Roll up, Roll up- unless you suffer from coulrophobia then feel free to run away quickly and hide yourself under a large cushion- as Arrow Video deliver the circustastic cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space to Blu-ray/DVD combo (and special edition steelbook). This late eighties slab of fluorescent creature feature mayhem has been well over due an upgraded release on British shores. Arrow delivers the package in their own inimitable style; stuffing the release full of extras, alongside a beautifully defined print that allows the Chiodo Brothers wildly innovative camp classic to shine like it never has before. I have to admit Killer Klowns is a film I have a great personal affection for. The title was a favourite of mine back when it first hit the UK rental market and on that note my review will be slightly biased, for that I make no apologies.
Things are about to take a step into the Twilight Zone for the twee small town Crescent Cove, California. The circus is coming to town, as a large big top lands in the middle of nowhere, after apparently crashing to earth from outer space. This isn’t any ordinary circus, however, as the residents are about to find out. The arrival brings with it a bunch of bloodthirsty marauding alien clowns set on stacking up a nice juicy pile of dead bodies to take back home- stuffing them into huge candy floss caskets in the process. Teenagers Mike and Debbie discover the danger early on, the problem is can they get anyone to take them seriously before it’s too late?
Killer Klowns is a film that blends both homage to cheesy 50’s B- sci-fi, in with a good old heavy dose of eighties decadence and black humour, to make something of a mini masterpiece of its kind. It is true that the film is tame by today’s standards, although I don’t know if it was ever that frightening in the first place. The film lacks overt sex and violence, which makes it stand out from its peers. If you take, for example, Critters (1986)– a film that both Charles and Edward Chiodo worked on the effects for, before breaking into making their own films- there is much more emphasis on gratuity than is evident here. Yet, at the time, the two films were lumped into the same sub-genre and attracted pretty much the same audiences. Other films that came into this catch-all special effects based category were the likes of Ghoulies (1984), which was again a lot more explicit in terms of content, and therefore Killer Klowns under these terms stands out on its own two feet as being something of a different animal to its sub-genre cousins.
Now don’t get me wrong for a second. I love a bit of gore as much as the next hound, but if you look at the type of films that Killer Klowns is referencing, that 50’s throwback drive- in era, then it has it down to a tee. The hammy wooden acting, corny script, lines like ‘what in the tarnation?!’, smooching teenage couples who are obviously played by people who are well into their twenties (if not beyond), ’teenagers’ who never quite make it to second base on camera and are basically very sensible in their dress code, attitudes and behaviour, this all plays into that innocent popcorn vibe to perfection. The eighties was a time when lack of restraint was something that was rife in the genre, with filmmakers pushing the bar to get as much sex and violence out there as possible, yet to have taken this approach here then it would have resulted in a very different film. As it stands, the filmmakers here create the perfect pastiche to 50’s throwback and manage to inject their own flamboyant voices into the mix in the process. This is one film that if anything stands as a testament to just how highly inventive this period was for the genre. The home video market provided the perfect playground for these filmmakers to get out there and do their own thing, without having to be confined by strict marketing guidelines. There is a freedom evident in the material here that, some might say, is sadly lacking in modern day genre fare. This was a time when practical effects were in their heyday, and filmmakers were using a real skill and artistry to bring madcap visions to audiences. Sadly, this is another factor that seems to be dying out as a result of the digital age. Therefore, Killer Klowns is not only a perfect example of this freedom and artistic spirit, but something of a time capsule too. A reminder of an age where just about anything seemed possible, and was; on this level the film is not only ambitious in its vision, but delivers a feast for the eyes with a fair amount of evident love and enthusiasm for its craft too.
The Chicodos go all out to make their clowns as sinister as possible in this world of complete indulgent fantasy where even the most innocent of items becomes something filled with danger and menace- colourful bazookas shoot out man eating popcorn pieces, acid ice-cream that reduces the human body to bones, candy floss becomes an impromptu coffin to hide corpses, and shadow puppets take on a deadly life force of their own. The creature effects evident here play into that creepy clown persona like nothing else; the clowns having a warped, distorted make-up and hide gnashing pointed teeth underneath their grotesque smiles. There is something deeply sinister about Killer Klowns, despite its candy coated, comic book, all the colours of the rainbow façade, it comes stuffed full of nasty little razor blades in the delivery of its subject matter.
For the casting, the makers assemble all the stereotypes- boyfriend Mike (Grant Cramer), and girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Synder)- the only voices of reason as reality crosses the line into crazed territory, have the wholesome couple vibe. We have good cop Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson), bad cop Mooney (John Vernon)- who hates teenagers and is very vocal about the fact. Geek brothers Rich and Paul Terenzi (Peter Licassi and Michael Siegel), in their clown themed ice-cream van, who bring along tonnes of cringe worthy humour, and the mental farmer Gene Green (Royal Dano) who loves to sit drinking, and rambling on to, his beloved dog companion Pooh Bear. All the performances run along the lines of the typical drive-in one dimensional acting standard, which I am hoping is intentional, although either way it works to support the camp fun atmosphere of the feature.
Arrow present the disc with a host of extras to enjoy, for fans and newcomers who want to know more about the film’s history and background. I have to say, the print, in 1080p high-definition on blu-ray, looks gorgeous. Killer Klowns is, obviously, a very visual film, with lots of bright colours and little details in the set design. Here it is presented in glorious style, with grain still evident, detail very clear- so you can revel in the true craft involved in the making. There is no obvious restoration damage such as haloing or shadowing. The sound is well-mixed, showcasing the great score; especially The Dickies infectious Killer Klowns theme, that encapsulates the energy of the film and gets things kicked off on the right footing. Dialogue is clear, and sound levels do not appear to demonstrate any distortion on some of the higher or lower ranges.
The full specifications of the disc are as follows:
- Limited Edition SteelBook packaging
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the feature, transferred from original film elements by MGM<
- Original Stereo 2.0 audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Audio Commentary with the Chiodo Brothers
- The Making of Killer Klowns – a 20-minute featurette looking at the film’s production, including an interview with the Chiodo Brothers alongside behind-the-scenes footage
- Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr. – an interview with Charles Chiodo and visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr.
- Kreating Klowns – an interview with Charles Chiodo and creature fabricator Dwight Roberts
- Bringing Life to These Things – A Tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions
- Chiodo Brothers’ Earliest Films – a look back at the Chiodo Brothers’ early homemade productions
- Tales of Tobacco: A brand new interview with star Grant Cramer
- Debbie’s Big Night: A brand new interview with star Suzanne Snyder
- Komposing Klowns – interview with composer John Massari
- Deleted Scenes with Director’s Commentary
- Klown Auditions
- Image Gallery
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Starburst critic Joel Harley, illustrated with original archive stills and posters
Another triumph for Arrow, with a release that is bound to please fans of this enduring cult classic; for more details on this little slice of camp eighties heaven check out the official Arrow page for information (steelbook) here , standard blu-ray/DVD combo here.