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In the long-gone days of yesteryear, when I was just a wee nipper, there were regular visits to the video store on a Sunday afternoon. These visits were almost ritualistic in nature, and we'd always bring home a few flicks to watch regardless of whether there was anything actually worth renting. Some trips yielded hidden gems, while others uncovered crap that we should have had the good sense to burn, thereby sparing other unsuspecting movie-lovers the pain of enduring them. Which of these categories does Killer Klowns from Outer Space fall into? Read on to find out.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Feature


In an unusual take on the whole alien invasion phenomenon, the Chiodo brothers’ directorial debut opens in the sleepy town of Crescent Cove, where a young couple, Mike and Debbie, are getting to know one another up at the local make-out point. Their romantic evening is interrupted when Debbie spots a shooting star flying overhead, and she convinces an incredulous (and horny) Mike to investigate further. When they eventually arrive at the impact site the pair discover something entirely unexpected—a giant, glowing circus tent! In a spot of role reversal, the mischievous Mike persuades a reluctant Debbie to go inside (against her better judgement).

While exploring the interior of the Tardis-like tent, Mike and Debbie happen across a room filled with what looks like giant balls of cotton candy (or candyfloss to our UK readers). In spite of the fact that the circus tent clearly defies the laws of physics, Mike steadfastly (and stupidly) clings to the belief that it is a cotton candy factory until he decides to tear off a piece for Debbie to try, revealing the partially dissolved body of one of his old school friends! While making their escape from the perverse pavilion, Mike and Debbie encounter the inhabitants of what is now, quite clearly, an intergalactic spaceship—a bunch of horrific aliens that bear an uncanny resemblance to ordinary circus clowns!

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
After narrowly managing to escape, our young lovers rush to the local police station in a futile attempt to warn them of the impending alien invasion. Of course, they’re treated with utter contempt by the local ‘hard-ass’ cop, Mooney (John Vernon of Animal House fame), and scepticism by Debbie’s ex-boyfriend, Dave. Meanwhile, the killer clowns (or, ‘klowns’ if you will) go about harvesting the townsfolk by way of a number of vile, depraved, but no less ingenious methods, such as telescopic boxing gloves, killer shadow puppets and a particularly violent Punch and Judy show. Written off by the cops, it falls to our teenaged heroes to stand against the alien menace before the entire population of the town is turned into tasty ‘klown’ snacks!

Video


Presented in an anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 frame, Killer Klowns looks remarkably good for a two million dollar picture produced back in the late eighties. Firstly, colour rendition is very pleasing, with the bright, vibrant 'klowns' themselves looking especially nice (if that's the right word). Black levels also remain reasonably consistent throughout the eighty-six minute runtime, which is very important when you consider that the film takes place entirely at night. However, the limitations of the source material are readily apparent when it comes to the relative lack of detail, poor contrast, lack of shadow delineation and the occasional nicks and scratches on the print, but this isn't enough to significantly detract from the overall experience. As I'm a strong believer in context when it comes to assessing the technical merits of DVDs, I tend to cut older, lower budget films like this more slack than modern, big budget features.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Audio


We're given a bog-standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track here, and to be honest it's just about all that's needed. However, the track (unfortunately) doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by the video. While dialogue is usually perfectly comprehensible, there are a number of audio dropouts and a number of scenes that have very obviously been looped (the early Terenzi brothers’ dialogue, especially, doesn't quite match the actors’ lip movements). Bass is also a little flat and surround action is rather limited (although to be fair it’s a miracle that there’s any at all), with the score getting most of the ‘rear time’. Speaking of the score, John Massari’s freakish reworkings of circus favourites—particularly during the opening number—are absolutely perfect for the film. In fact, the Killer Klowns song was one of the only things I remembered about the film from my initial viewing all those years ago. All-in-all this is a perfectly functional effort, but it’s not going to win any awards for audio excellence.

Extras


Probably the best supplemental feature on the disc is the feature-length audio commentary from the Chiodo brothers themselves. It’s a pretty lively and entertaining affair with plenty of information about the filmmaking process, the cast, and the difficulties of shooting on a restrictive budget, as well as their early influences. As one would expect from a track featuring three blood relatives, things flow smoothly and the conversation sounds very natural. On the negative side, I did find the brothers’ accents rather annoying, but I guess that’s not a particularly objective reason to dislike the commentary. A bit of trivia for you now: the Chiodo brothers are responsible for the puppeteering in the Trey Parker/Matt Stone movie Team America: World Police.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
A number of featurettes follow, starting with the usual ‘Making of’. This runs for a little over twenty one minutes and features all three Chiodo brothers talking about the genesis of the movie. There’s plenty of behind the scenes footage, including the deleted ‘Klown Car’ scene, the original opening and the failed car crash sequence. They also discuss how the special effects were created with the aid of some very basic techniques, which will be apparent to anyone who actually watches the movie. They continue by discussing the characters’ backgrounds, along with the people who helped to bring the movie to the big screen. The featurette ends with the brothers talking about the possibility of a sequel and their reasons for getting into the business in the first place. All-in-all this is a pretty informative piece.

