Film Review: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

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

Review:

“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.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other bonkers horror/sci-fi/comedy films of the ’80s.

Film Review: Weird Science (1985)

Release Date: August 2nd, 1985
Directed by: John Hughes
Written by: John Hughes
Music by: Ira Newborn
Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchel-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Vernon Wells, Michael Berryman, Steve James, Wallace Langham (as Wally Ward)

Silver Pictures, Hughes Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” – Lisa

This was one of those films that I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. I loved this picture and, at the time, it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen.

It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I still really enjoyed it, even if it’s much harder for me to suspend disbelief as much as this film requires. But it doesn’t really need to make sense if you just surrender yourself over to the absurdity of it.

However, it has not aged well and it almost feels like a relic from the ’80s in a bad way. Also, out of John Hughes’ four big teen movies of that decade, I’d have to consider this one the worst, even though it was once my favorite.

The story is just absolutely bonkers and doesn’t make a lick of logical sense but the spectacle of it makes it entertaining.

My main problem isn’t that two teens make a girl using “science” it’s just how half-assed and convenient the whole process seemed. As a kid, you don’t think about this shit. However, as an adult, you do and if most people are like me, your brain will get more literal thinking with age. That’s not really going to bode well for this film’s longevity, as its audience has grown up and moved on. Well, maybe not those that are so addicted to nostalgia that they have to continually live vicariously through the past.

It probably sounds like I’m shitting on the movie and I don’t mean to. It’s fine for what it is and for its era, especially considering the age of its audience at the time. But even seeing this now, it’s hard not to like these characters, even if their journey seems kind of pointless and they don’t seem to actually learn anything important other than boners can make a man brave.

Kelly LeBrock is great in this and honestly, she’s the glue that keeps this movie from falling apart. But, as an adult, you start to see her character through a new lens and her story is pretty tragic and incredibly fucked up.

Here we have a supremely intelligent woman that was created by two horny teenagers that take her for granted, use her and then dump her less than 48 hours later, leaving her to wander the Earth with her magic powers and no real human connection with anyone. Sure, she’s Einstein level intelligent with beauty and personality but this sounds like the origin of a horror monster. And maybe, just maybe… there’s some sequel potential there. Just send me a check, I’ll see myself out and go straight to the bank, Universal.

Anyway, this is a fun, dumb movie that might not work as well in 2020, as it did in 1985, but it still probably deserves the beloved status it’s built up over the years. Despite my new take on it, I’ll still probably revisit it once in a while. But that’s also because it’s hard for me to sometimes resist the nostalgia bug even though I can see it for what it is.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s John Hughes movies, as well as ’80s and ’90s teen comedies.

Film Review: Return of the Living Dead, Part II (1988)

Release Date: January 8th, 1988 (premiere)
Directed by: Ken Wiederhorn
Written by: Ken Wiederhorn
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Michael Kentworthy, Marsha Dietlein, Dana Ashbrook, James Karen, Thom Matthews, Phil Bruns, Suzanne Snyder, Thor Van Lingen, Jason Hogan, Mitch Pileggi

Greenfox Productions, Lorimar Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I feel like we’ve been here before. You… Me… Them!” – Joey

I think that this movie gets unfairly shitted on, simply because it is not the pinnacle of perfection that its predecessor was. That being said, this is still a damn enjoyable zombie comedy and seeing James Karen and Thom Matthews return, as new but similar characters, was pretty awesome.

While this film took some minor missteps that kept it from being as iconic as the first movie, it’s still one of the more fun horror pictures of the ’80s.

This picks up shortly after the events of the first film, as we see the zombie-creating Trioxin accidentally released on a new town. Zombies rise from the grave, infest the town and try to eat all the brains they can possibly stomach.

We follow a group of survivors, as they try to find a way out of town but ultimately get trapped by a military blockade and thus, have to fight the undead in an effort to survive the night. Of course, many of them don’t survive. However, unlike the first film, which had a much better ending, some characters do make it out unscathed.

Apart from the fairly optimistic ending, the film made a few other mistakes.

First of all, this just isn’t punk rock enough. That’s the element that really made the first picture so fucking cool. The characters were punk rock dipshits and it was fun seeing them try to make it out alive but ultimately, fail.

Secondly, the film’s score is really generic and weak compared to the tunes of the first movie, which just ties it back to the film not being punk rock enough.

Thirdly, the setting isn’t as gritty and interesting. The film takes place in a suburban neighborhood that is still under construction. It reminds me a lot of the neighborhoods from E.T. and Poltergeist but it’s unfinished, which just means that it was probably cheap and easy to shoot there at night.

Fourthly, the film doesn’t feature Linnea Quigley as Trash. I need my Trash! Or just Linnea Quigley. She could’ve played another role.

In the end, the characters were all good and the story was decent enough. I thought that the big finale was actually well done, other than the town not getting nuked. It should’ve been nuked.

If you are a fan of the original and you haven’t seen this, it’s definitely worth a watch. Don’t expect the same level of greatness but it’s still a good compliment to the first flick that builds off of it nicely.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the first Return of the Living Dead, as well as other zombie comedies.

