So far during our spooky film marathon, we've seen some pretty gruesome scares, so tonight I thought I'd go for something a little more silly that I could enjoy with my whole family. Now when one brings up the idea of spooky fun for the entire family, tonight's movie isn't one that would generally spring to mind, but you have to understand something about my family. My kids get more excited about seeing Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers than most kids do for Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And let's be real... which of those is more terrifying?
Anyway, tonight's movie sparked a fear of clowns for many members of my generation a full two years before Stephen King's It hit television screens in 1990. What movie, you ask? Well grab some cotton candy and pop some buttery popcorn, because it's time for 1988's Killer Klowns from Outer Space!
Our story opens with some teenagers making out at the local Lover's Lane when they're rudely interrupted by a bumbling duo of dorks named Rich and Paul Terenzi driving an ice cream truck. The drivers are driven off by the angry lovers, but Mike and Debbie are more amused by the intrusion than anything. As Mike regales Debbie with tales about the Terenzi Brothers' antics, a UFO streaks overhead. After much arm twisting, Debbie convinces Mike to go searching for the strange object. Meanwhile, a farmer and his dog also go in search of the object, thinking it's Haley's Comet and that he'll become rich and famous when curiosity seekers come to see it. Instead the old man comes across a circus tent, and both he and the dog are attacked by hideous clown-like creatures. Mike and Debbie soon arrive and explore the tent-shaped alien ship, which they take for some kind of funhouse at first, but it soon becomes obvious that this is no mere circus attraction as they stumble across strange, advanced technology and a room full of corpses hanging in cotton candy cocoons! Mike and Debbie narrowly escape the pursuing killer clowns and make their way into town to report what they've seen to Debbie's ex-boyfriend Dave, an officer with the local police department. Dave's partner, an old bully named Curtis Mooney ridicules the teens, stating emphatically that he refuses to let young punks make a dummy of him. Dave is also understandably skeptical at first and takes Debbie home before taking Mike to search for evidence of his claims. When Dave finally sees the murderous clowns for himself, he teams up with Mike and the Terenzi Brothers to save the town.
I was seven years old when Killer Klowns from Outer Space first hit screens, and it freaked me out, but not for the reason you might expect. I'll get to that in a moment, but first let's talk about the clowns. They are freakin' grotesque, and it's hard to believe anybody would ever mistake them for harmless circus performers, but hey... "there's a sucker born every minute" as the movie's theme song performed by The Dickies reminds us. In fact, they're so over-the-top hideous that I just could never associate them enough with real clowns to develop a fear of them. A few of the masks were even repurposed for the trolls in 1991's Ernest Scared Stupid, which makes me want to revisit that movie as well. Using seemingly harmless circus-themed weapons like popcorn, cotton candy, balloon animals, and even shadow puppets, the clowns are able to catch the townspeople off guard and cocoon them in cotton candy for later consumption.
There's one scene in particular that redlines my creepymeter and legitimizes this cornball flick's horror movie status. Remember how I said Mooney refused to let anybody make a dummy of him? Well, Dave returns to the police station and finds ol' Mooney being manipulated by one of the clowns like a ventriloquist's dummy. The clown uses Mooney's voice to communicate with Dave, making the clowns' intentions very clear before removing its bloody hand and letting Mooney's corpse slump to the floor. The bloody lines drawn from the corners of Mooney's mouth are an eerie touch that's always stayed with me. For a rather lighthearted, comedic horror flick, this is a rare dark moment, and I absolutely love it!
Overall, Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a fun, mindless flick. As long as you shut your brain off and are in the mood for a few laughs, it's worth a watch. There's been talk of a sequel off and on for many years, and at this point I'm just going to treat it like the long-rumored Gremlins 3... I'll believe it when I see it. But with 80s nostalgia at its peak right now, maybe modern audiences are finally ready for the return of killer clowns, popcorn monsters, and synthesizer scores. If so, I'll be one of the first in line.