As September starts and the temperatures gradually begin to cool, we see the beginnings of a new season: the spooky season. A time of horror films, pumpkins, and the all-important holiday: Halloween. Though the parties and events that usually come with the season are gone due to the ongoing pandemic— which I would call the real spooky season— the spooks and thrills are here to stay.
To celebrate the best time of year, I will be reviewing different horror films and thrillers in the weeks leading up to Halloween. I’ll look at some of the classics, as well as some hidden gems. Fair warning: there will be spoilers.
For my first week, I’ve chosen a more lighthearted film, the 80s cult classic Killer Klowns from Outer Space. It’s a campy take on a common fear: clowns.
In order to fully enjoy the wild ride that is Killer Klowns, we should first take a look at cult films and their different histories. The term originated sometime in the 1970s, describing films that are often strange, extreme, or simply ridiculous. This absurdity can be seen through the plot, acting, and/or directing. What makes them different, however, from your usual terrible film is the following that these films generate. Though cult movies are often seen as controversial or eccentric, they manage to gain a following of loyal fans. Some of the most famous cult classics include The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Earth Girls Are Easy.
Cult films attempt to challenge conventions, placing themselves out of mainstream film categories. Movies like Night of the Living Dead or Plan 9 From Outer Space take typical film tropes and turn them on their heads.
In the case of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, the plot of the film is quite simple. As a couple in a small town lays out underneath the stars, ready to do the deed, they see a comet fall overhead. Embracing their sense of adventure, they follow the comet, only to find a large circus tent set up in the woods. Naturally, they ignore all common sense and go inside. While Debbie has her reservations, she follows young Mike inside. Men, right?
They find that the tent is much different than a usual circus tent, filled with strange technologies, and you won’t believe it, large clowns from outer space. They walk around carrying a plethora of weapons, all circus themed.
The most disturbing part for Mike and Debbie, however, are the cotton candy cocoons that are hidden in the deep recesses of the comet-turned-circus tent. Mike discovers a decaying face within one of them. They realize that they aren’t surrounded by the sweet confections of innocent clowns. Mike and Debbie are surrounded by the clowns’ victims, all wrapped in cotton candy that shoots out of the space invader’s ray gun.
The clowns have a sinister plan indeed, using special straws to drink the blood of their cotton candy victims. After being attacked by the clowns’ popcorn guns, Mike and Debbie make a narrow escape. Meanwhile, the town is being encroached upon by more clowns wielding ray guns, popcorn, and circus tricks to hoodwink their victims into becoming their next meal. The disbelieving Sergeant Mooney thinks he is a victim of a town prank as he is bombarded by 911 calls telling tales of — you guessed it— killer clowns.
The film is filled with clown-themed puns and references as the small town is terrorized by the mysterious space invaders. From baby clown serpents spawned from popcorn, to shadow puppets that can eat their victims, the film shows its self-awareness through its humour. This film isn’t meant to be a thriller that keeps you up all night, fearing the dreaded space clowns, but it’s also not a so-bad-it’s-good film either.
It’s that self-awareness and self-deprecating humour that makes this film a worthwhile watch. Killer Klowns isn’t an Oscar-worthy film, nor does it warrant tons of praise. It’s a funny thriller, similar in tone to the Scream franchise.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a clever and funny take on the universal fear of clowns, taken to the extreme. It’s filled with expert costuming and makeup that only enhances the viewer’s experience. Though this movie isn’t a true horror, it manages to create some creepy sets and costumes.
Killer Klowns is not without its flaws. The movie isn’t diverse and has some problematic statements. At one point, two boys running an ice cream truck go up to the overlook where couples go to have sex and crudely shout, “I’m Jo-Jo the ice cream clown, we’ll give you a stick, you’ll give it a lick. And it’ll tickle you all the way down. Ice cream, ice cream, we brought our goodies here to you! A tasty treat for while you screw!” At times the film seems to attempt to provide commentary on the ridiculous nature of these stereotypes and tropes, but it lacks consistency in that regard.
At some points in the movie, the special effects border on corny, but to some, this definitely could be perceived as a plus to the film, not a hindrance. In many ways these special effects are what make this film a cult classic. The extremes and absurdities make it unique, allowing it to transcend any one genre. It’s not just a horror, comedy, or sci-fi flick, it’s a blend of each.
If you’re looking for a new, out-of-the-box movie to watch as part of your Halloween binge, Killer Klowns is the perfect fit. Its cult-y, campy nature gives the movie the freedom to reimagine the horror genre. I mean, when you don’t have to worry about marketing to a mainstream audience, you have complete creative license to explore. Part of what makes this film a classic is the fact that it wasn’t trying to be one. It was meant to be fun.
Overall, this cult classic remains a perfect movie for the spooky season. Its campy, self-aware nature makes it a hilarious scary movie. It’s an often forgotten relic of 80s film but worth every minute of your time. On a scale of 1-10 killer klowns, I give it 8 killer klowns.
Until next time, stay spooky.