“Killer klowns from outer space? Holy shit. Klowns, kotton kandy, flying popcorn? Sure, make fools of the police department.” — Officer Mooney, aka Officer Dean Wormer, giving us a reason to drink by saying the name of the film
The Macabre Brothers share an affinity for bargain-bin horror films. It’s actually more like an addiction — hardly a month goes by without one of us wasting $5 on some dubious DVD title. Such impulse buys may not deserve a full review, but like porn, they’re worth a quick and shameful glance. In Basement Ramblings, we answer your most meaningful question: Is this month’s piece of crap worth the price of a Big Mac?
Where I found it
Buried under tripe like the third Death Race remake and Dirty Dancing in the $5 bin at Walmart.
Why it caught my eye
Killer klowns and outer space are both in the title, so duh. But this film was also directed by the Chiodo Brothers, who just so happen to be the namesake for one of my favorite metalcore bands growing up, The Chiodos Bros. (now just Chiodos). Rumor has it the band name is homage to the, uh, geniuses behind this little pie slice of ’80s camp.
Killer klowns from outer space, so duh again. But really, it was hard to say no when I saw this film for cheap in the Walmart bin. I’ve heard a thing or two in the past about this unsung masterpiece of kampy, korny cheese, and I couldn’t resist the premise. It’s also slowly becoming something of a cult classic, like Army of Darkness (only not as batshit) and the latter Freddy Kreuger flicks (only without the weight of a horror icon), and it kind of felt like mandatory viewing. How does a ridiculous PG-13 horror film go from obscurity to camp canon? When it starts showing up in Walmart bins.
Anyway, back to the plot. We start with a bunch of horny teenagers from the local college making in truck beds and trailers at “The Point,” a fun little pastime most college students drop when, you know, they graduate high school and move out of their parents’ homes. Snuggled up on a deflated yellow raft with a bottle of champagne are Deb and Mike. Their snuggle sesh is cut short when Mike’s buddies, the clowny Terenzi brothers, roll up in a rented ice cream mobile with — yup — a clown head on top. They’re selling “Lick-a-Stick” ice cream with pitches like, “”We’ll give you the stick, you give it a lick, and it’ll cool you all the way down!” That’s either really funny or really creepy, especially since the ice cream truck is one blacked-out window away from a pedophile van.
The Terenzi Bros. get chased away from the point just in time for a big, flaming ball to streak across the sky. Cut to Old Man Jenkins (he’s never named) on his porch with a floppy coon hound, who sees the streaking ball and goes gaga. It just so happens he was reading about Haley’s Comet just then, and by golly, you’d better believe he and Pooh Bear the Coon Hound will get rich after he digs it up with a shovel and hauls it home in a pail. How does Old Man Jenkins go from comet chaser to kotton kandy kakoon? When he discovers Haley’s Comet is actually a big-top tent from space.
Within 15 minutes, we get our first glimpse of the titular klowns. They’re big and bulbous, with baggy neon klown suits and red noses over nasty teeth. (Apparently there are no space dentists at this space circus.) First to go is Pooh Bear the Coon Hound, followed by Old Man Jenkins when a klown hits him with a kotton kandy-powered death ray. In a flash of wispy red tendrils, Old Man Jenkins is kakooned and soon discovered deep inside the big-top spaceship by Mike and Deb, who for some reason also want to check out the comet-turned-circus in the middle of the woods.
“I don’t know about you, but this looks like a cotton candy factory to me,” Mike says when he and Deb enter the bowels of the big-top from space, where pink kotton kandy blobs in the shape of lucky rabbit’s feet hang suspended from neon-striped pipes and tubes. It may or may not be a nod to the derelict ship on LV-426 from Alien, only in that film, Ridley Scott took his sweet time ratcheting up the suspense before shit hit the fan. Here, Mike and Deb waltz right through the big-top doors before running from a trio of klowns. How does a scene go from rip-off to homage? When you replace xenomorphs with kotton kandy.
Back in town, cranky old Officer Mooney (played by John Vernon of Animal House fame) and considerate young Officer Dave are busy arresting college students for being hooligans. That’s when Mike and Deb show up and start spouting hysterical nonsense about killer klowns from outer space (drink) with devious motives. Officer Mooney thinks it’s a joke, while Officer Dave is willing to check it out, but only because sexy Deb is his ex-girlfriend. Drama!
