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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 the sort of rubbish 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? Well, truth be told it's a little bit of both...

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Feature


In an unusual take on the whole alien invasion trope, the Chiodo brothers’ directorial début 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 convinces an incredulous (and horny) Mike to investigate further. When they eventually arrive at the impact site they 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 candy-floss 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 a piece off for Debbie to try, revealing the partially dissolved body of one of his old school friends! While making their hurried 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!

As is usual the accompanying booklet provides some information about the source used for the release. This is what it has to say about the materials used to bring Killer Klowns to Blu-ray:

Quote: Killer Klowns from Outer Space appears in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with stereo 2.0 sound. The High Definition master was produced by MGM and made available for this release via Hollywood Classics. Additional audio synch work was done at Deluxe Digital-EMEA, London.

Video


To be completely honest my first impressions here were not good. Right from the opening moments there are some very obvious stabilisation issues in the form of heavy telecine wobble. Thankfully I soon became accustomed to it and was able to put it to the back of my mind. The same goes for the heavy grain, which is much coarser than that found on the average Blu-ray release. I’m sure some of that can be attributed to the source elements, but – and this is just speculation – this looks like an older transfer and not one that been subjected to a tremendous amount of love and care. This supposition is further supported by the presence of numerous film artefacts, which appear at regular intervals throughout and can be distractingly conspicuous. To put it in simple terms, Killer Klowns is one of the grimier BDs I’ve seen in a while.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space
I don’t want to sound overly negative though, as this is the sort of picture where the above actually works to enhance the film’s low-budget aesthetic. While it’s true that the original photography isn’t the sharpest, the high-definition upgrade reveals some nice detailing in everything from the backgrounds to the klowns themselves and I was generally impressed with the overall quality of the image. Back when I reviewed the DVD I singled out the bright, vibrant colour palette for praise, but the Blu-ray release is a considerable step up in this regard, offering colours that are much more accurate and significantly less muddied. The DVD’s real weakness was its murky black levels and poor shadow detail, and while this is still true of the Blu-ray to some extent it is once again noticeably superior to the standard-definition version. Once again the encode appears to be up to Arrow’s usual high standards, with no obvious digital artefacts to be seen. I’ve compared captures from Arrow’s release to .png captures from the US disc and they look identical for all intents and purposes, with perhaps a slight advantage in Arrow’s favour when it comes to compression.

I'm a strong believer in context when it comes to assessing the technical merits of a release and I tend to cut older, lower budget films like this more slack than modern, big budget features. Visually the Killer Klowns Blu-ray is not without its faults and certainly won’t be high on anyone’s list of visual demo material, but it’s markedly better than the DVD release and almost certainly the best the film has and will look for some time.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Audio


The disc includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that does a better than expected job with the source material, although it doesn’t quite live up to the standards set by the video. While dialogue is usually perfectly comprehensible, there are a number of audio issues that serve as a distraction. A number of scenes have very obviously been looped (the early Terenzi brothers’ dialogue in particular doesn't quite match the actors’ lip movements), but to be fair previous releases of the film were similarly afflicted by these source issues so Arrow is not to blame (in fact the accompanying booklet mentions that they’ve done some work to improve things). While directionality is limited there is some stereo panning, which is used to good effect in a number of sequences, such as the arrival of the Klowns’ spaceship, cars and so on. Although not a constant presence bass is also surprisingly muscular at times, especially as the film progresses.

One of the most memorable things about Killer Klowns is John Massari’s score, which is chockfull of freakish reworkings of circus tune favourites and tonally perfect for the goofy action. Then of course there’s the instantly recognisable and still awesome theme song by The Dickies, which still makes for the my strongest memory of the film from my childhood viewings. The fidelity of the track is also a marked improvement over the old DVD release, which isn’t always the case with lossy vs lossless audio (to my ears at least). Still, while it’s a perfectly functional effort the track can’t mask the shortcomings of the original audio elements. As such it will almost certainly prove pleasantly surprising to those familiar with the previous home video releases, but it’s not going to wow the masses.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space

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. 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.

