Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

From the minds of the Charlie, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo brothers comes a movie that is perfectly described in its entirety by its title. Killer Klowns from Outer Space tells the harrowing tale of a small town attacked by killer aliens-that-look-like-clowns after they arrive from (you guessed it) outer space. While the story is pretty straightforward in this one, it’s probably not the reason you’re watching this thing. You’re watching it for the insane clown-based practical effects. Feel like getting inundated with silly murderous alien clown humor? This is a movie for you. It actually might be the only movie for you. You have very specific tastes. If this sounds like your bag read on to the rest of our review, but be warned that there will be spoilers-a-plenty waiting for you.

Reviewed by: Mark

 
 

Plot Synopsis

The movie opens with a bunch of ambiguously aged kids snogging at makeout point when a meteorite lights up the night sky. Two of our main characters, Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder) and Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer), go to investigate only to find… bum bum bum… a circus tent that is actually a landed UFO. The two are chased from the area by the titular killer klowns and seek help from the local police station as the clowns descend on the rest of the town. As Mike teams up with Debbie’s ex-boyfriend cop, Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson), the rest of the town descends into what can most simply be described as comic mischief. There are people-melting pies, decapitating uppercuts, seltzer flowers, clown cars, shadow puppets, ventriloquist dummies, cotton candy guns, and killer popcorn run amok. None of those things were meant figuratively.  

 
These lovable miscreants are highly chicanerous.

These lovable miscreants are highly chicanerous.

 

After a long series of clown-lore based murders the film culminates with the three main characters facing off against the king klown inside the mothership. Dave plays the hero and shoots the big baddie in the nose, promptly turning him into space dust and blowing up the whole shindig. It’s a happy ending as only the late 80s could deliver.


What the Movie Does Right

The fact that this movie is still being talked about 30 years later is a testament to how entertaining it is. The simplicity of the storyline allows the viewer to take the focus off of the seriously unimportant plot progression and focus more on the lovingly crafted clown-lore based murders. Despite the fact that the klowns are very clearly evil and just indiscriminately attacking everyone in the town you’re still rooting for them in almost every scene. You really want to see every new kill, each bringing a new level of fun to the movie as a whole. Honestly, I didn’t have high hopes for sitting down and watching this movie as a whole, but seeing the relatively interesting product that the Chiodo brothers were able to sculpt really brings this thing up to the forefront of bad movie entertainment.

It’s essentially impossible to discuss this movie without mentioning the incredible magnitude of special effects. The klowns themselves look great, albeit highly cheesey, but the gamut of weapons and sets that were also created for this movie really help to build the universe of the klowns. What’s even more intriguing is that apparently most of the movie’s $1.8M budget went toward production costs and not the effects themselves. I have no idea what the total effects budget ended up being, but regardless I would argue that they did an impressive amount of work with it. I have no doubt that this movie survives today because of its unique, unrealistic, and cartoonish special effects. Hats off to the Chiodos who have continued from this initial success to build a special effects dynasty.

 
These lunatics. These ones right here.

These lunatics. These ones right here.

 

Last but not least, the music in this movie is utterly bad ass. Honestly, the music might do more for this movie than Coolio did for Dangerous Minds. I’m not even exaggerating there. The Killer Klowns theme song as performed by The Dickies is one of the best made-for-movie songs you will hear in your life, and should be enshrined in a museum. Frankly, the fact that this song couldn’t be engraved on the gold records that we sent into space on the Voyager spacecrafts is one of the great human tragedies. Just listen to this thing. Let it wash over you:

 
 

What the Movie Does Wrong

One of the biggest mysteries of this thing is why the word “klown” is spelled with a K. My theory? The Klowns are a species of alien that are very specifically not clowns, but do share a likeness with them. Thus by differentiating a “klown” from a “clown” you can easily discuss both the aliens and the circus dwellers without too much confusion. The issue with that though is that my theory is completely unsubstantiated by anything in the film. It’s pure speculation. It just seems like a strange distinction to make in a movie that is otherwise utterly disinterested in details.

 
Glad we got that cleared up.

Glad we got that cleared up.

 

As has already been stated, this is a bad movie. The entertainment factor is there, but as far as the rest of the tenants of a movie it really falls flat. The acting is mediocre. The dialogue isn’t great. The character development is non-existent. The plot is described almost entirely by the name of the film. It’s a great bad movie but it’s still a bad movie, and that alone will turn the average person off if they aren’t introduced to it in the right way.


Ratings (1-10)

Story: 2.5 - I feel like I have belabored this point by now. The story here is almost non-existent, and the plot elements that do exist are lazily constructed and either pun-based or unimportant. Luckily, you aren’t watching this movie for the story. Unless you are… in which case.... yikes.

World-Building / Immersion: 6 - There is a bit of a ceiling imposed on this rating by the general level of camp employed by the movie. As entertained as you are by everything else you’ll probably still be taken a bit out of this by the piles and piles of cheese. Now that I’ve gotten the disclaimer out of the way I can say that this movie is incredibly immersive. You get sucked into the thing waiting for each and every fun and creative kill to occur. Beyond that the Chiodo Bros did a stupendous job of creating the world of the clowns in everything from the circus tent mother ship to the toy-gun cotton candy cannons. Great work.

Scare-Factor: 2 - The saving grace of this one from a scare factor standpoint is coulrophobia, otherwise known as the fear of clowns. I guess for the sake of keeping the “aliens that look like clowns” guise alive I should really call it koulrophobia. In any case if you are afraid of clowns, as my wife happens to be, this might be a bit of an uncomfortable viewing experience. Otherwise, this movie is definitely more fun than scary.

Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 5.75 - I’ll admit that I adjusted my rating a bit in order to piss off the other two jabronis on our podcast, but this rating isn’t far off from what my initial rating was. I really don’t think that magnitude of effects should buy you a high rating. The effects should both serve the mission of the movie as a whole and look good. As a result I ended up between a bit of a rock and hard place to rate this. There are a lot of effects in this movie, and they generally serve the movie in very good ways. In fact, I’m pretty sure why this movie still survives today. However, looking at it realistically, the effects really don’t look great. They’re cheesy, unrealistic, and cartoonish, which is exactly what they needed to be for the film. The result is a slightly better than average rating that neglects to really capture the X-factor of the film.

Overall: 7 - It’s telling that this is my highest rated category. I’m applying a significant tilt upward here to compensate for how non-traditional this movie is. As I alluded to in effects this movie has “X-Factor” in spades. Everything from the score to the overly plastic special effects make this thing delightful to watch. I put this one on the shelf next to similar campy classics like the Monster Squad as perfect examples of “let’s just have some fun” style horror. If you aren’t in the mood for anything serious then put this one on, have a beer, and enjoy yourself. You won’t regret it.*

* You might regret it. A-Z Horror is not liable for your regrets.