Sunday, 12 March 2017

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)

Released in 1988, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is an American cousin to Peter Jackson's Bad Taste.

Two teenagers spot a shooting star land over the next hill. They go to investigate and find a a crew of homicidal alien clowns in their space ship (shaped like a circus big top). As the killer clowns invade their small town, the teens try to convince the cranky old sheriff (John Vernon) that there really are killer clowns attacking their small town.
The only film made by the special effects family the Chiodo brothers (they created the marionettes for Team America: World Police), this movie is a testament to low-budget creativity. Made with painstaking hand-made visual effects, the clowns are terrifying and hilarious.

The success of the humour comes from how perfectly the Chiodos match the tropes of clowns and circuses to the tropes of alien invasion movies. It's an odd juxtaposition that feels like it could make for a good fake trailer or a two minute College Humour skit, and yet the filmmakers manage to milk it for the entire runtime.

While it is not truly 'scary', the movie is atmospheric and weirdly tense, and the surreal images of the clowns wreaking havoc on the town are pretty creepy (see below). Balloon animals, shadow puppets, cotton candy and even mime are re-cast as elements of the aliens' offbeat arsenal.    

In its visualisation of its titular monsters, and their mythology, the movie is genuinely inspired, and the Chiodos' innovative ways of visualising their villains is equally impressive. Using a combination of masks, puppets, back-projection and various forms of traditional animation, the movie has the same lived-in, offbeat energy of Tim Burton's eighties work.
While the clowns provide plenty of reasons to watch, the movie's MVP is veteran character actor John Vernon as the surly Sheriff Mooney.

Vernon is simply superlative as a cranky old man with no time for the youths and their stupid shenanigans. The best scene in the whole movie might be the one in which Mooney, inundated with what he thinks are prank calls about killer clowns, decides to just ignore the fun and not do his job. He overshadows the younger cast -- they are all solid, but none of the other characters can equal the sheriff or the clowns.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is far better than its one-joke premise would suggest, and a testament to talent and imagination over stars and big budgets. Well worth a look. 

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