The love triangle of Deb, Mike and Officer Dave drive out to the big-top from space, only to find it’s no longer where it landed. Mike ends up in handcuffs and Deb gets a ride back home — just in time for the klowns to invade their sleepy little town. They arrive with balloon dogs, boxing gloves, puppet shows, klown kars, popcorn guns and more kotton kandy, all in the name of…something.
So why are they here on Earth? It’s a question several people ask and several people kinda-sorta answer, but that’s hardly the point. How do you know when a gang of killer klowns from outer space just wants to drink you blood from krazy straws? When they show up in a film called Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
The klowns and just about everything they do. If you’re expecting something creepy — say, a tormented clown in the vein of American Horror Story: Freakshow — you’ll be disappointed. On the spectrum of clowns, with American Horror Story and It on one end and Bozo the Clown on the other, the killer klowns are on the Bozo side, only with worse teeth. Instead of one-liners, they talk like Jawas filtered through blenders of various sizes — a kind of guttural purring that’s more funky than freaky. Wait until you hear their balloon dog bark.
But man, what they lack in jokes and puns they make up for with physical humor. Killer Klowns riffs heavily off stuff like The Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin, with plenty of props and sight gags. Of the 11 or so “deaths” — more like kakoonings — two stand out as wonderfully inventive and unexpectedly well-paced.
The first comes soon after the klowns invade the town and start amusing hapless residents into oblivion. In a random park, a random college kid starts watching a random puppet show. He laughs once, laughs twice, and then laughs hardest when one puppet destroys the other with a death ray. He’s still laughing when the klown bursts out of the puppet booth and blasts him with a kotton kandy ray.
The second comes at Officer Wormer’s expense and borders on legitimately creepy. As calls about abductions and killer balloons inundate the police department, a klown drops by to fuck with the cranky old cop. He knocks him unconscious with an enormous paper horn, like the kind you get at a birthday party, and then proceeds to kakoon the two teens in the holding cell with kotton kandy. When Officer Dave arrives, he finds giant, red footprints scattered across the walls. Neat, that. He returns to the main office and sees Officer Wormer, cheeks painted with blood spots, sitting on the klowns lap like a hand puppet. The sound FX here are fantastic, with all sorts of gooey glops and plops as the klown make his human hand-puppet say, “Don’t worry, Dave. All we wanna do is kill you.” So THAT’S why they’re here.
Oh, and then there’s the amusement park security guard. When Officer Dave and Mike finally figure out where the big-top from space landed a second time — “Where would I be if I were a klown?” “The amusement park!” — they speed off to the park for a final showdown. The klowns arrived earlier in a klown kar and (get this) pied the security guard to death, as in they threw corrosive pies at the guard until he dissolved into a pile of whipped cream and fleshy goop. The cherry on top: baby klown puts a cherry on top.
The humans. I’m not asking for Oscar-worthy plotting and performances, but the non-klown characters in this film nearly deserve to be kakooned in kopious amounts of kotton kandy. Officer Dave is a pretty-boy plot device that barely fills the standard good-cop role. Mike is there to spout kraziness until people believe him, and Deb disappears for most of the film unless she’s either: A) getting PG-13 naked for a never-ending shower, or B) getting trapped in a balloon to be the damsel in distress for a boring-ass love triangle.
Even the Terenzi Bros., who are honestly pretty funny when introduced spouting innuendo from an ice cream truck, are hit or miss. They get laid (maybe?) by two lady killer klowns in a ball pit while everyone else is fighting for dear life, but the inter-galactic sex scene itself is missing. All we see are fat, red lipstick marks on their necks when they show up to save the day.
Officer Wormer is pretty entertaining as a character and a device, but I think most of that is due to his history as Dean Wormer. John Vernon is the end all, be all of pissed-off old guys, and I couldn’t stop giggling when he opened his mouth. He was also surprisingly animated as the human hand-puppet. I didn’t expect that, and it nearly made up for the other vacuous folks doomed to kotton kandy kakoons.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is everything is promises and not an ounce more, with just enough campy energy and kotton kandy to live up to the title. How does a PG-13 horror film make up for a kid-friendly rating? By delivering.
Chiodo Bros….pretty sure this is the film the band was named after