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Killer Klowns from Outer Space

A movie's title can often tell you everything you need to know about the film in question before you see it. And while viewers who choose to plunk down their hard-earned dollars to watch flicks with goofy names like Pootie Tang or Dude, Where's My Car? no doubt deserve the chronic brain damage that's likely to result, an unfortunate title can ensure that audiences stay away in droves from an otherwise enjoyable film. So it is with MGM's Killer Klowns From Outer Space, a movie that at first glance appears to be an unapologetic cheesefest of a story, but is in actuality a satire of these cornball pictures. Brought to you courtesy of the Chiodo brothers (Stephen, Edward, and Charles, who directed, produced and wrote the film respectively), Killer Klowns is a pleasantly goofy story about... well... a group of extraterrestrial clowns (er, klowns) who come to Earth in their spaceship (which, coincidentally, is shaped like a gigantic circus tent) and wreck havoc upon the many redneck yokels who get in their way. Since you've no doubt seen this movie dozens of times already — just substitute the word "klowns" with any random plural noun — it's obvious that the storyline isn't the crux of the movie's appeal. No, Killer Klowns gets away with narrative murder by having only the thinnest of storylines, but by making the ride so much fun that the audience simply doesn't care. This movie knows all the clichés of the genre, and while it certainly isn't afraid to employ them as needed, it also winks at its audience while doing so. The klowns use "ray guns" to capture their victims — but the guns shoot cocoons of cotton candy, not lasers. One of the climactic struggles involves a frantic pie-fight. And since every "monster movie" employs some variation of a Lover's Lane, we get a subtle twist on this theme: One of our heroes makes out with his ladyfair in a rubber raft — which is, in turn, located in the back of a car. This is only a small sampling of the many horror conventions that are cheerfully turned on their head here. In true B-movie fashion, all of Killer Klowns' "stars" are virtual unknowns, apart from the highly stereotyped Sgt. Mooney (played by renowned character actor John Vernon, who you'll no doubt remember from such masterworks as Airplane II and Herbie Goes Bananas). Mooney, the standard-issue cantankerous cop who hates all the "damned kids" in his town, looks and sounds like he stepped straight out of an episode of "Scooby Doo," and that suits the movie just fine, as it's the exact tone it's going for. While the lack of big stars might in some circumstances be perceived as a flaw, it's a strength in Killer Klowns. The unapologetically amateur performances hit the exact note of "golly gee" wonder that the story demands, without a string of annoying and unnecessary celebrity cameos getting in the way. (This was one of the major flaws, incidentally, with Tim Burton's similarly themed Mars Attacks — how can one become lost in the story when the movie expects us to stop every five minutes and say "Look, it's Jack Nicholson! Look, it's Danny DeVito!"?) However, what's truly remarkable about this whimsical little DVD package is the obvious love and care that MGM has given it here. One of the first titles in their new "Midnite Movie" line of budget DVDs, the studio has nonetheless pulled out all the stops, crafting one of the most feature-packed horror platters yet released by any studio. In addition to a sprightly commentary track from all three Chiodo brothers (a surprisingly informative listen, especially for those interested in the process of low-budget filmmaking), the disc also features no less than five behind-the-scenes featurettes (with topics ranging from the creation of the film's visual effects to the composition of its score), a blooper reel, the theatrical trailer, deleted scenes (with optional director commentary), storyboard and photo galleries, and a handful of short pre-Klowns films by the brothers. The newly remastered widescreen transfer is a quantum leap over the old washed-out VHS edition fans have been forced to suffer through, boasting bright, cartoonish colors — a look that greatly benefits the movie's carnival atmosphere. If you (like us) think clowns are creepy rather than amusing, and if the story's title intrigues — rather than irritates — you, then definitely give this a spin. Keep-case.
—Joe Barlow

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