Cult Corner: Killer Klowns from Outer Space

1988

Directed by – Stephen Chiodo; Charles Chiodo; Edward Chiodo

Starring – Grant Cramer; Suzanne Snyder; John Allen Nelson; John Vernon; Michael S. Siegel; Peter Licassi

Words – Nathan Scatcherd

In the hallowed garden of 80’s sci-fi comedies, Killer Klowns from Outer Space seems like some particularly low-hanging fruit. The name alone is enough to make anybody sneer with derision; maybe at least pique the interest of the ‘ironic viewer’ – someone who hunts down B movie fare not to enjoy it earnestly so much as tear it to shreds, however good-naturedly.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course (I confess I was drawn to the film with a certain level of detached sarcasm originally), but sometimes a ‘bad’ movie can not only nicely surpass low expectations of quality, but actually reveal itself to be fully in on its own joke.

What I’m getting at is that Killer Klowns from Outer Space feels like a movie which is commonly saddled with the assumption that it’s an unintentionally funny mess; written off sight unseen as the kind of film which is only ‘cult’ due to how bad it is – something more akin to, say, Tommy Wiseau’s singular disasterpiece The Room – as people laugh at the name and perhaps see the occasional clip of the titular ridiculous-looking rubbery clowns (sorry, KILLER KLOWNS) terrorising the citizens of a small town.
However, actually watching the full thing, I was struck by how self-aware it is; a cult gem with its tongue planted firmly in its greasepainted cheek, and fully intentional in its laughs.

The plot concerns our titular alien jesters capturing/killing the residents of Crescent Cove after they land their spaceship (which is of course decked out like a funhouse) in the woods, near a favoured makeout spot for the town’s teen population. Two of said teens (Cramer and Snyder) decide to investigate and quickly discover that, even by the standards of bizarre instantaneous pop-up circuses, things are a little ‘off’. Pretty soon the whole town is in danger, as the killer klowns run amok and feed on their human prey, cocooning them in candyfloss and draining them of blood with curly straws.

They team up with a cop (Nelson) who used to go out with Snyder’s character, setting up a love triangle which never really goes anywhere (to be fair, they’re understandably more concerned with fighting back against the killer klowns than with arguing over romantic pasts and unresolved feelings), and have to contend with John Vernon’s aggressive, dismissive ‘bad cop’ Mooney. He’s a deadpan delight as a bad tempered hard-nose who remains resolutely unconvinced there are murderous clown creatures running around his town, even when he comes face to face with one. Siegel and Licassi amuse as a pair of horny ice cream salesmen who admittedly skirt close to being obnoxious, but are ultimately kind of charming in a goofy, affably dumb way, getting some of the film’s funniest moments (a brief interlude with a couple of ‘sexy’ klown girls who don’t appear to be of the ‘killer’ variety; refusing to leave their ice cream van in the face of certain death as “it’s a rental!”).

Overall, the performances are hardly fantastic, but arguably just the right kind of over the top for a film about murderous intergalactic clown aliens. The film’s real winning feature is its visual inventiveness, playing with the ‘evil circus clowns’ concept to frequently smile-inducing effect (and with some genuinely impressive technical proficiency).
Aside from the aforementioned candyfloss and curly straw method the killer klowns use on their victims, and their funhouse spaceship, there are clever sci-fi repurposes of fairground imagery such as a sentient balloon animal dog; popcorn that eats people and a scene with a deadly Punch and Judy show.

The killer klowns themselves all have their own distinct looks and have an appropriately cartoonish visual style. One could beg the question why anyone would even remotely trust these hideous things, or at least not pay any real attention to them (at first the killer klowns blend into their environment – in one scene one of them amuses a group of civilians with some shadow puppetry before offing them as they’re distracted), but that way madness lies.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space isn’t interested in rationalisation or really grounding itself in any semblance of reality, and rightly so. It is, overall, a deeply silly and frequently very fun romp which aptly tells you what it’s all about with its title.

 

Oh, and the title theme tune by The Dickies is a thoroughly excellent slice of sweet, sweet cheese:

Good luck getting that out of your head any time soon…

To read more words from Nathan, you can find this and other articles over on –

https://nscat13.wixsite.com/always-watching

 


 

 

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