Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today.
It is always nice to learn something new about someone that you have known forever. My best friend of many years tends to enjoy films that would be labeled as high-brow. While perusing her movie collection, I was surprised to find Killer Klowns from Outer Space. When questioning her about this choice, I realized that her love of this feature defines how cult films come to be. One defining quality in the making of a cult film is how a person can be drawn to it, even if it is unlike his or her normal taste.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a 1988 film that spoofs on science fiction and B-horror movies of the 1950s. While not exactly a satire, this feature decidedly does not take itself too seriously. In taking a lighter approach, the Chiodo Brothers craft a movie that is fun to watch. In addition to the comedic elements present, Killer Klowns from Outer Space offers the occasional thrill and a few gross-out moments.
This late-eighties feature starts with a series of shots depicting a small town’s residents. After a soaring light crosses the night sky, a hermit farmer (Royal Dano) and his loyal dog are the first to arrive at the crash site. He unexpectedly finds a circus tent. While searching the exterior of the tent, he and his dog are attacked by a clown. Soon after, a young couple approaches the big top tent. Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) and Mike (Grant Cramer) enter to find themselves in a bizarre and out-of-this-world spaceship. After coming across the farmer cocooned and dead in a swirl of cotton candy, they are soon attacked by the clowns. Fleeing to seek help from the police, and primarily Debbie’s Sherriff ex-boyfriend (John Allen Nelson), the rest of the night is spent trying to stop the mayhem created by the oncoming clowns.
The style of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a soft homage to science fiction-horror films from the 1950s. The Chiodo brothers wrote and directed the film. They also feature as the goofball Terenzi brothers. Driving an ice-cream truck complete with a clown head figure, they are utilized in literally moving the main characters forward. These filmmakers decide on a clear choice to not take things too seriously and this helps the movie to succeed. With a dazzling use of colors and tricks, teen audiences of the time would easily be attracted to the MTV approach. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a mostly successful attempt at updating those 1950s flicks for 1980s horror audiences.
The acting is cheesy but acceptable for this type of film. The lead characters are generic because they are not why the viewer is watching. The main attraction is for the various clowns. Cramer and Nelson portray the typical male archetypes while sharing the role of hero. Snyder delivers a capable performance as the damsel-in-distress. One of the few chilling moments belongs to Curtis Mooney as a fellow police officer. For most of the movie, he plays a cardboard version of the human villain. However, with the puppeteering efforts of a maniacal clown, Mooney provides one genuinely scary jailhouse sequence .
Another unsettling moment occurs with a larger clown and a little girl. The clown is beckoning the girl to come outside. She inches closer to the door unaware of the surprise the painted creature has in store. Something about this scene reminds one more of John Wayne Gacy than alien clowns from space. This part works but stands out differently than the rest of the mayhem involving the clowns. Otherwise, each alien clown has his or her own showcase with various members of the community. The silly moments have a certain charm. The special effects work better than expected. The best moment of horror in the film involves what purpose the clowns have for their cotton candy cocooned humans. The sweetness of cotton candy becomes something deadly. A symbolic look at all the decay beneath those things we find that taste so good.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is worth a look in terms of understanding horror from the 1980s. By exploring horror themes from thirty years before, this feature becomes a way to bookmark how far the genre had evolved. Flying saucers and black lagoon creatures had become relics of the genre’s past. By 1988, slashers had become the horror centerpiece and were just beginning to temporarily stale. Killer Klowns from Outer Space offers an alternative bite of horror by taking something old and making it feel fresh.
Over the years, this flick has become a cult classic. The hairstyles and fashions are outdated. The dialogue is cheesy. Certain special effects are more comedic than scary. And this all helps to make the film a completely entertaining three-ring package. Not to mention, of course, that it is generally agreed upon that clowns are scary. Whether it be in Stephen King’s It or with the recent creepy clown sightings, these red-nosed and painted figures always evoke a degree of fear.