by Jay Seaver
"Killer Klowns" is a one-joke movie. It's perhaps the most obvious one-joke movie in the history of one-joke movies. It is also, perhaps, one of the greatest one-joke movies ever made; the Chiodo Brothers find a bunch of different ways to tell their joke, tell it well, and then get the heck out about five seconds before it threatens to get stale.That one joke is, of course, that the people who are phobic about clowns and circuses have it exactly right: The damn things are evil, and the common perception that they are jolly and delightful is because we've done a Disney-style removal of all the murderous and threatening aspects since the last time those alien creatures with their tent-shaped ships stopped of on Earth for a bite to eat. So we get jokes about cotton candy, popcorn, balloon animals, little cars that hold dozens of people, etc., etc. Someone who has only heard the title could likely make up a checklist and tick each of them off. In that way, it's kind of predictable.
"The Chiodos should have had Tim Burton's career."
So are a lot of movies, of course. Not many of them do such a good job of setting them up and knocking them down. The Chiodos (Stephen Chiodo directs; brothers Charles, Edward, and Stephen write and produce) come up with a dozen or so clown-related gags, and for just about every one, they figure out how to execute it more or less perfectly: The timing would be off if any of them ran just a bit shorter or a second longer, for instance. The Klowns and their props are designed just right, as well, in a fun zone between cute and gross. That fun zone is pretty narrow - a little more cheery, and the mayhem becomes disturbing; a little nastier, and it's not funny. The Chiodos avoid repeating themselves in ways that would make us take any bit of insanity for granted, but tie everything together so that it feels like a story, not just a random assembly of gags.
The story, of course, could be constructed with the "Fifties Invasion Movie" version of Mad Libs: College kids Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) see a meteor crash land (so does redneck-type Gene (Royal Dano)), only to discover that it's a space ship from which aliens that look like clowns emerge. The local constabulary, Dave (John Allen Nelson) and Mooney (John Vernon) don't believe the reports of alien clowns, at least not until bodies start piling up. What's refreshing - and kind of surprising - is how straight they play it. For all the Sam Raimi-style "splatstick" going on, you will never once see a character wink at the camera or act like they know that they're in a movie. We know this stuff is funny, but the human characters act like they're in a dead-serious horror movie.
They're pretty competent as well. Most of the cast had undistinguished later careers - TV guest star roles and direct-to-video movies, though Christopher Titus would get his own show twelve years later (and I couldn't pick him out in this movie even with a prior trip to IMDB) - but none are exactly liabilities, either. The physical effects are also very smartly done; though the movie is low-budget, the Chiodos are able to write and direct to what they know they can accomplish, and that's quite a bit: The model work, makeup, set design, etc., is all very good.In fact, it's so good that I've often wondered why the Chiodos never did another feature, instead doing effects, puppetry, and animation for others. They're good at that, sure, but this movie is both good enough and produced in such a sure-handed manner that you'd think someone in the past twenty years would have taken a chance with them.
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originally posted: 02/25/09 20:27:45