Whether your first exposure to the Chiodo Brothers was via Large Marge in Pee Wee's Big Adventure, that SUV commercial in Robocop, various claymation segments from The Simpsons, or even Team America: World Police, there's no denying that their biggest contribution to pop culture arrived with 1988's Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This is the kind of cult classic that doesn't need a long-winded write-up, so here's a short one: alien beings with the appearance of oversized clowns have recently landed near the small town of Crescent Cove, and it's up to Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer), his sorta-girlfriend Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder), police captain Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson), and a few others to stop them from mummifying innocent townsfolk in bright pink cotton candy. What's not to like?
Killer Klowns is loaded with all the tongue-in-cheek goofiness you'd expect from three brothers who created stop-motion horror movies as kids and continued doing what they loved into adulthood. Featuring colorful production design, creative costumes, no shortage of circus-themed sight gags (balloon animal dogs, popcorn guns, face-melting cream pies), and a short but sweet plot that doesn't overstay its welcome, Killer Klowns hits most of its marks and gets out of town before we have time to overthink a few plot holes and standard horror movie clichés. It also captures an effective balance between both genres, letting first-time viewers put their guards down before delivering a few genuinely creepy moments -- a bloody "ventriloquist" gag involving Crescent Cove's grumpy, scene-stealing police sergeant Curtis Mooney (John Vernon) still gives me the jibblies, and I've seen this movie at least a dozen times over the past 15 years or so.
That only represents half the film's lifespan, so I'd imagine there's no shortage of enthusiastic fans who caught Killer Klowns in theaters, on VHS, or on cable when it was even younger. My first exposure, like many others, was via MGM's excellent Midnite Movies DVD, which lavished the film with a solid A/V presentation and an absurdly in-depth collection of extras. Since then, two Blu-rays have been released -- one from MGM with crappy cover art, and a better Region B disc from Arrow -- but the latter company has now brought Killer Klowns back to Region A with this new Special Edition Blu-ray. Featuring a top-tier A/V presentation sourced from a new 4K scan of the negative, spiffy packaging, and even more bonus features, it's the kind of exhaustive treatment that most cult classics deserve but rarely get.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures and promotional photos on this page do not represent Blu-ray's full resolution.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Killer Klowns was sourced from a brand new 4K scan of the original camera negative -- it's exclusive to this release and obviously represents a moderate to strong improvement over all previous discs, including both earlier Blu-rays. Image detail, textures, and overall grain structure show the most obvious improvements: there's plenty of fun little touches to the production design and costumes, and I'll admit that I could spot many new things in the background that weren't always apparent (then again, the last Killer Klowns disc I owned was MGM's Midnight Movies DVD). Color reproduction and skin tones are superb with a natural color palette -- relatively speaking, of course -- and no obvious bleeding. Shadow detail and black levels are very consistent: this is a surprisingly well-lit film at times, with very little murkiness even though much of it takes place at night. No obvious digital imperfections could be spotted as well. Fans will be absolutely thrilled with how good the film looks now.
The audio, on the other hand, never reaches the same heights -- but any obvious problems here are likely source-related, so it's tough to be too critical. Either way, the biggest bonus here is two separate audio options: the standard PCM 2.0 track, of course, replicates the original two-channel experience, but many will be curious to hear Arrow's (exclusive?) DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio remix. Since earlier releases -- dating back to MGM's DVD, if not even further -- included Dolby Surround tracks, the notion of a discrete 5.1 option isn't too much of a stretch: there are a handful of nice panning effects, while John Massari's original score (and other music cues, including The Dickies' theme song) venture into the rear channels as well. But this isn't really a night-and-day difference over the 2.0 track, so at the very least die-hard fans should consider Arrow's remix an interesting experiment and be happy that both options are available.
As far as "the basics" go, it's mostly good news: dialogue is relatively clear on both tracks (though a handful of tinny-sounding or muffled lines are likely due to ADR or less-than-ideal on-set recording), and it's mixed fairly well with good dynamic range and rarely fights for attention. Optional English SDH subtitles are included during the film only.