Next up we have a thirteen minute featurette entitled ‘Komposing Klowns’, which focuses on John Massari‘s score for the movie. He discusses how his trip to a preview screening led to a chance meeting with Charles Chiodo, which in turn led to a demo track that secured him the composing job. He continues by discussing some of the music used during key scenes, such as the kid’s first foray into the klown’s spaceship and the klown trying to entice the young girl to leave the burger joint. John seems genuinely proud of his work on the film, which lends the featurette that little bit extra.

A fourteen minute ‘Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr.’ featurette follows. Hosted by Charlie Chiodo and the aforementioned Gene Warren, the featurette examines the use of effects in Killer Klowns from Outer Space. They discuss how many of the effects were accomplished with the use of scale models and perspective, the process of shooting at high speeds, matte work, stop-motion, rear projection, and optical printing. The featurette contains the usual behind-the-scenes material, with Charlie Chiodo ‘klowning around’ in the Klownzilla suit among other things. For me, the most enjoyable facet of this featurette was witnessing how the effects were created without the aid of the computer technology that everyone takes for granted nowadays.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
‘Kreating Klowns’ runs for a little under thirteen minutes and deals with the process of actually designing the alien invader’s technology. Charlie Chiodo takes us through the creative process, including the use of everyday objects, such as breadbaskets, as spare parts for alien vehicles. As with the other featuettes, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes footage, but constant narration from Chiodo keeps it a little more interesting this time. Towards the end of the piece, Dwight Roberts shows up to discuss the differences in effects technology between the 80s and the present day.

The final featurette in this section is the self-explanatory ‘Chiodo Brothers Earliest Films’, in which the brothers narrate a number of the films they shot as kids when growing up in New York. Of course the quality of the films isn’t anything to get particularly excited about, but it’s interesting to see the evolution from kids messing around with a home video camera to filmmakers who decided to make a full-length feature. If nothing else it showcases the brothers’ obvious talents for puppetry and stop-motion animation.
 
Two deleted scenes come next, both with optional commentary from the Chiodo brothers. First up is ‘A Bad Experience’, which features Deb discussing a bad childhood experience with clowns. This scene reminds me very much of the sequence in Gremlins where Kate talks about her hatred of Christmas, except the acting is nowhere near as accomplished. The second scene, entitled ‘Tight Rope’, features some more of the crazy interior of the Klown’s spaceship, specifically a strange tightrope staircase and a room full of doors that hide some nasty surprises. It’s easy to see why both scenes were cut, as neither really drives the picture along.

Three minutes of ‘Killer Bloopers’ come next. Among other things, we see klowns falling on their arses, a dry ice machine gone haywire and our leading lady cracking her head on a window frame. None of the material is particularly funny, but it’s nice to have it for the sake of completeness.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space
A number of still galleries follow. These are divided into two sections, ‘Storyboard’ and ‘Photo’, each with their own sub-sections. As I’ve said many times in the past, I’m not a huge fan of still galleries, but it’s nice that they are present on the disc for the hardcore fans to appreciate. The final extra is the film’s original theatrical trailer, which is presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

Overall


How much enjoyment you gain from Killer Klowns will depend largely on your fondness for B-movies. I’m not a huge fan of the ‘so bad it’s good’ brigade, and I must admit that the film was a disappointment after all these years. While the premise is inspired, the shoestring budget and lack of any real acting talent adversely affects the end result. However, it’s still a relatively entertaining way to spend ninety minutes or so, and I imagine that it would go down quite well at a beer-fuelled party. I’d really like to see what the brothers could do with today’s effects and a decent budget, but I’m not holding my breath for the sequel.

Technically there is much to like about the release. The visual presentation here is far better than I had expected it to be, and while the audio isn’t quite up to the same standards it does suit the B-movie origins of the film. However, it is the supplemental material that really sets this title apart from the DVD releases of similar genre pictures. Simply put, the disc is a Killer Klowns fan’s dream, with the direct involvement from the creators helping to construct a really worthwhile collection of features that put many more high-profile releases to shame. Do I recommend it? That’s a tricky one. If you’re a fan then the answer is a resounding ‘yes’, but the uninitiated might find themselves scratching their heads as to what all the fuss is about.


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