Killer Klowns from Outer Space Review

It’s easy to feel a slight nostalgia for the likes of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I’m not saying that, twenty-odd years later, horror films are no longer stupid (quite the opposite, in fact), but maybe they’re not quite so ridiculously dumb either in front of or behind the camera. That said, there is a certain Arkoff-like genius to that title, surely the reason why it has built up a moderate cult-ish fanbase over the years and why a respectable label such as Optimum can issue it onto disc. And more to the point, the title tells us everything we may need to know – though a theme tune by the Dickies clears up matters for the less attentive. Basically, there’s a bunch of Killer Klowns, they’re from outer space and they’ve landed in a typical American small town on a Friday night to take on some clean-cut kids (previously busy goofing off and making out), the stripped back police force (just the two of them?!), a biker gang and sundry anonymous locals. It’s the set up of numerous 50s B-movies and one that continues to be trotted out to this very day, the latest big-budget example being AVP: Requiem. Maintaining the B-movie associations Killer Klowns also consists solely of stock situations held together by various stock elements: the grizzled cop; the youth who has to convince the rest of the town; the regular despatching of helpless victims until the fatal flaw in the aliens is accidentally stumbled upon.

The brainchild of the Chiodo brothers – all three produce, two did the screenplay, one directs and a female Chiodo pops up on the closing credits as ‘production secretary’ – it would have been interesting for the disc to have featured their commentary just to see how serious they were. Is Killer Klowns a genuine horror movie? Is the comedy intentional? Or was this just a cynical attempt to break into the film industry? (After all a dumb horror flick is surely easier to finance than some more personal project.) For if this is intended, for example, as an outright comedy then the slapstick is woefully inept and the whole enterprise would no doubt prove far more amusing had it been done strictly po-faced. Similarly the horror elements should surely have tapped into the surprisingly common fear of clowns, but nothing comes close to that single scene in Poltergeist. The moment in which a young child is unsuccessfully lured away by one of the titular creations could have mustered up a great deal more tension and dread; it’s practically crying out for it.

This scene is instructive of Killer Klowns’ failings in other ways too. The reason why the Klowns are on Earth is revealed to be the result of humans providing a valuable food source – they turn them into cotton candy! But if this is the case then why pick on a small child when she’s surrounded by fully-grown adults? It’s just one of the questions I found myself faced with. Such as why the elaborate methods of despatching with their victims when the Klowns are armed with ray-guns seemingly impervious to any counter-attack? Just shoot them! Or why are the anonymous characters are instantly killed off yet those we’re supposed emotionally invested in are merely kidnapped in giant balloons? And what kind of an alien race is this, with its big top spaceship adorned with squeaky levers, primary colours and popcorn-emitting guns? Just why does it resemble the circus culture of an entirely different alien race? Of course, the argument against this is that a trashy movie shouldn’t expect to stand up to scrutiny and therefore such questions are an irrelevance. But then I needed something with which to occupy to mind until the final credits finally – and thankfully – rolled.

The Disc

A barebones package with just the theatrical trailer backing up a serviceable transfer. Given the film’s age and budget it looks pretty much as we should expect. The image is clean, the original aspect ratio is roughly adhered to and anamorphically enhanced. There’s slight grain and a slight softness apparent throughout, but the colours are sharp and none of this proves detrimental to the viewing experience. As for the soundtrack it is here where the budget becomes most apparent. The original stereo is retained in DD2.0 and shows up just how poor the original audio was, creaky sound effects and all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the nature of the film and the disc, optional subtitles, English or otherwise, are not available.

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