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Wednesday Rewatch: Killer Klowns from Outer Space turns 30!

Contributed by
May 16, 2018

Welcome to Wednesday Rewatch, a SYFY WIRE series that challenges writers to rewatch a science fiction, fantasy, or otherwise genre-adjacent movie they've already seen and reevaluate in a new context.

This week we rewatch Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988).

Klowns. Killer Klowns. In 1988, 30 years ago, the Killer Klowns landed on Earth with popcorn guns and the good ol' cotton candy of death. The Chiodo Bros. classic was destined for cult status from the start.

And, more notably, after three decades, there's never been another movie quite like Killer Klowns from Outer Space, not even the sequel the Chiodos have been promising. Sure, there have been horror movies with clowns. Two versions of Stephen King's It exist. There's a movie about John Wayne Gacy.

Heck, Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse even has a thriller about clown sexual assault called Vulgar starring Brian O'Halloran from Clerks! He's not even supposed to be here today... for this... non-consensual... yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and cut the sentence there.

Look, not everything is worthy of a Wednesday Rewatch, OK?

The point, gentle clown reader, is this: Space klowns — never done before, never done since. And today we find out if that is a horrible mistake or if we've all been spared an unnecessary double dip into the acid sundae of space injustice that is Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

FIRST WATCH

Like all very cool kids who never left the house on the weekends because "Hahaha — who needs friends," I first saw Killer Klowns from Outer Space on basic cable.

I also 100 percent had a baked-in fear of clowns already thanks to that very dope scene from Poltergeist where the little boy's clown doll slithers like a snake under his bed and then tries to suffocate him with its horrifying body. Not that I'm still scarred. I'm fine. This is fine. We're not talking about clown dolls, we're talking about space klowns. Totally different.

Sufficed to say that, yes, between Poltergeist and the clown who stole Pee-wee's bike that one time, I was not down to clown, literally or metaphorically.

So, my first viewing of Killer Klowns from Outer Space was actually very scary for me. Right from the start, when our leads Mike and Debbie enter the big top flying saucer, I had my legs pulled up tight, vision impaired on account of my hands covering them, and maybe I was also hiding under a blanket. This is probably a good moment to confess that I was also scared of the yup yup aliens from Sesame Street (and still kind of am) so we're all aware of the nerves of steel I do not possess.

I would say that most of the first two acts of the movie were genuinely scary for me. The cotton candy gun, the klown snakes in the bathroom, even something as simple as seeing the klowns walk down the street set my teeth on edge.

But, I would also say that I mostly laughed at the third act. I think the more involved the Terenzi brothers were in the movie, the more the situation felt like it could be overcome. They didn't seem that scared, so I felt less scared. The giant klownzilla was pretty cool, but I was more impressed by it than I was scared.

As for negatives, I remember being kind of embarrassed by the theme song upon my first viewing. I thought it was cheesy. But, otherwise, I really enjoyed it.

Best scene from the first viewing is when Officer Mooney gets used by the klowns as a literal meat puppet. That scared the crap out of me and I LOVED IT.

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THE OFFICIAL REWATCH

Killer Klowns from Outer Space got a Blu-ray release a few years back, but Arrow just put out a new 4K restoration stacked with extra content.

With that in mind, I want to start with the visuals, which I think I appreciated subconsciously as a kid, but really blow me away as an adult. This is an ace transfer, not only because of the slightly warmer tone from the MGM Blu, but also because it's the first time I think I've ever really been able to fully appreciate just how great the klowns' faces look.

The Chiodo brothers had been filmmakers since they were kids, and all those years of honing the skill and style of making weird creatures paid off with Killer Klowns. Just the faces of the klowns alone are truly spectacular. They're creepy — but also funny. And they definitely look like aliens.

And that's the tone of the whole movie. As an adult, I'm not really scared by Killer Klowns from Outer Space anymore, but I don't think I really need to be. Killer Klowns has always been a genre mash-up; it just so happens that, with age, I've come to appreciate the science fiction and comedy aspects more than the horror.

The comedy, especially, is sophomorically delightful. As an eight-year-old, I definitely didn't pick up on the fact that the clowns showing up to a scantily clad co-ed's house with a pizza was a send-up of the most cliche porno plots. And I also don't think I noticed that the girl klowns had inflatable breasts. Klassy.

And Officer Mooney being turned into a puppet? Still creepy.

NOTABLE MENTIONS

Did you know that the actors who played the klowns were told to pretend they were underwater? It's true! That's one thing that required no real budget at all.

When the giant Klownzilla attacks the ice cream truck, he did it really quickly, but it was filmed such that it looked much slower. Oh, and one of the Chiodos was actually in the suit.

The Chiodo Brothers are also responsible for the Krites from Critters and that face Large Marge makes in Pee-wee's Big Adventure.

The theme song, which I used to think was corny, is by The Dickies, and I would contend now that it is arguably the best theme song to any horror movie ever.

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THE TAKEAWAY

Killer Klowns from Outer Space is good. I don't have a lot of deeper insight than that? It's a cult classic for a reason. The aesthetic is very distinct and, unless you are totally horrified by clowns, you will almost certainly enjoy watching it.

And, more importantly, if the Chiodo Bros. get around to making a sequel, you can say you knew about the movie before the hype train started back up, woo woo! Why did you know? It was me. You're welcome for saving this day with klowns from space who kill.