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.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space
A fourteen minute ‘Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr.’ featurette follows. Hosted by Charles 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 Charles 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.

‘Kreating Klowns’ runs for a little under thirteen minutes and focusses on the development of the alien’s technology. Charles Chiodo takes us through the creative process, including the use of everyday objects 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 eighties and the present day.

The next featurette is another new addition called ‘Bringing Life to These Things’, in which Stephen Chiodo gives a tour of the brothers’ company and speaks about some of the projects they’ve been involved with. He also shows us some of their creations and discusses how the industry has changed since they made Killer Klowns.
 
 Killer Klowns from Outer Space
The final featurette in this section is the self-explanatory: ‘Chiodo Brothers Earliest Films’. This featurette sees 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.

‘Cast and Crew Interviews’ come next, the first two of which have been newly created for this release. ‘Tales of Tobacco’ runs for eighteen minutes and features Grant Cramer discussing how he got his start in the industry, how he became involved with Killer Klowns, his working relationship with the Chiodos and his co-stars, and the film’s legacy. ‘Debbie’s Big Night Out’ runs for a little under eleven minutes and is very similar to the previous interview, only this time it is Suzanne Snyder recounting her experience of working on the picture. She covers everything from the audition process and bringing her character to life, through to working with her co-stars and the picture’s lasting impact. 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 kids’ 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.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space
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.

This is followed by a featurette entitled ‘Klown Auditions’, which, believe it or not, does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s basically just four minutes of behind-the-scenes footage of the klowns running through movement tests etc.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Two still galleries follow, ‘Storyboard’ and ‘Image’, 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 hard-core fans. The final on-disc extra is the film’s original theatrical trailer, but there’s also a DVD copy of the film and the usual booklet and reversible artwork to complete the set.

Just about the only thing missing from the package is the music video for The Dickies’ title song, the rights to which Arrow sadly wasn’t able to obtain. However, thanks to the wonder of YouTube you can view it in all of its glory below!



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, but I enjoyed the film more than I did when I last watched it for my 2006 DVD review (linked below). I'd like to think I just have a greater appreciation for genre cinema than I did back then, but perhaps it's an age thing and I'm finally at the stage where the rose-tinted spectacles have well and truly kicked in... Still, inspired premise aside, the shoestring budget and lack of any real acting talent has an adverse effect on the end result. While it’s still a relatively entertaining way to spend ninety minutes or so I’d really like to see what the brothers could do with today’s effects and a decent budget. Who knows, perhaps the long-rumoured sequel will eventually see the light of day?
 
Technically there is much to like about the release. While flawed, the visual presentation is far better than I had expected, and although the audio isn’t quite up to the same standards it is in keeping with the film’s B-movie origins. However, as with the DVD release before it, the supplemental material is the real star of the show here. The Killer Klowns Blu-ray is fan’s dream, offering a wealth of information straight from the horse’s mouth (or the Chiodo’s mouths as it were). Indeed, this is what you call a ‘no brainer’ purchase for Killer Klowns fans. The uninitiated might find themselves scratching their heads as to what all the fuss is about, but if you’re in the mood for something a bit different you could do a lot worse than to check the film out. If nothing else it should provide welcome respite from the endless stream of samey horror flicks doing the rounds these days.

 Killer Klowns from Outer Space
As an aside, I’m once again left lamenting the limitations of a numbered ratings system, because there will surely be some who look at the video score and think that I’ve been too generous (or even vice versa). In truth it’s very tricky deciding whether a film looks better or worse than any other given picture, so I try to take things like age, budget, cultural significance and more into account. Killer Klowns doesn’t look as good as other films that have received similar video scores, but it looks a lot better than expected from a two million dollar B-movie and that ultimately factored into my decision.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and have been resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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