Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) | Sci-Fi Saturdays

by Jovial Jay

Hey kids, what time is it? Killer Klowns time!

Let’s be serious. When you pop on Killer Klowns from Outer Space, you know exactly what you’re getting. It’s a B-movie with better special effects and its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.

First Impressions

The trailer for this film looks like it might be a serious film as a group of teenagers observe a UFO landing, but then it’s revealed to be a circus big top with Killer Klowns, from outer space. The local police captain doesn’t believe the reports. And the clowns, or presumably aliens that look like clowns, look like cartoon versions of the circus performers. They have a number of tricks straight out of the circus, but with deadly consequences, such as the shadow shapes made by one actually eating the observers. The film is obviously a parody or satire of alien invasion films, but to what end? It’s not quite It, but can Killer Klowns from Outer Space scare up any laughs?

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Sci-Fi Saturdays

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Killer Klowns from Outer Space title card.

The Fiction of The Film

At the make-out point of Crescent Cove, NY, called Top of The World, Mike and Debbie (Grant Cramer & Suzanne Snyder) see a meteor streak overhead and decide to follow it to see where it lands. An old man nearby (Royal Dano) also sees the fireball and heads into the woods to find it hoping he’ll be rich. Instead, he discovers a giant circus tent in the middle of forest only to be blasted by a clown. Mike and Debbie also find the tent and explore inside, discovering a room of giant pods made of cotton candy that contain people, including the old man.

Debbie believes it’s a spaceship and wants to report their finding to the local police. Narrowly avoiding being captured by the clown-like creature in the ship they go to the station to tell Officer Dave Hansen (John Allen Nelson) and Officer Mooney (John Vernon) about what they saw. Dave used to date Debbie and is willing to listen to the outlandish story, but Mooney, an older officer, is sure it’s a prank. Meanwhile the klown aliens begin turning up in town zapping people with a strange ray.

Dave agrees to check out the spaceship, but only if they take Debbie home first. When they return to the forest the tent/ship is missing. He and Mike then drive past the Top of the World which is missing all the teens, but still contains their cars. Dave finds evidence that Mike’s story is true and they return to town. Klowns continue to abduct citizens. Mooney refuses to answer the phone at the police station believing everyone is trying to prank him. A Klown enters the police station and Mooney puts it in a cell with two punks, but the klown blows a party horn and knocks the officer out.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The old man is the first to find the alien spaceship which looks just like an illuminated circus tent.

Dave returns later finding the power out and Officer Mooney, who is dead, as a ventriloquist dummy for the evil looking klown. Dave shoots it in the nose and it explodes into glitter and confetti. Mike has teamed up with two ice cream vendors, Rich and Paul Terenzi (Michael Siegel & Paul Lucassi), who drive a truck with a clown on the roof. At her house, Debbie is attacked by larval klowns which hatch from something that looks like popcorn. She runs outside and is abducted by another Klown and put into a large balloon.

Mike and the Terenzi Brothers in the ice cream truck and Dave in his police cruiser chase a klown car, but crash into each other instead. They follow where it was headed and end up at a local amusement park, where the big top tent is now part of the midway. The four young men enter the Fun House, which leads them into the spaceship. Mike and Dave are able to rescue Debbie from the balloon.

A giant Klown (Klownzilla) comes for them, but Dave distracts it so Mike and Debbie can escape. Klownzilla blows up the ice cream truck with the Terenzi Brothers inside. Mike and Debbie exit the ship just as it starts to take off to return home. Dave shoots Klownzilla in the nose causing the entire ship to explode. At the amusement park, a charred klown car lands and Dave and the Terenzi Brothers have all survived unharmed. As they watch fireworks caused by the Klown ship’s explosion, pies land on their faces.

If there are killer clowns around here, I’m Porky Pig.” – Paul Terenzi

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Debbie and Mike discover the cotton candy-like cocoon which holds people. The cotton candy is people!!

History in the Making

Killer Klowns From Outer Space was the film debut of the Chiodo Brothers as filmmakers. Individually known as Charles, Stephen, & Edward Chiodo, these three got their start creating puppets, stop motion, and special effects for films like the Critters franchise, and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. This film gave them the opportunity to write a story to feature their creature effects as well as direct it, with Stephen getting that credit. This film, along with last week’s Sci-Fi Saturdays film TerrorVision, were part of a series of comedy sci-fi/horror mashups from the mid to late 80s.

