Killer Klowns From Outer Space Was A Love Letter To The Chiodo Brothers' Childhoods

It's a balmy summer evening, the stars are out, and something strange just dropped out of the sky and landed in the woods near your hometown. What should you do? Warn the sheriff, knowing he never really listens to punk kids like you anyway? Investigate and poke it with a stick? Or ignore it and carry on making out in the back of your Convertible? 

All the above answers are viable and correct if you're a stock character in a B movie horror involving hostile visitors from outer space, who like parking up on the edge of a small town where the hicks are too dumb to realize what is going on until it's almost too late. The premise was a staple of the atomic-era science fiction of the 1950s, and many directors who grew up with fond memories of those movies made their own versions in the 1980s.

It may have been the decade of Freddy Krueger, Jason Vorhees, and Michael Myers, but the '80s was also the golden age of the '50s horror remake. John Carpenter took his version of "The Thing From Another World" back to the shape-shifting paranoia of the source material, John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?," while David Cronenberg updated campy Vincent Price classic "The Fly" into a gloopy tragic romance.

Closer to our initial premise, Chuck Russell made "The Blob" truly gnarly and Tope Hooper revisited "Invaders From Mars," while several more movies weren't direct remakes but paid mischievous homage: "The Stuff," "Critters," and "Night of the Creeps" all had plenty of fun with the well-worn formula. By far the weirdest was "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" by the Chiodo Brothers, who used the film to pay an affectionate nod to their childhoods.

So what happens in Killer Klowns from Outer Space again?

"Killer Klowns from Outer Space" starts out with the classic scenario: Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) is out on Lovers' Lane with his girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder). First, their canoodling is interrupted by the buffoonish Terenzi Brothers, who figured Make-out Point would be a great place to sell ice cream, then by a bright object streaking across the sky and landing nearby.

An old timer out on his porch also sees the incident and sets out to investigate, and he's overjoyed to find a huge circus tent in a forest clearing. It isn't a regular big top, however; it is a candy-striped spacecraft belonging to a gang of evil clown-like aliens. 

Mike and Debbie arrive on the scene and find their way into the tent, where they find the old man cocooned in cotton candy. The Klowns chase the couple with popcorn guns and balloon guard dogs, but they narrowly escape and head into town to tell the police. Debbie's ex-boyfriend Dave (John Allen Nelson) is sympathetic, but the grumpy police chief Mooney (John Vernon) dismisses their story as a joke. Meanwhile, the Klowns are at large causing all manner of carnival-based mayhem and cocooning townsfolk as they go. It's up to our intrepid teens, with a little help from the Terenzi Brothers, to save the day.

"Killer Klowns from Outer Space" has become a cult classic, largely thanks to the inventive special effects and ghoulish twists on just about every clown trope you can imagine. The Klowns themselves are wonderfully grotesque, but their repertoire of evil clown tricks is even more impressive: You've got lethal cream pies, hungry shadow puppets, clown cars, cotton candy ray guns, and, in the movie's creepiest sequence, a victim's body used as a ventriloquist dummy.

The Chiodo Brothers looked to their childhood for inspiration

"Killer Klowns from Outer Space" is the creation of special effects wizards the Chiodo Brothers, and it is their only feature film to date. While they might not be household names, you're probably familiar with some of their work: They created the Large Marge ghost in "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," the cute polar creatures in "Elf," and even those horrible little "Critters."

When it came to writing "Killer Klowns," the Brothers tapped into childhood memories for inspiration. Like John Carpenter, who quoted "The Thing from Another World" in "Halloween" before making "The Thing," the science fiction movies of the '50s had a big impact on them. "The Blob" is the most obvious point of reference, with the object landing in the woods in the opening scene and the old timer falling foul of the alien menace first. The film also nods to classics like "Forbidden Planet" and "The Wizard of Oz."

Beyond name-checking movies they like, the Chiodos also based many of the characters on people they knew growing up (via Bloody Disgusting). The Terenzi Brothers were inspired by two guys who really would try picking up women with the lure of ice cream in their truck, while little details like our lead couple making out in an inflatable life raft were also taken from a real-life anecdote from back home. These moments give "Killer Klowns" a personal touch before we get to the main attraction.

"Killer Klowns from Outer Space" is a must-see for fans of '80s horror flicks, although it isn't as funny or creepy as it should be. Perhaps that's because the Chiodo Brothers are better at special effects than writing or directing. Audiences would have to wait another few years for the definitive scary clown on screen, Tim Curry's Pennywise in "It."