Killer Klowns from Outer Space: When the Circus Comes to Town

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is a 1988 American science fiction horror comedy film that was written, directed, and produced by the Chiodo Brothers. The movie stars Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, John Allen Nelson, and John Vernon. The story revolves around a clan of malevolent extraterrestrials who resemble clowns and come to Earth to invade a small town. Their objective is to capture, kill, and harvest the human inhabitants to drink their blood as sustenance.

The movie was filmed in Watsonville, California, and at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, utilizing practical effects such as rubber suits. John Massari composed the score for the film. Although it was not a commercial success at the time of its release, KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE has since gained a cult following and received generally positive reviews, likely due to its unique blend of genres and practical effects.

While parked at the local lovers’ lane with other couples outside the town of Crescent Cove, Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder) spot a strange glowing object falling to Earth. Nearby, farmer Gene Green, thinking it’s Halley’s Comet, ventures into the woods to find the impact site. He stumbles upon a large tent-like structure resembling a circus, only to be captured by mysterious clown-like aliens called “Klowns” along with his dog. Concerned, Mike and Debbie investigate and discover a complex interior with bizarre rooms, eventually realizing that the object is actually a spaceship. Inside, they come across a gelatinized Gene Green encased in a sticky cocoon and are spotted by a klown who shoots popcorn at them using a bazooka-like weapon. The klown then chases after them with the help of another klown using a living balloon dog.

After escaping from the klowns, Mike and Debbie rush to the local police station to report the incident. They inform Debbie’s ex-boyfriend, Dave Hanson, and his partner, Curtis Mooney, about the strange circus tent-like structure and the alien klowns. Mike and Dave head to the location of the spaceship, but when they arrive, they find only a massive crater in its place. The duo then head to the lovers’ lane, only to discover all the cars abandoned and covered in the strange, sticky cocoon material. Meanwhile, the klowns begin capturing people with their toy-like rayguns, enclosing them in cocoons. Along with their deadly pranks and circus antics, several onlookers meet a grim fate.

Mike and Dave witness a shocking scene as they see a klown using shadow puppets to shrink a crowd of people and then dumping them into a bag of popcorn, which they later discover contains klowns in larval form. Meanwhile, Mooney arrests another klown who showed up at the police station, believing it to be a teenage prankster. Dave returns to the station and finds it in disarray, only to witness the klown using Mooney’s body as a ventriloquist’s dummy. Dave shoots the klown in the nose, causing it to spin uncontrollably and explode.

After these terrifying experiences, Mike teams up with his friends, Rich and Paul Terenzi, and they use their ice cream truck’s loudspeaker to warn people of the klowns. However, they soon discover that Debbie is in danger when popcorn from her previous encounter with the klowns evolves into juvenile klowns, which attack and trap her in a giant balloon. Mike, Dave, and the Terenzis witness Debbie’s capture and give chase, leading them to the klowns’ spaceship, which has been relocated to the local amusement park.

As they journey through the funhouse, the Terenzi brothers become separated, and Mike and Dave witness a klown using a straw to drink a person’s blood. They manage to rescue Debbie and flee into a maze filled with traps. The trio finds themselves surrounded by a legion of klowns, but the Terenzis arrive in their ice cream truck and use the PA to distract the aliens. However, the klowns have a surprise in store for them in the form of Jojo the Klownzilla, a gargantuan klown puppet that destroys the ice cream truck, seemingly killing the Terenzis.

In a dramatic moment, Dave creates a diversion, allowing Mike and Debbie to escape just as the klowns’ spaceship starts to take off. Using his badge, Dave pierces Jojo’s nose, causing it to explode and destroying the ship. A clown car falls from the sky, and Dave emerges with the Terenzi brothers, who survived by hiding in the ice cream truck’s freezer moments before it was destroyed.

As they watch the fireworks from the ship’s destruction, pies fall from the sky and land on their faces, bringing an unexpected, albeit amusing, end to their harrowing experience.

To prevent audiences from assuming that the film was a slasher movie, the filmmakers added “from Outer Space” to the original title of Killer Klowns. Filming occurred in Watsonville and at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Christopher Titus made his debut in a motion picture with this film. The popcorn gun used by the clowns was the most expensive prop created for the production, costing $7,000 and taking six weeks to build. To prevent the clowns’ balloon animal dog from popping on the pine needles that covered the ground, the special effects department coated its legs with latex.

John Massari composed the film’s score, while the title song “Killer Klowns” was written and performed by the punk rock band the Dickies. The song was released on their album Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 1988, and the band’s frontman Leonard Phillips wrote it without watching the movie. In 2006, a limited-edition complete soundtrack was released through Percepto Records, featuring twenty-six tracks of the score, the title song “Killer Klowns,” and four bonus tracks, with a runtime just over sixty-nine minutes.

For me, this is a cult classic that just doesn’t go out of style. From its first viewing to now, this film still holds up as such a fun film. The clown designs are both funny and scary. For anyone with coulrophobia, this film is definitely one to skip. The special effects are great throughout, including some great miniature work during the finale with Jojo. Though the story is somewhat dark, the film is well-lit with bright colors, especially in the circus tent spaceship. When a 35 year old film, at the time of this writing, is still very watchable and enjoyable, then you know the producers did a great job!

If you haven’t seen this film, and would like to, just click on the blu-ray cover above. It is such a great time! Also, make sure to check out my FILM BOOK OF FEAR series. If you liked this blog, please share it will your friends!

~David Albaugh

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