Killer Klowns from Outer Space Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
When Mike and his girlfriend Debbie warn the local police that a gang of homicidal alien-clowns have landed in the nearby area (in a spaceship shaped like a circus big-top, no less), the cops are naturally skeptical. Before long, however, reports are coming in from other anxious residents detailing similar run-ins with the large-shoed assailants. There can no longer be any doubt – the Killer Klowns from Outer Space are here and they’re out to turn the Earth’s population into candy floss! (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
If your movie/TV show is in desperate need of practical effects, stop-motion animation, and/or unusual props – all with a quirky edge and real personality – you might want to contact the Chiodo Brothers. Otherwise known as Stephen, Charles, and Edward, the Chiodos began their lucrative and specialized career in the early ‘80s and remain among the most sought-after people in their field, even in the age of CG dominance. At the height of their power, the Chiodos combined their efforts to write and direct a low-budget horror/comedy that would utilize all of their talents and the title, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), told fans everything they needed to know about the film. It is exactly what you think it is, nothing more, nothing less.
Equal parts ‘50s throwback, ‘80s satire, and effects demo-reel, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was destined for a cult following and is well-made enough to earn that status. Really, the craft on display is the key component, making the demo-reel aspects both the best and worst things about the movie. The title creatures and their over-the-top, murderous antics are about as close as practical, (mostly) in-camera effects have ever gotten to re-creating the visual tones of animation. The spaceage circus set design is one-of-a-kind and matches the production values of vastly more expensive movies from the era. It’s almost impossible not to admire the Chiodos’ ambition. On the other hand, all of their innovative efforts seem to have been invested in these effects, costumes, and art direction. As a sci-fi/horror movie, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is so dependent on replaying established genre cliches that there’s no room for creativity or surprises – the story and character just exist to get us from one klown-themed gag to the next. Had it worked entirely as comedy, this lack of uniqueness wouldn’t have really mattered. Unfortunately, the Chiodos’ sense of humour is a bit stiff and their version of camp is muddled by awkward pacing and bland performances. The puns and one-liners simply aren’t funny enough to carry the glacial set-ups and every moment away from the klowns becomes a feat of endurance. Perhaps if a bit more emphasis had been put on being scary (or maybe even gory?), rather than silly, the audience could be put more off-guard and jokes could’ve landed better. It’s perfectly fine for a movie called Killer Klowns from Outer Space to be dumb, but it’s inexcusable for it to be so dull when klowns aren’t on screen.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space has enjoyed a pretty healthy life on home video thanks to its cult following. This includes VHS releases from Media Home Entertainment and MGM, a Laserdisc from Image Entertainment, a special edition DVD from MGM, and a Blu-ray version of that MGM special edition. Arrow produced a UK-exclusive Blu-ray (recycling most of the MGM disc) in 2014, which begs the question: why do fans need yet another version of this film? Well, Arrow is going to try their best to convince you, beginning with a brand new 4K restoration, taken from the original camera negative. Unfortunately, I don’t have the MGM disc at my disposal for a direct comparison, but I can definitely vouch for the fine quality of this particular 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer. Details and textures are wonderfully complex, all with no obvious DNR enhancement and only minor over-sharpening artifacts. Grain levels appear accurate and do not overwhelm the consistency of shapes or decrease the vibrancy of cinematographer Alfred Taylor’s candy-colored palette. It’s doubtful we’ll ever see Killer Klowns from Outer Space look better than it does here.
Arrow has remastered and included the original 2.0 and remixed 5.1 soundtracks and presents each in uncompressed audio (LPCM and DTS-HD Master Audio, respectively). The remix has obvious advantages in terms of the aural depth that discrete center and LFE channels offer. When put up directly against the stereo track, it comes out slightly ahead in clarity as well, particularly when it comes to the minimalistic sound effects. Dialogue is uneven in both cases, usually due to environmental issues – as in some locations are more drier or more echoey than others. John Massari’s synth musical score is a bit on the thin side on either mix, but does get a decent bass boost on the remix.
Commentary with director/producer/writer Stephen Chiodo, producer/writer Charles Chiodo, and producer Edward Chiodo – This energetic, but patchy track was recorded for the MGM DVD and also appeared on Arrow’s previous Blu-ray edition.
Let the Show Begin! Anatomy of a Killer Theme Song (10:38, HD) – Singer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee of The Dickies talk about their catchy title theme and unused incidental tracks.
The Chiodos Walk Among Us: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking (23:41, HD) – A look at the brothers’ inspirations and the technically impressive shorts they made during their childhood and college years.
Chiodo early films – The remaster and new interviews are nice, but these collected short films are the most endearing aspect of this re-release: Land of Terror (1967, 7:38, HD), Beast from the Egg (1968, 7:26, HD, with optional commentary), Africa Danny (1970, 16:58, HD), Eskimo (1971, 7:03, HD), Sludge Grubs (1972, 6:54, HD), Free Inside (1974, 12:20, HD)
Behind the Screams with the Chiodo Brothers (29:54, HD) – Raw, shot-on-video footage from the set. Some of it is set to music from the film.
Two deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by director Stephen Chiodo (4:36, HD, unmatted 1.33:1)
Blooper reel (2:49, SD)
Arrow archive featurettes:
Bringing Life to These Things: A Tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions (7:58, HD) – Stephen Chiodo leads a tour of the brothers’ studio, complete with additional video footage from behind-the-scenes of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and complains about CG animation.
Tales of Tabaco (18:01, HD) – Actor Grant Cramer chats about his career and being cast in Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
Debbie’s Big Night (10:39, HD) – Actress Suzanne Snyder also offers a breakdown of her career and impressions of making the movie.
MGM archive featurettes:
The Making of Killer Klowns (21:40, SD) – A roundtable interview with the brothers.
Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr. (14:52, SD) – Charles Chiodo introduces and interviews special effects supervisor Gene Warren, Jr.
Kreating Klowns (12:49, SD) – A second Charles Chiodo-run interview with creature fabricator Dwight Roberts.
Komposing Klowns (13:15, SD) – A final featurette is an interview with composer John Massari.
Klown Auditions (3:55, SD) – Rehearsal footage.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.