Dueling Blus: Killer Klowns From Outer Space (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I was recently writing about a space invasion movie that was essentially created by a team of special effects artists who'd taken the reign to produce, write and direct themselves... which more or less explained why it essentially became sort of a bland, dumb, soulless movie.  Well, here's another case of the same thing.  This time the special effects team in question is The Chiodo Brothers (the brothers are, the team is; don't question me, Autocorrect; I know what I'm doing!), who'd made everything from the claymation Simpsons to the Team America puppets and most importantly, the critters for Critters.  For the first, and to date only, time, they decided to see their creative vision all the way through and write, produce and direct their own thoroughly original alien invasion story.  And it resulted in almost the complete opposite of that other movie.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space is a title that evokes a lot of fun, crazy ideas.  But if you've watched a lot of films because of their alluringly outrageous titles, you're probably used to being disappointed.  Cat Women Of the Moon just consists of seven to eight stodgy television actors standing around gabbing in cardboard sets.  The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies is actually an excruciating exercise in tedium.  Gore-Met Zombie Chef from Hell doesn't even have a zombie in it, just boring dialogue and Halloween store special effects.  But Killer Klowns delivers, living up to everything your imagination casts up when it hears the title and taking you so much further than you'd even hoped to go.
First of all, the clowns themselves are a brilliant, iconic series of designs.  We're not talking actors in clown make-up but fantastic (in both senses of the word) clown monsters.  And we don't have to wait until seventy minutes into the film to see them for about ninety seconds of screentime; they're all over the place.  Very early on, we see inside their spaceship tent, and it's a beautiful glass matte shot right out of Forbidden Planet.  And practically every scene is a new idea based on the colorful premise of what if clowns were killer space aliens?  These clowns don't just lurk around dark corners stabbing people with knives, they twist balloon animals into living creatures that can attack, they cocoon victims in cotton candy and suck their blood through crazy straws.  Their popcorn's alive, they trap victims in ball pits, their puppet shows are deadly.  Each moment is another great idea carried out like I haven't seen in a film since the original Phantasm.
But objectively, is it actually a good movie?  Honestly, yes!  Sure, if you're looking for a movie to teach you how to love again, this isn't competing on the same profound level of an emotionally raw Bergman masterpiece; but it really is an all-around great film.  Naturally, the effects are terrific, and the silly plot is a constant pleasure.  But it film is supported just as much by its colorful production design (also by the Chiodos), iconic theme song by The Dickies and cult actor John Vernon expertly playing his role to the hilt.  Okay, a few of the more juvenile gags fall a little flat, and some of our lead actors, while taking cues right from the B-movie classic playbook, are a tad wooden.  But overall, it's just an all-around great film.  Like, this was 1988.  What won the Academy Award in 1988?  The Last Emperor?  I'd put this movie over that!  Maybe.
Killer Klowns From Outer Space wasn't exactly a sleeper hit in the horror community, so we were chomping at the bit for a special edition in the early days of DVD.  And in 2001, MGM gave us one as part of their budget-priced Midnight Movies line.  Often, those were no frills editions paired up as flipper discs; but they knew the fans would eat them alive if they didn't give us a nice, packed special edition DVD, which they did.  And eventually, in 2012, they bumped up the film to HD with an equally low-cost blu-ray, which thankfully retained all the extras from the DVD.  They even re-released it a couple of times with collectible lenticular covers [see mine, right].  Walmart even included a bonus Killer Klowns coloring book!  Meanwhile, that same year, Arrow released the film as a DVD/ blu-ray combo pack in the UK, with slightly different extras (you bet we'll get into that).  And in 2014, they reissued that as a steelbook edition, which is what I've got.
1) MGM 2001 US DVD; 2) MGM 2012 US blu;
3) Arrow 2014 UK DVD; 4) Arrow 2014 UK blu.
For the record, I've labeled these shots as the 2014 Arrow DVD and blu, because my personal copy is the 2014 steelbook rerelease that I'm grabbing these shots from.  But the 2012 set and the 2014 rerelease include the exact same discs content-wise; only the packaging is different.  Anyway, okay.  Once you get past the original 2001 DVD, which is distinctly darker with heavier saturation (including a subtle blue filter for some of their night scenes that the later releases seem to have dropped); we're basically looking at the same master all around.  Each release is slightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, with slivers of faded matting on the sides... an overscan area thing that really indicates an older master.  But it looks pretty good.  The HD is a nice jump up in clarity over the old MGM DVD.  It's still a little soft, but that may be the film itself (we'll find out in a couple months, but more on that later).  Arrow is clearly using MGM's master, and happily they didn't do any destructive tinkering to it, so effectively the two blus are tied in terms of PQ.  For whatever reason, Arrow's DVD came out a little paler.
The old DVD gave us a perfectly fine Stereo mix with optional French and Spanish subtitles.  The MGM has bumped this up to a DTS-HD stereo track, though I only really noticed the difference during the opening theme, and this time they offer optional English and Spanish subs.  Arrow has almost the same lossless audio track, with optional subs, but there is a difference.  The liner notes in their booklet mention "additional sync work" done in London, and with good reason.  Around the 17 minute mark, the dialogue noticeably drifts a little bit off on both the MGM DVD and their later blu and lasts for the duration of the scene.  The Arrow release has corrected it, or at least gotten it substantially closer, as I suspect it was a minor ADR issue in the first place.  So it's a small thing, but definitely an improvement.
Speaking of improvements, let's talk extras.  Now the original MGM DVD already laid all the serious groundwork: a very fun and thorough audio commentary by all three Chiodo brothers, an over 20-minutes 'making of' doc, multiple featurettes on the visual effects, score, the shooting process & even a look at the Chiodo's early short films, plus two deleted scenes (with optional commentary), bloopers, two galleries, the trailer and several fun easter eggs.  And again, they carried all of that over for their blu, nothing's missing.  It might look like they added a couple things, like "Klown auditions," but those are just the easter eggs from the DVD now laid out plainly on the menu.  Arrow, too, has included all of that great material - including, again, the easter eggs - but they've also created a couple new features.  We get on-camera interviews with stars Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, as well as a short, 8 minute tour of the Chiodo Brothers' models and creations.  Arrow also made a nice little, 24-page booklet with notes by critic Joel Harley.  Oh, and they threw in another one of their postcards for another Arrow release: mine was Mark Of the Devil.
So, okay, easy peasy.  The blus naturally trump the old DVD edition, and the Arrow disc is just that little bit better for fixing the sound and including those additional features, right?  Simple recommendation there.  The US disc might be good enough for most fans, especially since it's so cheap (I got mine at Best Buy for $6.99); but for the more serious fan, the Arrow is superior, more collectible option.  But here's an interesting twist.  Despite Arrow having put out their steelbook as recently as 2014, they've already announced a new edition, for both the US and UK.  They promise a new 4k scan, which I'm confident will look at least a little better... but worth a double dip?  Well, they'll also be adding a new 5.1 mix (meh), a new featurette on the Dickies' song and HD restorations of the Chiodo brothers' childhood films, including a new little doc on the making of them.  Neat I guess.  I'm not sure I'm too fussed about their childhood films, so this isn't super tempting, but I am curious how much their new scan will improve the image.  We'll all have to make that call in the coming months (March, to be exact).  For now, Arrow's the best.  But many fans may wind up just sticking with their MGM blus regardless.

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