Clowns. Who doesn’t hate clowns? Who doesn’t fear them? Even though some crazy people see them as adorable comedy figures in a circus, most sane folks are terrified of these things. Maybe it’s the innate human fear of someone wearing a mask, even if that mask is make-up. Whatever the case, clowns have been a source of nightmares in film (such as in Stephen King’s It) and in real life (like the creepy clown figure that stalked the streets of Northampton, U.K., recently).
It was this near-ubiquitous fear that drove the Chiodo Brothers to make the film Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Meant to be an homage to 50s monster movies like The Blob, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was a ludicrous low-budget movie that became a worldwide hit.
In honor of the Northampton clown being unmasked, and enjoying some midnight horror movies during the month of October, it’s time to look into the world of the Killer Klowns by way of the Chiodo Brothers’ commentary track on their 2001 DVD release.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988)
Commentators: Stephen Chiodo (director), Ed Chiodo (producer), Charlie Chiodo (production designer)
1. The now iconic theme song by The Dickies was written based on the title alone. The band didn’t even read the script before working on it.
2. Originally, the film was to be titled simply Killer Klowns. However, the Chiodo Brothers feared it would sound too much like a basic slasher movie, so they added From Outer Space to acknowledge the humor in the film upfront.
3. The character of Bob McReid, who is the blonde guy with glasses who crosses the street in front of Officer Mooney (John Vernon) at the top of the film, is played by a young Chris Titus. This was his first film role.
4. Many of the characters in the film – including Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer), the Terenzi Brothers (Michael Siegel and Peter Licassi), and Joe Lombardo (Johnny Martin) – were real names of and based on real childhood buddies of the Chiodo Brothers. Mike Tobacco was known for bringing girls to make out point with champagne in his glove compartment and a rubber raft in his back seat. The Terenzi Brothers really did rent an ice cream truck with the hopes of getting girls (because everyone likes ice cream).
5. When Farmer Gene Green (Royal Dano) goes into his house to get tools so he can retrieve the meteor, the propmaster can be clearly seen through the screen door, handing props to the actor.
6. The Chiodo Brothers originally did not want to reveal the Klowns until later in the film. However, their executive producer insisted that they show them in the first reel.
7. For cost reasons, the interior of the spaceship big top was made with a modular “tinker toy” design. Various elements were built that could be put together differently to make different rooms rather than designing and building multiple sets at great expense. The Chiodos describe the design as a combination of Memphis Design and Dr. Seuss.
8. The line, “It looks like it was decorated by Clowns ‘R’ Us,” was voted as the worst line in the movie by a fan site.
9. The characters of Mike and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) were meant to be a role reversal of horror movie archetypes. Mike is the dumb blonde who doesn’t realize bad things are happening, and Debbie is the smarter one who catches on quickly.
10. When Mike pulls the cotton candy off the body to reveal the bloody face of Farmer Gene Green, a noticeably smaller cotton candy cocoon is seen hanging behind him. This is the final fate of the Farmer’s dog, Pooh Bear.
11. The popcorn gun included a compressor inside that would fire real popcorn. It was the most expensive prop in the movie, costing $7,000 and taking six weeks to build.
12. The special effects department had to coat the balloon dog’s legs with latex because the balloons kept popping when they touched the pine needles on the forest floor.
13. During the production, the executives asked for “more Klown mayhem.” This resulted in the door-to-door shots of the Klowns zapping people. The production also shot more destruction of the drug store back in Hollywood because the drug store location used during principle photography in Santa Cruz would not allow them to make too much of a mess.
14. The Jeep that is covered in and filled with cotton candy webbing was loaned to the production by a local car dealership. They were told by the effects department that if they sprayed the Jeep with Pam, the webbing wouldn’t permanently stick and could be wiped right off. However, the solvent in the webbing caused major damage to the inside of the car, particularly to the seats and finish. This necessitated $3,000 in repairs at a different car dealership before the production could return the Jeep to its owner.
15. The car chase in which a Klown is driving an invisible car was meant to be shown before the opening credits. The character driving the car is Joe Lombardo, whom Mike and Debbie find in a cotton candy cocoon several scenes earlier in the film.
16. It was John Vernon’s idea to have the Klown squirt him twice in the face with the flowers, for greater comedic effect. Brett Leonard (director of The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity) plays the Klown that squirts the water in Mooney’s face.
17. Debbie’s shower scene lasts for 20 minutes of screen time and potentially covers hours of time in the chronology of the film itself. It is possibly the longest shower scene in the history of cinema.
18. Because most of the vehicles were rented for the film, the production was not allowed to crash any cars, even though there are several scenes featuring a car crash. Only Joe Lombardo’s car, which drives off a bridge, is damaged.
19. The Chiodo Brothers originally planned to have Soupy Sales play the security guard who is dissolved by acid pies. This choice was made because Sales was well known for getting pies thrown in his face on his children’s show in the 50s and 60s. However, the executive producer would not spring for a plane ticket to fly in Sales. He feared the audience at the time would not know who Soupy Sales was.
20. Approximately 40 Klowns were used in the climax in the spaceship big top.
21. Klownzilla was originally meant to be shot with stop-motion animation, but for speed and budgetary reasons, Charlie Chiodo played the character in a rubber suit.
22. The original ending sees Deputy Dave (John Allen Nelson) die in the big top explosion. After test screenings, executives wanted a more upbeat ending. While the Chiodo Brothers initially resisted (ostensibly and ridiculously wanting “a realistic ending”), they ended up rehsooting the ending in a parking lot in Van Nuys. Oddly enough, the Terenzi Brothers always survived the explosion by hiding in the freezer of their ice cream truck.
Best in Commentary
- Ed: “We kill most of our childhood friends in this movie.”
- Stephen: “We wanted to do to the toilet what Alfred Hitchcock did to the shower.”
- Charlie: “Basically, we hit Toys R Us and made ’em lethal.”
Killer Klowns From Outer Space captured lightning in a bottle. In the commentary, the Chiodo Brothers suggest that this was because it tapped into many people’s childhood fear of clowns. However, there was something more at work here. The brothers do acknowledge in the commentary that they did not set out to make a spoof, like a Troma movie. Instead, they had the actors play everything straight, and as ridiculous as the events and dialogue of the film is, this helped sell it as a film.
It’s clear from listening to the three brothers talk over each other that they are very close and work well together. They dispense a lot of knowledge, giving a good mix of personal anecdotes from the set and real tidbits of interesting information about the production.
This is the kind of commentary that a budding independent filmmaker should listen to, not just for the cool microbudget production ideas, but also as an inspiration and how-to manual for making a genre film. Not every movie should be Killer Klowns from Outer Space, but most filmmakers could learn a lot from these guys.