They gleefully ride around in absurdly tiny cars, slosh pails of confetti into the air and smack each other with tasty dessert treats. Love them, or loath them, they're clowns. And counted among their giggling numbers are some of the planet's most renowned ruby-red noses -- Bozo the Clown, Freddy the Freeloader, Ronald McDonald and, well, John Wayne Gacy. Maybe HE'S the reason clowns have endured more than their fair share of seltzer to the face in recent years. Johnny buries a bunch of fellas under his house and !!!BOING!!! parents start discouraging their children from attending Clown College in the fall. Soon even the entertainment industry turned on its pioneering elders. Probably the premiere example of such inspired vilification is Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988, 86 minutes), a film that festered in the minds of the Chiodo Brothers who were BORN mesmerized by genre pictures of all shades, especially those of the alien invasion variety. These FX gurus basically reimagined The Blob, but rather than deadly ooze they went with neon-coifed invaders and milked all the appropriate sight gags that go along with Big Top denizens. Their result was a cult sensation beloved by drunken college students, bleary-eyed stoners and channel-surfing insomniacs the world over.
The movie: On a lazy evening, when many of the locals are out making hay under the stars, a brilliant light screams across the sky and disappears behind some trees not far away from Debbie and Mike who look at each other in wide-eyed disbelief (Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder). Naturally, they investigate, and are astonished to find not a meteor, or a crashed ship, but an illuminated circus tent. And it's when Mr. & Ms. Curious wander inside that they come toe to floppy shoe with its beyond-bizarre inhabitants, who despite their festive attire and jolly painted faces, have murder, not slapstick on their minds. Our heros barely escape with their funny bones intact and rush to the authorities with a story that very nearly gets them laughed right into the pokey for the night. The grizzled, eternally angry Officer Mooney (John Vernon) has no patience for such foolishness, as he's convinced that every one of the other calls coming in -- claiming random acts of clown calamity -- are just part of an elaborate practical joke at his expense. Meanwhile, these over-sized jesters are zapping the citizenry into pink cotton candy cocoons and carting them back to their ship, er, tent to suck out their blood with crazy straws. Yum! Earthlings simply don't stand for such discourteous impositions, so it quickly becomes clear to our heroes that these space buffoons must be taught proper dining etiquette -- and fast.
CineSchlockers will spot veteran character actor Royal Dano who falls victim to these strange invaders straight away. Mr. Dano was a fixture on TV westerns where in a particularly wacky episode of "The Rifleman" he played a kindly, but nutty fella who thought he was Abraham Lincoln -- down to the stovepipe hat and penchant for wrestling. If an hour and a half simply isn't enough clowning around for one evening, consider opting for a double feature with Bobcat Goldthwait's boozing Shakes The Clown.
Notables: No breasts. 20 corpses. Five clobbered clowns. Prudish fat chicks. Electrocution. Balloon bloodhound. Gratuitous puppetry. Upper-cut decapitation. Postmortem ventriloquism. Deadly shower massage.
Quotables: Debbie is a sarcastic little vixen, "Lead the way, Chief Running at the Mouth." Mike rains on the Terenzi brothers' parade, "This is more important than selling ice cream! There's clowns going around killing people! We're all in danger!" Officer Mooney isn't impressed, "Whooptee goddamn dee doo!!!" Amusement park security guard is suspicious of the interstellar circus freaks, "What are you gonna do with those PIES, boys?"
Time codes: Debbie and Mike share their unlikely story with the authorities (22:22). Tiny won't be bullied by bikers (31:00). Security guard pied into oblivion (1:03:40). How to dispose of a value-sized killer clown (1:20:50).
Audio/Video: Presented in its original widescreen (1.85:1) with an overall image quality that's as vibrant as the technicolor world it lampoons. The Dolby Digital Stereo Surround track delivers as it should, especially showcasing veteran B-composer John Massari's wonderfully weird score. Fans of The Dickies (who are still touring, by the way) will also be thrilled by the track.
Extras: Enthusiastic audio commentary by Stephen, Charles and Edward Chiodo who sound more like kids at Christmas than grown men. And it's hard not to get sucked into the giddy party right along with them. They're also mighty excited about the prospect of a Klowns sequel if DVD sales prove there's a demand. Overall, there's a bit of anecdotal duplication between the track and the 22-minute "Making of" featurette that looks as though it was shot for cable access in Aurora, Illinois. There's almost another HOUR of video goodness featuring such amusements as seeing how they got that biker's head to land JUST so. Look for two deleted scenes of mild interest (one adds a bit of exposition and the other features a poorly executed special effect). One of the best extras is the Chiodo's early film The Beast from the Egg, which hilariously foreshadows their future work. And if you have any sense at all you'll uncover a couple of amusing Easter eggs. An image gallery with almost 200 behind-the-clowns photos and conceptual sketches. Widescreen trailer. Zany animated menus with audio. No printed insert or liner notes. Get over it.
Final thought: Easily among the top genre releases of the year. It's refreshing to see a cult film lavished with this much attention by a major studio. It couldn't have happened to a better bunch of bozos. Collector Series.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.