There’s nothing that makes this film extremely special at the time, except for the commitment to an idea that aliens, which look like clowns, arrive on Earth and utilize clown related props and gags to abduct and kill humans. Aside from the adaptations of Stephen King’s It, this may be the next most popular film about killer clowns. But unlike It, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is not particularly scary. It’s very much a B-movie, harkening back to some classic alien invasion films of the 1950s, but with modern, more advanced special effects.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The Klown’s shadow puppet crosses from the wall to the real world as it consumes the onlookers.


Killer Klown From Outer Space takes it story idea from one of the classic alien invasion films from the 1950s, The Blob. Coincidentally that film had a remake that was released three months after Killer Klowns. Both movies open with kids at the make-out spot seeing a shooting star and heading out to investigate. They also have an older man that finds the crashed object first and is killed or captured. The way that Officer Mooney hates on the kids in the town reflects the police officer from The Blob, while Officer Dave is a more in-touch character, who shares a name with the younger officer in The Blob as well. It was probably a wise idea, when making a broad spoof of the genre, that a popular story idea like The Blob get used. It provided an easy structure for the filmmakers to follow while creating a new second half of the film with their krazy klown characters.

Where the film really shines is in its use of modern special effects. If one were to theorize, it would seem like most of the budget for the film was spent on the klown costumes and effects. The detailed sculpture of the oversized and evil looking klown characters, the assorted props and special effects used to show how the aliens would capture or kill the characters were all top notch, for what seems a lower budget film. The filmmakers and the special effects artists all looked at the typical types of sci-fi gadgets aliens would have and created similar items, but all in a circus and clown theme. The cotton candy gun, which immobilizes the victim in a cocoon of pink webbing or the gun that shoots popcorn are both fun and interesting devices.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The irritating Officer Mooney gets what’s coming to him when a Klown turns him into a ventriloquist puppet.

Societal Commentary

As mentioned above, the role of Officer Mooney is intended as an homage to a similar character from The Blob. With the casting of John Vernon in the role, it reinforced the stereotypical character that he played, the most famous being Dean Wormer from National Lampoon’s Animal House, but also a similar role in Ernest Goes to Camp. Vernon’s persona is a crotchety older character that hates young people for all the things that really seem to make them young people. Here he functions as a villain as much as the klown characters and delights audiences when his character finally gets his comeuppance, realizing at the same time that the threat so many have warned him about is real.

The other aspect of Killer Klowns which seems to run throughout the film is its use of common and familiar tropes. It hits the high points on a number of sci-fi elements such as the aliens coming to Earth, and being found by local kids who are able to repel the invasion. And like many other films of this type, the reason behind the klowns visit are ambiguous. The characters run through a list of possibilities, like they’re animals from another planet that just look like clowns, ancient astronauts that have visited Earth before and gave us the idea of clowns, or their sun is dying and they need a new place to live. The film seems to take classic ideas from other films with aliens and throw them all into a hat as a suggestion for the characters to make.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The bits of popcorn on Debbie’s clothes grow and hatch into some larval klown creatures.

The Science in The Fiction

Everything that the Killer Klowns use in this film is based around clown related props. For better or worse, the filmmakers commit to the joke and stick with it. It raises some questions about why these devices were created. The biggest one is the popcorn bazooka. Certainly after a cotton candy gun, a popcorn bazooka seems like the next step. Except when later it’s revealed that the popcorn looking stuff is actually seedlings to create more klowns. Or at least create some strange klown like creatures. Maybe that’s the plan with this device. It will shoot these seedlings onto people who drop them in their home and then they hatch into these small carnivorous klown creatures.

These klown also seem to exist in a world of Looney Tunes physics. Of course the film is primarily a comedic fusion, imagining what if these weird clown aliens came to earth. But as the gags of the klowns abducting or killing humans get more intricate, the moments get more outrageous. There’s a klown that creates shadow puppets on the wall, but then creates one that looks like a T-Rex which physically swallows the group of onlookers. It’s never intended to take these moments too seriously, since clowns by nature are not serious, but the goofiness goes a little too far sometimes.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space

The klown puts a cherry on top of the security guard that was pied to death.

The Final Frontier

Killer Klowns From Outer Space has become something of a cult hit, having made its mark on video during the late 80s and 90s. It’s the perfect sort of late night movie a bunch of friends can put on at a sleepover that’s not too scary and has memorable moments that entertain. A sequel has supposedly been in development for the film for the last 20 years or so, but as of the sale of 20th Century Fox to Disney it seems like that project has finally been cancelled. While this is not the scariest film viewed for 31 Days of Horror this month, or the best Sci-Fi Saturdays film, it has earned its place in the cheesy hall of fame, as a film that commits to a farcical idea and carries it through regardless of whether it is actually funny.

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