Film Review: The Last Starfighter (1984)

Release Date: July 13th, 1984
Directed by: Nick Castle
Written by: Jonathan R. Betuel
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Lance Guest, Dan O’Herlihy, Catherine Mary Stewart, Robert Preston, Norman Snow, Vernon Washington, Marc Alaimo, Wil Wheaton, Suzanne Snyder

Lorimar Productions, Universal Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Things change. Always do. You’ll get your chance! Important thing is, when it comes, you’ve got to grab with both hands, and hold on tight!” – Otis

The Last Starfighter might not be as remembered as Star Wars and it may have been very strongly inspired by it, as most sci-fi films from the 80s were, but there is something pure and endearing about it that somehow stands the test of time. Frankly, it’s a fantastic picture and it still looks beautiful, even if its special effects are comprised of very early CGI animation.

The film is lighthearted and downright hokey, at times, but it doesn’t fell like that outdated bad sort of 80s cheesiness. It has charm and heart and there really isn’t even a character in this film that isn’t likable. Well, except for the pretty gross bounty hunter Zando-Zan. But hell, even the villains are likable to a degree.

While Star Wars was every boy’s whole world back in the time of my childhood, I can honestly say that I watched The Last Starfighter more often. It was a shorter movie than any of the Star Wars episodes and it told its story and was done. It felt complete, even if it did leave things open for a sequel that never came but should have. It was also just a good straightforward movie without a lot of extra plot and characters beyond what it needed to tell its story. You weren’t distracted by vague references to other worlds and new and strange characters walking into frame every thirty seconds. I’m not saying that those are bad things but The Last Starfighter just focuses on the task at hand and doesn’t try to universe build in order to sell books, comics and toys.

Lance Guest was a really good choice to play our hero, Alex Rogan. He felt like every all-American teenager from a tiny town that just wants to live a much larger life. Catherine Mary Stewart was a perfect compliment to Guest, as the two just had a real chemistry and made you want to root for them to make it and to have a great future.

Dan O’Herlihy was well-hidden as the alien co-pilot Grig. However, his voice is very distinct and I always knew he was the old man that ran OCP in the Robocop movies and the evil Irish madman that wanted his Halloween masks to melt the heads of children in Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Robert Preston was the real scene stealer, though. Every time he is on screen, he commands the attention of the audience and the other actors around him. He had a very strong charisma and likability.

The themes by Craig Safan created one of my favorite film scores of the 1980s. The main theme for The Last Starfighter still holds up well today and every time I hear it, nothing but fond memories and emotions return.

The special effects are made with CGI animation but it is a much more primitive style of animation than what audiences would come to see just a few years later. While the animation is clean, it has a unique and otherworldly look to it that still feels majestic. Even if it looks dated, it still compliments the film and it still works.

The Last Starfighter was fairly popular and has a big cult following. People like Seth Rogen and Steven Spielberg tried for years to buy the rights to it, in an effort to carry on the franchise into the future. However, Jonathan R. Betuel, the writer and creator, will not allow anyone to touch it. Honestly, that’s kind of bad ass.

It isn’t a perfect movie but it still feels perfect to me. It probably deserves more recognition than it has but those who know it, love it.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: Night of the Creeps (1986)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1986
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Fred Dekker
Music by: Barry De Vorzon, Stan Ridgway
Cast: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Suzanne Snyder, David Paymer

TriStar Pictures, 88 Minutes

night-of-the-creepsReview:

“What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?” – Detective Cameron (Tom Atkins)

Night of the Creeps is a classic. Well, it is to me, anyway.

While most people have probably never heard of this film, I discovered it about a year after it came out on VHS when my video store clerk told me that it was an awesome film written and directed by the guy who did Monster Squad – another classic in my book.

This film starts like a cheesy alien sci-fi film, quickly turns into 1950s horror and then transitions into a fun, campy and ridiculously awesome 1980s teen horror film. Of course, back then horror films were still rated R and as was common with the era, we get lots of good gore, boobies and 80s humor. Not to mention, a stellar 80s horror film score and great practical effects that are better than a lot of the other 80s B-movie horror flicks.

Tom Atkins plays the bad ass disgruntled detective. He was great in all these 70s and 80s horror films he found himself in and in Night of the Creeps he is at his best. He’s a no nonsense ass kicker that holds his own in a time when pop culture was ruled by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

The teen actors are good enough and the cast of young talent is led by Jason Lively, who you may remember as the second Rusty Griswold. You will also see a very young David Paymer as a scientist.

The film is essentially a zombie movie but it is done in a new and interesting way unlike anything else I had seen before this. An evil alien sends a pod full of parasitic space slugs to Earth, which enter people through the mouth and turns them into the walking dead. There is also an axe murderer subplot.

The film is fun, the effects are great and the cast and director did a superb job in making one of the most unique low budget 80s horror films. It’s films like Night of the Creeps that really make me miss that era of filmmaking.

Rating: 8/10