[Before you read this piece about Killer Klowns from Outer Space, do yourself a favor and fire up the theme song from Killer Klowns from Outer Space, which genuinely rips]
The 1988 sci-fi/horror cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space hits Netflix today, which is joyous news for anyone stuck inside without hallucinogens but would like to have a similar experience all the same. Written, directed, and produced by Stephen, Charles, and Edward Chiodo—the brotherly trio of special effects artists who most likely sent you straight to therapy with “Large Marge” in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure—Killer Klowns puts all its appeal right there in the title. A race of homicidal aliens who just happen to look like deformed circus clowns descend on a small California town in their big-top space-ship and proceed to murder its residents with hilariously gruesome circus gags. A greaser gets his head punched off with comically oversized boxing gloves. A security guard gets his skin melted off by acid pies to the face. It’s all somehow both gloriously dumb and endlessly entertaining while remaining 1000% earnest in how much it’s purposely designed to be both.
It’s also about freaking time we got a sequel. I recently revisited Killer Klowns from Outer Space and not only does hold up in its commitment to B-movie shoddiness, but it also left me with a bunch of genuinely intriguing questions, presented here in descending order of importance:
- 1. Why Do These Aliens Look Like Circus Clowns? Is it simply a coincidence that a species from beyond the stars shares the exact features, attributes, and general aesthetics of our Earthly circus clowns? Or, in a vexatious act of cosmic irony, did the human race model its circus clowns off early contact with this species from beyond the stars?
- 2. Is There a Reason the Killer Klowns Came to Earth? Did they have a plan, or was it truly just a pitstop to gather some of our sweet, sweet delicious human blood? (I’m doing fine why do you ask?)
- 3. Did Those Two Guys Fuck the Killer Klowns from Outer Space? At one point in this film the comedy relief characters Rich (Michael S. Siegel) and Paul Terenzi (Peter Licassi) come across two female Killer Klowns and then later it is highly implied these two men had sex with the Killer Klowns and I don’t know man I just feel like we need a little more info there.
The natural, understandable instinct is that explaining more might ruin the fun, and that there’s no way the Chiodo Brothers—or anyone, really—could capture that extremely specific candy-colored lightning in a bottle twice. But I’m confident, and part of that is down to what makes a “cult classic” a cult classic to begin with. Any crew that sets out to make a “cult” movie is doomed from the start. The brains that produce something like Rocky Horror Picture Show, Repo! the Genetic Opera, or Killer Klowns should be studied by science. Cult movies are made with an almost indescribable brand of creative earnestness, so that all schlock, corniness, or camp is endearing instead of distracting. It invites you to join in on the what-the-fuckery.
To make this point clearer, look at two recent examples: Cats and Venom. Cats—which I must stress is an out-of-body experience disguised as a musical—is destined for rowdy midnight screenings for years to come. It is, in pretty much every way, a litter box of disastrous decisions, but there’s such a fascinating relationship between its quality and its effort. Not a single soul in Cats thinks they’re cooler than Cats. Meanwhile, Venom came close to something similar, but not quite. No matter what anyone says, I genuinely believe that up until the moment Venom hit screens Sony thought they had made a Very Cool & Badass action flick. Venom‘s entertainment factor comes from how hard it is not that and the way a 110% committed Tom Hardy is the only person aware of it. (Venom isn’t really a cult movie, but Hardy’s performance belongs in one.) Venom is a blast-by-accident, and one of my biggest upcoming movie worries is what happens when Venom 2 tries to do it on purpose.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is the Cats of the “killer clowns who come from outer space” genre. What’s more, the Chidios never tried to do anything more than that ever since. The brothers continued to work in special effects, but to this day Killer Klowns from Outer Space remains their one feature project. They do remain committed to making this sequel, which got very close to happening when the rights were at Fox, until the Disney merger squashed it dead. But Killer Klowns was revived as a “Scare Zone” at Universal Studio’s Halloween Horror Nights in 2018, then as an entire haunted house in 2019. The dream of a sequel is still alive 32 years later, and that’s partially because its creators just really believe in the idea of Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
I’m not about to be out here in public with a take like, “Forget Contagion, Killer Klowns from Outer Space Is the Must-Watch Movie of These Trying Times” because holy crap could you imagine? But, I don’t know, times actually are really, aggressively, frighteningly weird right now. On the other side of it all, I’m going to be real open to any project that doesn’t want anything but a bloody good time.