Arrow's Blu-ray packaging showcases the work of illustrator Sarah Deck.
Not surprisingly, the packaging here is a real standout: this two-disc release (one Blu-ray, one DVD) arrives in a dual-hubbed clear keepcase with attractive reversible cover artwork (see above), a fold-out Poster, sweet disc art, a matching Slipcover, and a 24-page Booklet featuring cast and crew information, tech specs, behind-the-scenes photos, and a new essay by writer Joel Harley entitled "Killer Klowns from Outer Space...and Beyond: The Clown in Horror and Popular Culture". As usual, Arrow's menu interface on both discs is smooth, simple, and very descriptive.
Plenty of extras are on board, with some being exclusive to this disc. The new stuff leads off with two recent interviews: "Let the Show Begin! Anatomy of a Killer Theme Song" (11 minutes) catches up with The Dickies [lead singer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee], who performed the title track and provide a candid chat about their introduction to Killer Klowns, writing rejected incidental music for the film, playing the song on tour, and more. Meanwhile, "The Chiodos Walk Among Us: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking" (23 minutes) offers a welcome overview of the brothers' early live action or stop-motion experiments with 8mm and Super 8 from childhood through college, with plenty of vintage clips and interesting first-hand memories from all three brothers about many of the movies coming up next.
Speaking of which: though not literally new material, we're now treated to a more fully expanded collection of Chiodo Bros. Short Films ("Land of Terror", "Beast from the Egg" - with optional commentary by the filmmakers, "Africa Danny", "Eskimo", "Sludge Grub", and "Free Inside", 58 minutes total); earlier discs were either incomplete or clip shows, but these are now presented in their entirety and remastered in HD to boot. The effort is certainly welcome, assuming you're a die-hard fan or an aspiring director -- but since there's no sound during any of these films, some optional commentary with the Chiodos (during the other five) or new music cues would have been greatly appreciated.
Finally, the new bonus features wind down with a VHS-era chunk of on-set footage entitled "Behind the Screams with the Chiodo Brothers" (30 minutes), plus a huge collection of Still Galleries featuring more than 300 pieces of concept artwork, promotional stills, storyboards, and behind-the-scenes production shots. There's a lot of great stuff hiding here.
Everything else here is ported over from earlier discs including MGM's excellent Midnite Movies DVD and Arrow's 2014 Region B Blu-ray. These recycled goodies include a feature-length Audio Commentary with the Chiodos; separate Interviews with actors Grant Cramer (Mike Tobacco) and Suzanne Snyder (Debbie Stone), co-writer/producer Charles Chiodo, visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr., creature fabricator Dwight Roberts, and composer John Massari; a Tour of the Chiodo Bros.' workshop; vintage featurette The Making of Killer Klowns; a collection of Klown Auditions; a pair of Deleted Scenes with optional commentary by the filmmakers; Bloopers; and of course, the film's original Theatrical Trailer. A very short Easter Egg is also carried over from the MGM DVD, so you'll want to poke around for that as well.
Overall, this is an outstanding and very comprehensive set of extras -- many of these are 10-15 minutes or longer and go into more detail than the usual EPK-style featurettes. The only notable absence, unfortunately, is The Dickies' music video; it's hasn't seen the light of day as an extra since the VHS days, and was likely (still) omitted due to rights issues.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space turns 30 this year, and it's aged about as well as you'd expect for a goofy comedy-horror romp crafted by three extremely creative brothers. There's so much to like about this film: the special effects, sight gags, (mostly) straight-laced performances, music, set design...and that's just for starters. I'd imagine that most folks who have read this far are pretty big fans already, but Killer Klowns is still accessible even if you're three decades late to the party. Either way, absolutely no one will be disappointed with Arrow's new Special Edition Blu-ray, which serves up a fantastic new A/V presentation and a figurative circus tent full of old and new goodies. Whether this is your first time owning Killer Klowns on home video or your sixth, it's absolutely worth the money. Very, very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.