Years before the ‘Killer Clown‘ moral panic from Fall 2016 and Twisty the Clown from Season 4 of American Horror Story, there was Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Author Stephen King popularized the ‘evil clown’ in mainstream circles with Pennywise from his novel, It. Of course the idea of killer clowns has a long history going back as far as the Italian opera, Pagliacci. Real-life serial killer John Wayne Gacy performed at children’s birthdays dressed as a clown. There’s even an official term for fear of clowns – coulrophobia. Written and directed by the Chiodo Brothers, Killer Klowns didn’t make so much as a ripple upon its release. But in the years since its release, it has attracted a significant cult following. A ridiculous mix of science fiction, horror, and comedy, Killer Klowns from Outer Space perfectly embodies the B-movie feel of the drive-in era from year earlier.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space A Fun Homage to 1950’s B-Movies
Clearly, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a tongue-in-cheek homage to the sci-fi/horror classics from the 1950’s. And it’s very tongue-in-cheek. Just the premise itself riffs on some of the era’s more silly concepts, like The Blob, that took themselves much more seriously. Its very basic narrative mirrors these old black-and-white drive-in films closely. Local teenagers Mike and Debbie, parked at lover’s lane, see a glowing object crash off somewhere in the near distance. Subsequently, they discover a giant circus tent that’s hiding Klown-like aliens. Their plan on Earth – abducting local residents and encasing them in cotton candy cocoons. Only Mike and Debbie can stop them. But first they have to convince the police that their small town is in danger.
It’s almost impossible not to admire the sheer out-of-control creativity behind Killer Klowns.
If you grew up watching movies like It Came from Outer Space or The Blob, you’ll likely smile a lot while watching Killer Klowns. Certainly, it’s story could have been ripped from any number of teen horror pictures from the 50’s. Yet In spite of its topsy-turvy premise, the Chiodo Brothers clearly have an affection for these old B-movie. In addition to following the same basic plot structure, Killer Klowns from Outer Space revels in old-fashioned, low-budget inventiveness. Convincing? Not really. Convincingly fun. Absolutely. Grotesque, cartoonish “Klowns” liquify townsfolk and slurp them up through straws. In one scene, a clown captures several people with a shadow puppet. It’s almost impossible not to admire the sheer out-of-control creativity behind Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space Emphasizes Comedy over Horror
For the uninitiated, it’s worth pointing out that Killer Clowns from Outer Space is firmly rooted on the comedy side of the fence. Like Troma films, Klowns fully embraces the absurdity of its concept. And The Chiodo Brothers want audiences to do the same. After all, it’s a movie called “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” with the clown spelled with a ‘k’. In a movie where the aliens use guns that shoot popcorn and encase victims in cotton candy cocoons, subtly is not an option. Fortunately, Klowns is much better at intentionally mining the ‘clowns’ premise for laughs than most Troma efforts. This is an intentionally silly film, but most of its visual gags work.
While Klowns is almost ‘review proof’, the one area where it’s clearly a let-down is the horror part of the equation.
While Klowns is almost ‘review proof’, the one area where it’s clearly a let-down is the horror part of the equation. Aside from the creepy clown masks and costumes, there are no real scares of which to mention. In fact, the Chiodo Brothers make no effort to introduce genuine scares. There’s also a surprising absence of gore and explicit bloodletting. I expected Klowns to take a similar approach to its horror-comedy as films like Dead Alive, Bad Taste, or Evil Dead II. This is a PG-13 film that barely earns that ’13’ in the rating. The closest Klowns gets to embracing the 1980’s gory is a scene where a Klown uses John Vernon’s Deputy as a hand puppet. Yes, there’s some blood and gore. But it’s neither excessive nor mean-spirited.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space is the Perfect Sleep-Over Movie
Not surprisingly, given its title and premise, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a ridiculous movie, but it’s a wonderfully ridiculous movie. Not everything hits the mark but Killer Klowns largely nails its affectionate send-up of old B-films. This is the kind of film that is best enjoyed watching with friends and a few drinks. For younger audiences, Klowns makes the ideal sleep-over movie where no one needs to play close attention and its pure silliness will feed into the giddy energy in the room. Happy anniversary Klowns! They don’t make them like this anymore.