Monster Monday Part 18: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

Well, well, well! Another Monday is upon us! Consequently, Monster Monday is back with yet another endeavor into the lovely world of 80s monsters! I know many of you are going to be pleased with today’s pick, as it’s (arguably) one of the most beloved B movies of the 80s. Featuring clowns, cotton candy cocoons and popcorn monsters, this flick truly has some of the most memorable monsters of all time. As if I really need to announce it at this point, I am of course referring to the masterpiece of cheese from 1988 KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE!

The Plot:

When teenagers Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) see a comet crash outside their sleepy small town, they investigate and discover a pack of murderous aliens who look very much like circus clowns. They try to warn the local authorities, but everyone assumes their story is a prank. Meanwhile, the clowns devote all their energies to harvesting and eating as many people as they can. It's not until they kidnap Debbie that Mike decides it's up to him to stop the clowns' bloody rampage. - IMDb

The Monster(s):


There was a time (not all that long ago) when Killer Klowns from Outer Space was seen by horror fans as some sort of shining gem of the 80s… One which, although not entirely obscure, was at least thought to be reserved for moderately ardent fans of cult cinema and B movies. Over the years (most likely due to the rise in popularity of title/plot absurdism shown most prominently with stuff like Sharknado), however, the movie has grown immensely in popularity to the point of almost being standardly recognized by anyone with even the most limited interest in cult cinema. This fact actually became most clear to me just a week ago when I was jokingly looking through the graphic shirt section in Wal-mart and, to my great surprise, randomly found KKFOS shirts. You know you’ve gone full main stream if Wal-mart starts selling your merchandise.

The point of this story is not to marginalize the awesomeness of KKFOS due to the fact that it no longer has that kind of hidden gem vibe going for it. On the contrary, I think KKFOS is a perfect example of a movie whose rise in popularity has as much to do with the fact that it’s damned awesome as it does with other factors (like the Sharknado craze etc.). This is a movie which both demands and deserves all the attention and infamy it has garnered over the years. It’s a terribly fun, one of a kind B movie masterpiece full of creative ideas, great effects, killer music and everything else you could possibly want in an 80s horror movie.

To illustrate, let us start with the true stars of the movie: the clowns.  They’re awesome. Perhaps the clowning (har har) achievement of KKFOS is its total honesty regarding its ability to deliver exactly what you might expect from a movie given its outlandish title. There are (lots) of killer clowns and they’re from outer space. And it’s not an instance of having a clown or two in a few scenes – they’re all over the place getting themselves involved in all kinds of trouble. Whether in shops, restaurants, homes, jails or ghettos, you’ll find that a clown is somewhere raising hell and you’re able to witness it all. And again, we’re not talking about actors roaming around with cheap clown makeup or something along these lines; rather, we’re given radical, elaborate costumes, each of which is uniquely designed in such a way that you can easily distinguish each individual clown from another. The movie shines in particular when being watched by those with already established clown phobias; however, you need not have the aforementioned phobia in order to enjoy (or be creeped out) by these creatures – they’re absolutely terrifying and completely memorable.

But that’s not all. In addition to the reoccurring clowns, we’re also given little monsters spawning from popcorn as well as a gigantic “queen” clown to top things off in the finale. All inclusive of these various sorts of creatures are things like cotton candy guns which provide a cocoon for victims as well as acid cream pies which (apparently) can dissolve flesh. Everything in the movie is absolutely ridiculous, yet it somehow all fits perfectly given the context and subject matter. In KKFOS, it’s really the small details that help to create a totally immersive experience. Clever ideas like the clowns utilizing an animal balloon as a tracking dog to hunt down victims really serve to complete the overall experience of simulating an otherworldly kind of carnival experience.

In terms of criticisms, the film is certainly not without fault. Unfortunately, the primary protagonists prove to be mostly vapid and uninteresting. While they work well enough in the movie, their mostly mundane personalities are entirely overshadowed by quirky supporting characters. Most noteworthy amongst the supporting cast is definitely the cranky, authoritarian police officer Moonie, played wonderfully by John Vernon. He steals essentially every scene he’s in and, additionally, provides various memorable one liners throughout the movie. His seemingly omnipresent anger and antipathy for anything that moves provides a hilarious caricature of the power hungry cop whom most of us have at least some kind of experience with. Because of his absurdly contemptible disposition, however, watching him face off with the clowns as karma works its magic becomes all the more satisfying. Indeed, watching Moonie finally be made a dummy of is perhaps my favorite scene in the whole movie.

I mentioned the music before, but it's worth emphasizing again. From the awesome and catchy opening track to the supplementary synths spread sporadically through the movie, you'll find yourself regularly achieving a state of pure cheesy musical bliss. The score does a wonderful job of illuminating the circus theme while adding an extra dynamic to enhance already creepy scenes. And speaking of creepy scenes, one of the creepiest scenes features one of the clowns attempting to lure a little girl away from her parents in order to bash her with an oversize hammer. It alludes to a sort of childhood naivety and demonstrates the ways that seemingly harmless and curious attractions can quickly be used as a means to commit all sorts of potentially heinous acts. It's a relatively subtle feeling, but it's a good example of the movie's ability to effectively mix bits of creepiness while also remaining offbeat and comical.

4 1/2 Scars

Overall, though, KKfOS is an absolute blast. It is, I think, the perfect "gateway" B movie. That is, if you're attempting to get a friend or loved one into 80s horror or bad movies in general, KKfOS is probably the ideal film to do so. It provides precisely the right scares to laughs ratio while never being too extreme. The creatures are all well designed as well as aesthetically interesting and, while the movie is clearly over the top, it never takes the joke too far by appearing to try too hard for laughs or overt with its jokes. The set design is enticing and otherworldly, featuring brightly colored and uncanny designs. The movie never overstays its welcome and, by the time the end credits roll, you're actually left wanting more rather than wishing you'd spent your time doing something else. Talks of a sequel have been roaming around the internet for quite some time and, while we may never be lucky enough to see such a thing reach fruition, the movie's replay value is high enough that it might be impossible to ever grow tired of it.