If you’re afraid of clowns, the 1988 sci-fi horror classic “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” is probably your worst nightmare.
Created by famed special effects artists The Chiodo Brothers, “Killer Klowns” is the story of an alien race of clown-like beings that come to Earth in a circus tent spaceship and terrorize the citizens of small town Crescent Cove, California. Local cop Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson) teams up with his ex-girlfriend Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder) and her new beau Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) to save the city from cotton candy-coated destruction.
Stephen Chiodo directed “Killer Klowns” from the script he co-wrote with brother Charles Chiodo. The third brother, Edward Chiodo, co-produced the movie with his siblings. The Chiodos have also lent their special effects expertise to film favorites such as “Critters,” “Ernest Scared Stupid,” “Elf” and “Team America: World Police.”
On August 17, the Chiodo Brothers will make a rare East Coast appearance at Philadelphia’s Awesome Fest to host the closing night screening of “Killer Klowns from Outer Space.” I recently spoke to the trio to dig up some little-known fun facts about their clown – ahem – klown klassic.
David Onda: How often do you do events like Awesome Fest and get to see “Killer Klowns” on the big screen again?
SC: We attend comic conventions and monster conventions and sci-fi conventions, and they have screenings there, but we’ve never done anything quite like this where our film is being included in a larger festival, like a festival of the ’80s films. So this is absolutely unique.
EC: Even though we’re from back East, we don’t get there too often, so this is the first time we’ll be doing a “Klown” event in Philadelphia.
Onda: Where did the original idea for this movie come from?
SC: I was trying to imagine the most frightening image I could think of, and for me it was having a clown pull up beside me driving – just having a clown being where a clown shouldn’t be. And, for me, that was really frightening.
EC: Then Charlie said, “Well, what if the clown wasn’t in a car, it was floating in air? Well, they had to be from outer space – so, killer clowns from outer space.” We just kind of riffed on that idea from there.
Onda: When you made “Killer Klowns,” were you aware of the large number of people who have a crippling fear of clowns?
SC: I wasn’t so conscious of that. You know, I always felt uncomfortable with clowns, but over the years I’ve been really surprised at how many people, probably more than 90% of the people we’ve spoken to, just have this innate kind of discomfort around those guys.
CC: They say it sticks with you from when you’re young, your first introduction [to clowns]. It’s uncomfortable because it’s not familiar to you, and they invade your personal space very often. It affects people in different ways; some are creeped out for the rest of their lives, some are just mildly uncomfortable, some it doesn’t bother – they just go, “What the hell?”
SC: The biggest supporters of the movie are clowns. We talked to a lot of clown performers, and they love the movie. In fact, of all the clowns I’ve ever met and talked to about it, there was only one clown who was offended by it. He thought the “kiddies” might get the wrong idea.
Onda: The klowns use many circus-themed weapons, including the popcorn and cotton candy guns. Were there any wacky weapons that didn’t make the cut?
SC: I think we were talking about doing something with Pez dispensers.
EC: In the first draft of the screenplay, the climax of the movie was based on an amusement park that was by us where we were growing up. And there was this giant, spinning turntable that our heroes were stuck in the center of, and our clowns were around the perimeter of it. And it goes faster and faster and the centrifugal force was causing our main cast, our heroes, to be flung into the clowns that were waiting with all sorts of implements of destruction. That just proved to be too big for our budget, so it was cut out in the first draft.
Onda: Working with family is never easy. Did you remember any of the silly creative arguments you had during production?
CC: We had some discussions on how they should walk. Stephen wanted them to walk weightless and kinda goofy, and I think I might have wanted them to, at some point, switch into high gear and do acrobatics and chase. But I don’t think there were any arguments about it.
EC: More of a point of controversy, if you ever listened to the [DVD] audio commentary, is really just us against the Trans World production entity, in terms of trying to get our vision onto the screen. That was probably the biggest source of arguments, confrontation.
CC: You know what really bothered me? There was a scene where they’re running at the end – with Dave, Mike and Debbie – and we have these beautiful corridors, and they’re being pursued by klowns. We realized that we only had three klowns with a balloon dog behind them, and we said, “You know what, let’s get some extras, let’s get some guys. I want 10 klowns, 15 klowns. Let’s take 10 minutes and get them in suits.” And then production said, “No, we don’t have the time.” So when I look at that scene, I’m reminded that, instead of having 20 klowns chasing them through the little doors, we have 3 klowns, and it always bothers me. And that was production. They wouldn’t let us do it. They wouldn’t give us the 10 minutes to put guys in costumes. It wasn’t the brothers, we were working against the Trans World production guys.
Onda: What makes a klown so fascinated with drug store products?
SC: Well, they’re colorful and wacky shapes. And they’re just having fun! [laughs]
CC: That was an added scene.
EC: Yeah, [the klowns] always went to the drug store to meet Mr. Meyers, but the mayhem in the scene, the scene where he goes through all the products and the shaving cream business, that was a scene added because the president of Trans World thought the klowns were funny and wanted to see more klown antics. That scene, along with the pizza box delivery, were added after the fact.
CC: Looking back on those scenes, they don’t have as dark a punch line as we would have liked to put into it.
Onda: A “Killer Klowns” sequel has been rumored for years. Where does that project stand?
SC: We’re currently pitching a sequel, but we’ve kind of shifted gears a little bit. If we were to do a sequel and get a theatrical release, it might only have a one-weekend box office. So we’re thinking of going, maybe, to cable and doing a TV series where we have a longer arc, and take a few weeks to tell stories. So that’s really the most current, new twist on that.
CC: It’s a different venue. We have our existing audience and, you know, one season – 13 episodes, 26 episodes – will allow you to build a whole new audience. The prospect of a TV series is very desirable at this point.
The Chiodo Brothers will host the closing night of Philadelphia’s Awesome Fest on Saturday, August 17 at 9 p.m. The Parx Casino screening of “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” will be followed by a special Q & A with the filmmakers.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.