Killer Klowns from Outer Space: Looking back at a kandy-kovered kult klassic

killer klowns from outer space game movie retrospective feature

In Space, No-One Can Eat Ice Cream

Of all of the announcements, of all of the franchises, of all of the adaptations, I wouldn’t have put a single penny on this one. And yet, here we are, less than 24 hours from the Gamescom Opening Night Live presentation and the news that somebody, somewhere, decided to put pen to paper and sign a contract to produce a brand new video game, in 2023, based on Killer Klowns from Outer Space.

Asymmetrical horror games are all the rage right now, despite being something of a mixed bag and a niche market. Major franchises such as Friday the 13th and The Evil Dead have both had a shake of the multiplayer scythe, while Behavior Interactive’s Dead by Daylight is a literal who’s who of horror’s grimmest superstars, having played host to Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Hell Priest, Leatherface, and Ghostface, among others.

But Killer Klowns from Outer Space? Now there’s a real outlier.

Independently produced in 1988, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was written and directed by New York-based siblings Charles, Stephen, and Edward Chiodo, who had, since an early age, developed a love for claymation, prosthetics, animatronics, and all manner of practical special effects. Having cut their teeth in the film industry designing the homicidal fluffballs of Critters (1986), the brothers decided to try their hand at producing their own special-effect-laden take on the horror-comedy genre, that had blown up big time in the wake of Ivan Reitman’s seminal classic, Ghostbusters (1984).

Shot in and around the Santa Cruz county of Watsonville, KKfOS was created with a relatively modest budget, with much of its $1.8 million USD being used to finance shooting permits, rental vehicles, and the materials for a widely ambitious range of practical effects. Set against the backdrop of the fictional Crescent Cove, the narrative tells a simplistic tale of a party of invading aliens, depicted as hideous and grotesque circus clowns, complete with a “Big Top” shaped flying saucer. Upon their unwelcome arrival, the “Klowns” embark upon a campaign of chaos throughout the sleepy suburb, capturing humans within candy-floss-style cocoons to be used as sustenance on their home planet.

Going all-in with its circus theme, the Klowns’ methods of murder and mayhem reflect that of circus shenanigans. There are sentient balloon animals, tiny cars, human-eating shadow puppets, giant balloons, acidic cream pies, and — the aliens’ piece de resistance — the deadly popcorn gun. As the residents of Crescent Cove fall victim to these perilous pierrots, it is up to the obligatory teenage couple in love, Mike Tobacco and Debbie Stone, to find a way to rid the town of this terror lest they become the finale of the Greatest Show not on Earth.

Releasing in the summer of 1988, KKfOS won over the hearts, but not the heads of the day’s critics, who were not particularly entertained by the film’s flattish, skit-style storytelling, but were undeniably impressed, even charmed by its colorful visuals, inventive design ideas, goofy concept, and overall sense of sick silliness. Today, despite the film having massed a much larger and more devoted audience as a cult movie, these initial reviews do stand as fair commentary.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space falls down a little on both the “Horror” and the “Comedy” of horror/comedy — it isn’t particularly scary and it isn’t particularly funny. It is, however, delightfully creative, and a wonderful reminder of a time when practical effects were not only a true and underappreciated art form, but were most definitely taken for granted — especially when compared to contemporary times where every single movie is shot against a green screen in an Atlanta car park.

Time has, in its own weird way, been strangely kind to the movie as a whole, mostly thanks to the impressively gross Klown costumes and some nice uses of animatronics, claymation, and standard animation — all blended relatively seamlessly into the live-action. Also of note is the theme song, by punk band The Dickies, which remains a cleverly written and frustratingly catchy… erm… “banger.”

There have been several efforts to revitalize the Killer Klowns brand in recent years. Most notably, a 3D sequel was announced in 2012, back at the height of that bizarre “idiots dressing up as clowns at night” phase. This project has seemingly fallen into disarray, with numerous pushbacks and mixed messages as to its completion date. In 2018, the Killer Klowns rights were licensed by SyFy, with a view to making a TV series. Again, nothing is yet to emerge from this project.

And thus, the charming movie that barely anyone saw, that youngsters today might not even know, and that has repeatedly failed to find its way back to the big (or small) screen, has, somehow, been selected to receive a video game adaptation treatment 35 years later. It is, undeniably, a bizarre and twisted tale, the kind one could only expect from such a strange franchise. So keep watching the skies, watch out for the pint-sized cars, and double-check that pizza delivery. If you ever wonder why the population’s going down, blame it on the plunder from the likes of the Killer Klowns.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game is currently in development for PlayStation, PC, and Xbox.

Chris Moyse
Senior Editor - Chris has been playing video games since the 1980s. Former Saturday Night Slam Master. Graduated from Galaxy High with honors. Twitter: @ChrisxMoyse