Competing Killer Klowns From Outer Space

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.

Update 1/3/18 - 4/25/18: Is it time to throw all previous editions out the window? The new 2018 Arrow special edition blu-ray (not to be confused with the 2012 Arrow special edition blu-ray) is here! And this time, it's no mere reissue.

Update 5/16/24: We're fully into the 4k era now, and it's time for a new Klowns, and this time the ball's in Scream Factory's court.  It's always good to step forward a generation, but in this case, we seem to be taking a step back at the same time.
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!
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.  Then in 2018, Arrow took a new stab at it, instead of just repackaging the same discs again, they gave the film a brand new restoration with a fresh 4k scan from the original negative, plus additional special features.  But naturally, when a 4k scan comes out on 1080p, a proper UHD is nearly inevitable; and that day has come, though this time from Scream Factory, as a 2-disc BD/ UHD set.
1) MGM 2001 US DVD; 2) MGM 2012 US blu;
3) Arrow 2014 UK DVD; 4) Arrow 2014 UK blu; 5) Arrow 2018 US blu;
6) 2024 Scream Factory BD; 7) 2024 Scream Factory UHD.

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 looking at a pretty similar master every time.  Each release before 2018 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 initial HD is a nice jump up in clarity over the old MGM DVD, though it's still a little soft.  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, though, Arrow's DVD came out a little paler.

But then we jump to 4k.  Arrow's new 2018 blu is again slightly matted to 1.85:1, but pulls out slightly further, revealing a little extra picture along all four sides.  The first thing you'll notice about this new transfer, though, is the grain.  It's positively dancing in every frame.  Some people might even be a little put off by it..  Like I said in January, the old blus look a little soft, and that's why.  This new transfer is super crisp.  And the colors aren't very different from their predecessors (and still no blue filter), but they do look truer.  It's subtle enough, though, that you'd only notice it in a direct comparison like this.  What isn't subtle is that sharper, grainier image.

Scream's framing, then, is exactly the same.  The look isn't quite as grainy, and just comparing the 1080p blus, I think I'd say Arrow has the better encode.  But then the UHD has a finer grain look but with a more thorough capture, reducing the "noisy" feel of the Arrow, but more film-like than the SF blu.  And both Scream discs, but especially the Dolby Vision'd UHD, boast stronger colors.  Skin tones and brights are more natural, while the crazy clownish colors are more vibrant, without crossing over to over saturation.  Fans will be impressed.
Now, 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.

And yes, thank goodness, the 2018 and 2024 releases retain the correct sync.  I was a little nervous about discovering that the problem that reverted, but no, it's all good.  And this time, in addition to the stereo mix (and English subs, which are still here),  both have added a DTS-HD 5.1 mix.  I'm not sure how big a deal that is, since it's revisionist as the stereo is the original mix, but it's nice that they added it for those who want it.
Speaking of improvements and retaining the good stuff, 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 2012/ 2014, 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.
Africa Danny, 1970
And in 2018, almost all of that is carried over.  The old MGM stuff, Arrow's 2012 interviews, the easter eggs, even the Harley booklet and postcard (this time, mine was for Don't Torture a Duckling).  All they dropped was the short look at the Chiodos' early films.  And that makes sense when you see what they replaced it with.  First, there's a new featurette interviewing The Dickies about their unforgettable theme song, and then there's one on the Chido's early experimental Super 8 short films.  And finally, there's the six Super 8 films themselves (one of which features an audio commentary by the brothers).  This edition also includes a cool, double-sided Killer Klowns poster, a nice lenticular slipcover and reversible artwork.

Sadly, here's where Scream Factory falters.  They lose the Arrow exclusives, and not just the 2018 stuff, but the older ones, too, like the Suzanne Snyder interview.  And they haven't cooked up anything new.  It's just a big loss in the extras department.  The sole consolation prize is that seven minute look at the Chiodo's early films from the MGM disc, but obviously it's nothing compared to what Arrow had given us.  Scream's release does at least come in a slipcover, or is also available in an alternate steelbook version.  Pre-ordering direct from Shout could've also netted you three posters, an enamel pin set, five lobby cards, a sticker and a second slipcover.
So, okay, it's mostly easy peasy.  The blus naturally trump the old DVD edition, the old Arrow disc is just that little bit better than the MGM for fixing the sound and including those additional features, and then the 2018 blu is the best of all, right?  Yup.  But now in 2024, we have to make decisions.  Scream has the new, best transfer, and it's not one of those slim distinctions you need to zoom in 500% to see.  But it's also a substantially disappointing step back in features.  I can't say I was ever too involved in the short films the Chiodo brothers made as teenagers, but all the extras about Klowns are great, and the SF set feels light without them.  The obvious solution is to keep both the 2018 Arrow and the new Scream Factory, but if your budget's tight, you're stuck making a tough call.

1 comment:

  1. Gotta imagine Arrow will do a 4K. I’m waiting for that.