Also known as: Space Invaders (Germany), Killer Klowns (Sweden, Mexico, Denmark)
Release Date: May 27th, 1988
Directed by: Stephen Chiodo
Written by: Charles Chiodo, Stephen Chiodo
Music by: John Massari
Cast: Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, Royal Dano, John Vernon
Chiodo Brothers Productions, Sarlui/Diamant, 88 Minutes
“They took your wife away in a balloon? Well you don’t need the police, pal, you need a psychiatrist!” – Curtis Mooney
Despite coming out at the height of cinematic cheese, Killer Klowns From Outer Space was still a weird movie even for 1988. From a horror and humor standpoint, the tone reminds me a lot of the Ghoulies films, as well as the first two Return of the Living Deads, Night of the Creeps and Maximum Overdrive. Still, this one is even more bonkers.
Honestly, this is a really unique picture that may have been a dud when it came out but has since amassed a huge fanbase becoming a cult favorite once it hit video store shelves and then got passed around by teens in the ’90s while also being a favorite on late night cable television.
The film also has tonal similarities to the 1990 film Spaced Invaders, but that was more family friendly and harder on the sci-fi while being pretty nil on the horror. But that film shares a star with this one, Royal Dano. Strangely, Dano plays just about the same character in both movies: an old farmer with a dog that grabs his rifle when the aliens land near his home.
This film also features Suzanne Snyder, no stranger to science fiction (and horror), as she is probably most remembered for her role in Weird Science but she was also in The Last Starfighter, Return of the Living Dead, Part II and Night of the Creeps.
The plot of the film is pretty simple, some clown-themed aliens land in a small town and start turning people into giant cotton candy cocoons to harvest them. Their ship looks like a giant circus tent, they use circus-themed weapons like killer, mutant popcorn and they like being pranksters.
I remember this movie really freaking people out and it may be the biggest contributor to the irrational fear of clowns that seemed to become more of a normal thing in the ’90s. I mean, I guess Pennywise from the 1990 miniseries It had a lot to do with it too but I distinctly remember this goofy film scaring the crap out of people. I always just thought it was kind of amusing and batshit crazy in the best way possible.
One thing that has held up really well in this film is the practical special effects, especially in regards to the clowns. The suits are great, each clown looks distinctly different and the animatronic masks were incredible for the time. Hell, this movie was made on a pretty small budget and they certainly got a lot out of their limited resoruces.
Seeing this now, I’m much more impressed by it than I would have been as a kid. It’s far from great but it’s a perfect example of what talented filmmakers with passion can create with very little resources. The fact that it’s held up so well is kind of astounding. But this is also why I’ve always had more respect for practical, real effects over digital ones that can look outdated almost immediately. You can hide your film’s financial limitations with a skilled practical effects artist better than you can with cheap, budget CGI.
Pairs well with: other bonkers horror/sci-fi/comedy films of the ’80s.