“Can’t Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me.” Not just pretty words, thanks to the Chiodo brothers.
Teen lovers Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Synder) notice a strange light in the night sky that appears to fall into the local woodlands. Expecting to find a meteor or other celestial object, they instead discover an elaborate circus tent. In spite of protests from Debbie, Mike leads the way inside to discover a brightly colored interior furnished with all the trappings of a carnival: wads of cotton candy, popcorn machines, and clowns… killer clowns, from outer space. Realizing their mistake and discovering local townsfolk already trapped inside, the teens try to convince the local police of the ridiculous but very real danger.
What could you do in 1988 with $2 million to make a horror film about alien circus clowns terrorizing a small town? Quite a bit, actually. The Chiodo brothers (Charles, Edward, and Stephen) set out to make a cartoonish horror film with ghoulish undertones, capitalizing on the not-so unwarranted fear of clowns. The suggestion is that these creatures may have been here before and been the inspiration for modern clowns (ala Lifeforce alluding to vampires). Both cheesy dialog and ridiculous sight gags keep the production fun, but every time viewers start to get too comfortable with the humor, the Chiodo brothers unleash a bit of inventive horror that intentionally goes too far with sinister results. If this is what these guys could do in 1988 with $2 million, one can only imagine what they could do these days with a sequel.
The work of director Stephen Chido and his brothers turn up in quite a few well-known productions where puppeteering and mechanical effects are required, such as the scifi film Screamers, the monster franchise Critters, and more recently Team America: World Police. The inventiveness in creating many of the practical effects sequences speaks volumes for the technical aspects of their filmmaking, from mechanical rigs to animatronics. What’s amazing to see is how much was done for so little; some of the effects may seem obvious, but they all look incredible for what they were made to represent. One of the more clever ideas (and the true horror story in trying to pull it off) involved a clown driving an imaginary car and running someone off the road.
The cast appears to be having a lot of fun themselves during the production, but most of the actors fail to play the situation as seriously tongue-in-cheek as they might have. The exception is the local town sheriff Curtis Mooney (played perfectly by veteran actor John Vernon), lending a level of levity to the absurdity that’s cut too short, too soon in the film. However, it seems that the Chiodo brothers will get to continue what they started and prove what another twenty-plus years perfecting their craft can create: The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space is slated for a 2012 release (in 3D, of course).
(a three skull recommendation out of four)