I gave this movie one star because I couldn’t figure out the ‘no stars’ option.
– Amazon.ca customer
Some films attempt to achieve brilliance but fall flat on their face. Others fall too, but when they do, at least their silly red noses make an amusing honk noise. Such is the case with the wondrously whimsical Killer Klowns From Outer Space, the first film to be discussed in this new series that aims to convince you why you should like ‘bad’ films, or at least give them another chance. What do you have to lose? Take a walk on the B-movie side. You just might like it.
Firstly, allow me to rant. It will be brief, I promise. These days there’s a preoccupation with formula. We seem to judge films not on if they’re interesting, or new, or moving, but rather on how precisely they can colour within the lines of our preordained movie bible - which looks suspiciously like a child’s colouring book, probably on account of all the superheroes. We’re being spoon fed like babies and when Pixar or Marvel deliver the predigested paste that we’ve been conditioned to accept as a complete meal, we say “Thank you sir, can I have some more?” Well, it’s time to see what else is on the menu.
It’s fair to say that when you pick up a film about alien clowns killing people with cotton candy, you probably wouldn’t expect much in the way of substance.
And so we must look past Hollywood, or at least before it was taken over by Money Goblins (they do exist, look it up). When we do, little cinematic oddities start bubbling to the surface. They may not all be works of art, but they usually have something unique to say. So lend your ear, and listen to the faint sound of carnival music off in the distance, cause the circus is coming to town… Or should I say landing?
It’s fair to say that when you pick up a film about alien clowns killing people with cotton candy, you probably wouldn’t expect much in the way of substance. As the film progresses and people are chased down by balloon dogs and attacked by popcorn creatures, it seems to only confirm that assumption. The Chiodo Brothers, who wrote, produced, directed the film, and designed all the effects, seem to be more interested in delivering a Ray Harryhausen creature romp, than anything akin to the popular slasher films of the time. So maybe the film cuts you open just to tickle your funny bone, does that mean it can’t dig deeper, maybe even get to the pumping heart of some real issues? I’m here to tell you it can.
There’s an unfair judgement that silly films can’t take themselves seriously. Who says that only stilted, sullen dramas can reveal hard human truths?
Take the main concept of the film for example. Our heroes find themselves questioning why these aliens look like clowns. The quandary lingers. Then it’s suggested that maybe they’re thinking about it backwards, that in fact it’s our earth clowns that actually look like aliens. The idea is that this malicious alien race visited earth a long time ago and the encounter was so frightening, so horrific, that we appropriated the haunting image of the aliens and turned them into harmless jokes as a way to deal with the trauma.
What do we do with fear? We familiarize ourselves with it until it no longer holds power over us - the more you understand something, the less frightening it becomes. However, in this particular instance, the attempt to overcome fear actually backfired. We familiarized ourselves only with the surface, the clown, but we didn’t have the courage to wipe the makeup away and stare fear in the face. We didn’t take the time to understand what it really was, we just dressed it up as something else, something amusing. But that leaves us defenseless and can have dangerous consequences… Like an acid pie to the face. Imagine making a joke about Hitler mere days after the concentration camps were discovered. You reach the punch line, but you hear no laughter. Everyone just stares at you, aghast. You skipped over the crucial step of honestly examining the horror. You swept it under the rug and comically dusted off your hands. But the rug is only so big and someday you’ll have to deal the mess that spills out.
Sometimes we become arrogant in our faux fearlessness. “Are you kidding? That’s just a clown, it can’t hurt me.” But that’s precisely when we’re most vulnerable. Sometimes you’re right to be afraid, and perhaps keeping that fear alive is the best thing for you. To boil it down, this is the film’s warning: Handle your fears with care and with respect, cause who knows, maybe that popcorn will start biting back.
There’s an unfair judgement that silly films can’t take themselves seriously. Who says that only stilted, sullen dramas can reveal hard human truths? Behind the alien greasepaint, these clowns represent more than just an amusing collision of gags and guts (though the film doesn’t disappoint on that front either). There’s real, thoughtful analysis to be found between the fart pillows. That is, if you care to look.