minor distraction. The Klowns are the real stars here (I was rooting for them all the way through). They create mayhem in a series of gags and set pieces. They end up cocooning the majority of the town in candyfloss (no, really) and storing them on their spaceship (A big circus tent!). Of course Debbie, Mike and Dave intervene and a huge final set piece signals the end of the movie.

This is a truly marvellous film. The plot may not seem like much, but this film is hilarious. Every single thing that clowns can do has been twisted to some evil purpose. A Punch & Judy show takes a sinister turn. Guns that fire popcorn that contain a surprise, Klown pizza delivery, bendy straws, balloon animals, shadow puppets and many more. Every single one is a gem and the timing is mostly excellent.

The direction is lively and it is obvious that the makers had as much fun making it as we do watching it. The pace is maintained throughout and the 88-minute running time ensures that the film never drags. Every time it looks like there is going to be a lull another Klown gag picks the whole thing up again. The only odd thing is the fact that Debbie’s shower seems to take about 20 minutes making it the longest shower in cinema history.

The special effects are done very well given the tiny budget and the Klown makeup is superb. Due to budget restrictions car crashes are mostly flubbed and some of the model shots are a little unconvincing but this all adds to the B-Movie feel.

The acting is adequate, it is never going to rival Shakespeare, but then again who cares? The most important thing is that everyone plays this straight, no one is playing this as a comedy and that’s essential. The standout performance has to be John Vernon as Officer Mooney with a delightfully over the top performance as the paranoid cop. The three leads are ok, but nothing special. The rest of the cast are pretty bad (excluding the Klowns who hardly speak at all). A lot of local “talent” was used for the bit parts and some of them are so bad they have been re-dubbed in post-production.

Anyone with even a vague interest or fondness for B-movies should buy this disc. At worst it is a daft bit of post-pub fun. The Chiodo’s have achieved pretty much everything they set out to do and produced an entertaining film at the same time.

The Disc

You would be forgiven for expecting a standard bare bones release of this film. So this disc from MGM will come as a pleasant surprise. The menus are in keeping with the film. They are colourful, well animated and have appropriate sound accompaniments. The film itself has 16 chapter stops, which isn’t too bad given the 88-minute running time.

The pleasant surprises start early with this disc. We have a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer here, which is as it was originally presented. The picture is about as good as it could be given it’s low budget origins. The print is pretty clean with the odd fleck or speck of dust. The picture is fairly soft and grainy, understandable given the source. The colours however are vibrant and solid (very important with this film) and the black level is excellent. The encoding job seems pretty good too. The film is set entirely at night so it was gratifying that the digital artifacting was minimal. The average bit rate is 6.17 Mb/sec, which is reasonable and it hits peaks when the scene is especially dark or full of smoke.

The soundtrack is a DD 2.0 surround track. No 5.1 track, but that is no great surprise. The sound is clear and dialogue is audible and crisp throughout.

The last surprise on the disc is the best one of all. The amount of extras crammed on here almost puts Criterion in the shade. Far too often back catalogue titles are pushed out with no extras or just a trailer. Here MGM have pushed the boat out and the film gets all the extras it deserves.

First up we have a director’s commentary from all three Chiodo brothers. This is a lively commentary, which is both funny and informative. The brothers aren’t afraid of pointing out their errors, the bad acting or some of the illogical plot points. This isn’t quite in the same league as the Evil Dead commentary, but it is very entertaining.

There are five featurettes on this disc but they add up to a full documentary in their own right. The Making of the Killer Klowns is an interview with the Chiodo brothers interspersed with a lot of on-set footage. Komposing Klowns is a rather dry interview with music composer John Massari with plenty of examples of his work displayed here. Visual Effects is a two-man interview with Charles Chiodo and Gene Warren and covers everything from the miniatures to the lighting, although the effects man himself is fairly quiet. Kreating Klowns covers the animatronics and makeup effects. The final featurette is two of the Chiodo brother’s early short films, made when they were kids. These are great and come with full commentary. They show a lot of the same techniques used in Killer Klowns. Added together these featurettes run for around 70-minutes. There is a lot of information presented here and it covers every single aspect of the making of the film. All of the featurettes have retrospective interviews as well as a whole host of behind the scenes footage. It might have been nice if this lot had been edited together as a single documentary with chapter stops, but this is nit picking.

Two deleted scenes are also included on the disc. Both scenes can be viewed with or without commentary. The second one seemed pretty reasonable to me, but you can see why they were both cut. On the main feature commentary several other cut scenes are mentioned but not included here. A shame, but given the amount of extras we have here it seems churlish to complain.

A short 3-minute blooper reel is next. This is probably the most worthless extra. The bloopers aren’t very funny and there is a lot of better behind the scenes footage in the featurettes.

The next two extras are a collection of stills. The first is a collection of 32 storyboards covering 5 scenes in the film. Nice to have, but the pictures are a little too small to be of any use. The photo gallery contains approximately 170 photos split between 8 sections including Conceptual art, production design, poster art and Behind the Scenes. Some great photos in this section and they are very well presented.

The final extra here is the obligatory trailer. This one comes complete with amusing deep voiceover guy.

The film deserves every bit of it’s 9/10 that I’m going to give it because judged against it’s peers it is one of the best B-movies I’ve seen. I believe everyone should give this film a try whether they are Sci-fi fans, fans of B-movies or just people who like fun movies. To add to this, MGM have produced a fabulous disc here. The picture is as good as it could be, the sound is adequate and the extras package would put some Hollywood blockbusters to shame. Still need convincing? Well this great feature packed disc will only set you back £10. So go and buy it, as this is a magnificent disc for a wonderful cult movie that deserves wider recognition.

9 out of 10
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