Saturday, October 12, 2013

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

With that title, Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) joins The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, and Snakes on Planes in the ranks of movies that tell us all we need to know about their plots with their titles. Whatever your first reaction is about what type of film goes along with that name, you're probably right. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is as goofy and stupid as it sounds, but it's also a lot of fun if it catches you in the right mood, and at times, it's even creepy, even if you don't suffer from  coulrophobia. Maybe the movie taps into a subconscious fear and suspicion we all have of clowns.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space has a plot that plays out like a typical 1950s, teen horror movie, right down to the cheesy pop theme song. A young couple (Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder) see a meteorite crash in the woods outside their small town, and when they investigate, they find a strange circus tent filled with monstrous-looking clowns that are using ray guns to cocoon people into cotton candy. They go to the police where one (John Allen Nelson) tries to the help, but another (John Vernon) proves an incredibly cranky skeptic. Meanwhile, the clowns advance on the town, intent on killing or capturing everyone in their path.

There are monsters that lurk in the shadows, waiting for the right moment to strike their intended victims; there are fiends who infiltrate among us, gaining our trust before revealing their true colors; and then, there are these clowns. Before they zap people, they usually walk right up to their victims (or have their victims approach them) and distract them with a little show: shadow puppets, Punch-and-Judy puppets, candy grams and other clown activities the movie turns on their head. Sure, it's very predictable, but the clowns use so many different techniques to get people that it never becomes boring, and it remains enjoyable even because it's so obvious.

Granted, I can't imagine real people being entranced by these clowns. These guys don't look like Ronald McDonald, Bozo, or even the Joker; they resemble Pennywise's monstrously inbred cousins and not anything you would hire for a children's birthday party. Their mouths are so big and wide and filled with such nasty-looking teeth that they make Captain Spaulding look like  a Crest commercial model. And of course, they always have a leering smile and stare at you with their massive, bugging eyes. Their weakness is to be expected: go for the nose.

The low-budget effects are cheesy but enjoyably so and inventive. The inside of the clowns' tent is a twisted funhouse filled with hanging rows of cotton-candied victims, twisting passage ways, and doors that open up continuously to reveal smaller and smaller doors. The clowns pervert just about everything we associate with them and circuses - pies, popcorn, balloon animals, balloons - to use them for nefarious intentions, and it's a riot.

Performances are expected for this type of B movie. For the humans, the one who makes the most impression is Vernon (aka Dean Wormer from Animal House) as Officer Mooney. This guy takes the disbelieving cop to a whole different level. Sure, we expect him to discount the first teens who show up to tell him clowns are going around killing people, but even when the station is bombarded with phone calls for help and he encounters one of the clowns himself, he remains convinced the entire town is pulling a prank on him, and he won't be a sucker.

Mooney ends his first scene near the start of the film by declaring no one will make a dummy out of him. Can you guess what the clowns do to him?

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