KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE
by Dan Elliott
I’ll admit it: I’m pretty old. I come from a bygone era; one where physical media came in cartridges, modern conveniences like Netflix and the internet were still seemingly light years away, and Amazon was simply just a rainforest that hadn’t been equal parts clear-cut and burned. I remember when you would rent a movie on a Friday, and if you didn’t have it re-wound and returned by Monday, there would be hell to pay. Nevertheless, believe me when I say that I’ve been around the block when it comes to cinematic oddities, and with Halloween coming along the horizon, I thought I would impart to you a horror gem of the 1980s—one that didn’t involve hockey masks, machetes, fedoras or the ever-chic steak knives in the glove.
Enter Killer Klowns From Outer Space: a contender for the cheesiest B-horror movie to emerge from the era of slasher horror films. Part teen exploitation film, part science fiction horror, part comedy—the movie could be considered a period piece of the 1980s. Starring a cast that wasn’t recognizable even during the era that spawned it, it was the first (and last) feature film from the Chiodo Brothers, who were best known for their claymation work on Large Marge from the movie Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, as well as doing some of the puppet work on Team America: World Police. My personal recollection of the movie predominantly revolved around its use of offensive color palettes consisting of putrid neon colors, as well as some of the most insane practical effects I’ve seen in a lucid state, most of which looked like they were robbed from the set of Beetlejuice the closer you get to the movie’s bizarre climax.
The plot of the movie loosely follows the title, with a contingent of extraterrestrials who resemble an off-color blend of Bozo the Clown and John Leguizamo’s character from Spawn. They prey upon the residents of the nondescript town of Crescent Cove: sweater-enthusiast and all-around nice guy Mike Tobacco; his main squeeze Debbie Stone; the straight-edge rookie cop Dave, and his foul-mouthed partner Curtis Mooney, played by veteran actor John Vernon (I say this only because he’s the only actor I’ve honestly ever been able to remember from this movie). The film also features what is arguably the most zany antagonists in any horror movie, even including post-Dream Warriors Freddy Krueger. In between turning people into mounds of pink cotton-candy, the Klowns can be seen getting into boxing fights with biker gangs, picking up toiletries at the local pharmacy, and even volunteering to deliver pizzas. I often consider this movie taking place in the same cinematic universe as the Breaking Bad series, as only the mass amounts of crystal methamphetamine manufactured in the show could explain how a human being could conceive a movie revolving around aliens that look like rotting circus performers.
This movie cannot make up its mind whether it wants to be a comedy or a horror film, and -quite frankly- that’s completely fine with me. Even when someone bites it to the Klowns, the deaths are so ridiculously over the top that you almost feel ashamed to laugh at them—almost. Just about every clown-related trope you could think of was jammed into the movie: heat-seeking popcorn guns, comically-tiny tricycles, animate balloon animals, clown cars that spew forth an obscene amount of passengers, pies filled with sulfuric acid, water-squirting flowers, and even shadow puppets that can consume a cadre of unsuspecting pedestrians. Perhaps the overall theme of the movie reflects this nonchalant nature of Killer Klowns—the residents of Crescent Cove are so cookie-cutteringly ignorant and devoid of life that the movie blurs the lines between cold-blooded murder and justifiable homicide.
The Klowns are the true stars of the film. Living in a time where the film industry is over-reliant on computer-generated wizardry, it is easy to overlook the simple pleasures we can get out of rubber suits and animatronic masks. Though they only speak unintelligible gibberish, the viewer can pretty much understand them through their pantomime and slapstick comedy. I do have to give credit to this film for being the first to pioneer the nose-shot, a fatal weakness of the intergalactic interlopers, including the film’s climactic fight involving Dave and the monstrous creature known as Klownzilla. In a sea of horror films that emphasize the cliché of headshots (I’m looking at you, zombie genre), it’s nice to see the wheel being re-invented.
If you’re not a fan of clowns, this movie probably won’t do you any favors. Or maybe perhaps its antiquated practical effects and hilariously-corny dialog might help in breaking the grip coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) has on you. Either way, Killer Klowns From Outer Space has a special blend of comedy, science fiction, and horror that, despite its rather mundane plot structure, gives it something of a distinction from its peers.
Categories: Arts & Culture