Killer Klowns From Outer Space

4 out of 5

Directed by: Stephen Chiodo

Just prior to watching Killer Klowns From Outer Space, I watched Hellraiser for review.  I’ve always liked Hellraiser, but it’s a pretty bad movie on a lot of levels, and that’s exacerbated by the fact that it comes across as taking itself rather seriously.  On the flip side, another movie with a lot of great practical effects and an equally (though certainly completely oppositely toned) brilliant sense of inventiveness – Killer Klowns – knows that it’s a bad movie through and through and commits to that from start to finish, maybe making it ultimately more successful than Hellraiser in terms of watchability.  I mean, to a horror fan who hadn’t seen Clive Barker’s flick, yes, I’d recommend it, but with caveats.  But to anyone asking for a take on Killer Klowns, you can just sort of look at the name of the movie and any given shot of the titular villains and know what you’re in for.

I will go ahead and take my trophy for most random association of the day (although I suspect if I search for it, there’s probably some league of sites that’ve conflated these two properties much more intelligently than in my babbling, so I shan’t search for it, and will hold onto my trophy, thankyouverymuch).

KKfOS would seem to catering to the Porky’s / Police Academy filmgoers, initially, with a slew of smartalek teens doing the drinking and the smartaleking and being cool and the authority figure cop Mooney (John Vernon) being dumb and surly.  A couple of ice cream truck-driving guys – the Terenzi brothers (Michael S. Siegel and Peter Licassi) park their truck at makeout point and start making sex obsessed jokes regarding all the smooching couples that would lead down a Revenge of the Nerds-style “whole point of the movie is to see some nudity” direction in such a film; however, KK is PG-13, and the Terenzis prove to be more 3 Stoogey knuckleheads than anything else, and Mooney is countered by the more reasonable Deputy Dave (John Allen Nelson), and makeout point also has our leads, Mike and Debbie (Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder) who seem more interested in actually chatting than being hump-happy teens.  This isn’t to suggest that anything about the flick is especially subversive or daring, but it sets a nice offbeat tone from the get-go that makes the crash landing of an alien craft that looks like a circus tent go down easy.  And when Mike and Debbie go to investigate, and discover that the denizens look like, y’know, clowns, the question of why their alien guns shoot weaponized popcorn has an easy answer: because they’re, y’know, clowns.  It’s really all we need.  But just in case: while you’re spinning up your own theories about why outer space beings might be co-opting the shenanigans we associate with these red-nosed figures, the three Chiodo brothers who’ve worked on this movie (writer / director Stephen, co-writer Charles, and both producing alongside Edward) offer up some quick mythology which proves they’ve done time with the pulpy zines and B-movies from which this nonsense draws.

Meanwhile, the film knows no bounds: while other movies attempting the type of practical effects and costuming used here would likely settle with one or two Klown baddies, and stop after coming up with the cotton candy kidnapping device, and balloon-animal hunting dog, the Chiodos just keep going up until the end of the flick, throwing more and more Klowns at us – it is an invasion, after all! – and bigger and wackier set pieces.  Coming from effects background would seem to have paid off: while this is definitely low budget and hinky, the movie gets away with a lot, visually; the brothers knew what would work and went for it.

Alas, special effects direction might’ve been their forte, but other aspects of the film are amateurish in a way that undermine its quirkiness.  The comic timing of some scenes is definitely a little off, and while our three leads (Dave, Mike, and Debbie) and officer Mooney carry things, all of the other side characters are almost painful to watch – in a less self-aware-B-movie sense and more of a straight bad movie sense – especially the Terenzis, whose part in this I can’t quite figure out – like they seem more like an inside joke than something that’s actually intended to be funny…?

But those moments are fleeting.  A minute later, another clown, and another weird prop is produced, and you’ll marvel at the 80s wonderment of a film like this, and look forward to the long-delayed sequel or TV series that the Chiodos – amidst their various animation projects – keep promising to produce.