Color, 1988, 81 mins. / Directed by Stephen Chiodo / Starring Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, JOhn Allen Nelson, John Vernon, Royal Dano / Music by John Massari / Cinematography by Alfred Taylor Format: DVD - MGM (MSRP $14.98) / Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround

One of the earlier horror cult favorites generated entirely by home video, Killer Klowns from Outer Space recounts the Blob-like story of an alien invasion engineered by malicious, alien clowns whose practical jokes have a habit of turning nasty. An obvious influence on Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! (which owes as much to this film as the true comic book source), Killer Klowns is a dark, goofy diversion and a cheerful reminder of how much more fun movies could be without overloading the viewer with tacky CGI effects.

Drawing more than a tad of its storyline from The Blob, our interstellar saga begins with two randy quasi-teens, Mike (Hardbodies' Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder), find their petting session in a van interrupted by a falling object from space that turns into a big top circus tent. Disguised as clowns outfitted with deadly devices like lethal popcorn and balloon hunting dogs, the alien force first attacks a local old farmer (Royal Dano) and then gradually lays siege to the town, all to the ignorance of the local sheriff (John Vernon). Mike and Debbie try to warn their peers about the encroaching clown menace, which traps its human captives in cotton candy and stores them aboard its dayglo-colored spaceship.

It's not much of a secret that many people are actually creeped out by clowns, whose leering faces are often the exact opposite of the happy, kid-friendly appearance they intend to convey. Therefore Killer Klowns will seem extremey goofy and funny or simply unbearably creepy, depending on your mood (or perhaps a little of both). The clown designs are extremely effective, ranging from a baby dwarf clown to snapping, fanged clown heads attached to snakes; likewise, the ingenious use of typical clown props like cream pies to deadly ends lifts this film well above your average B-movie quickie. Then of course there's the classic biker scene, a showstopper in its own right, and a playful score highlighted by the Dickies' insanely catchy theme song. Apart from Vernon's scenery chewing which perhaps even exceeds his performance in Animal House, the performers generally play second bananas to the marauding clowns, which is just as it should be.

The riotously colorful appearance of Killer Klowns is perfectly rendered on this sharp-looking DVD, which easily outclasses the earlier videotape and laserdisc. Adding about as much to the sides as it loses from the top and bottom compared to the full frame version, the letterboxed transfer overall looks more balanced and serves as a better showcase for the bizarre visuals. The punchy surround soundtrack is also expertly crafted and a lot of fun. The disc is also jammed with enough krafty extras to keep klown fans busy for hours, starting with the rapid fire, informative commentary track from the Chiodo Brothers. Though their expertise lies in special effects, their solo feature filmmaking venture indicates the potential for greater results outside of their chosen area. Obviously the FX talk dominates much of the track, but they also have a few funny stories about the production as well.

The circus goodies hardly stop there, however. A new 21-minute "Making of Killer Klowns" featurette combines new interviews of the Chiodo Brothers with extensive behind the scenes camcorder footage, focusing mostly on the clowns effects footage. The basic conception behind each clown creation is further explored in the 12-minute "Kreating Klowns," while "Komposing Klowns" devotes 13 minutes to an interview with composer John Massari, whose enthusiasm for the film is quite infectious. "Visual Effects with Gene Warren, Jr." focuses more on the non-clown effects, including the creation of the circus tent and the various visual sleights of hand required to bring the film to life. "Chiodo Brothers' Earliest Films" assembles eight minutes of stop motion footage created by the young filmmakers, including a miniature Satan and a Harryhausen-style beast on the loose. Two deleted scenes, "Bad Experience" and "Tight Rope," are included from the extended television cut; the former focuses on the heroine's personal, Gremlins-like phobia of clowns. Add onto that the original theatrical trailer, a huge gallery of photos and artwork, a storyboard gallery, and three minutes of bloopers (also camcorder footage, apparently). There are also some krafty Easter Eggs tucked away: over three minutes of funny raw footage from the klown auditions, and a quick comment from John Vernon. Oddly enough, the Dickies music video (which contains some additional excised footage) included on the VHS tape is conspicuously absent but may very well be tucked away in another Easter Egg somewhere.

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