Stephen and Charles Chiodo’s cult favourite Killer Klowns from Outer Space receives a new Blu-ray release from Arrow Video, the 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation sourced from a new 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. The film is presented here on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Like just about all of Arrow’s releases of low budget cult films Killer Klowns from Outer Space looks way better than it probably has any right to be, and I wouldn’t be surprised (again) if it looks better here than it did during its initial theatrical run. Most impressively the film doesn’t show much damage, most of the “flaws” seeming to be related to some optical effects. These moments can stick out a bit but that’s only because the rest of the film looks pretty flawless. The film is colourful and those colours look spectacular here, those reds, purples, and greens looking especially good. Saturation is excellent and skin tones look spot on. There is a bit of crushing in a handful of darker shots but outside of this black levels are otherwise excellent.
The image is also razor sharp for the most part, and because of that the details in in the creepy clown/klown costumes pop off the screen. As I mentioned above the sequences where optical effects are employed can look a bit off: the image can fluctuate, the image gets a bit blurrier, black levels are a bit murkier, and some minor bits of dirt pop up. But even these weak moments are still impressive enough and these issues are not glaring. Film grain is rendered naturally and cleanly most of the time; grain can get a bit blocky in a few of those crushed out darker sequences, but for a majority of the time it looks incredible. The image is very clean digitally outside of these few moments.
So again Arrow really outdoes themselves with another one of their restorations. It’s clean and sharp, and easily the best I’ve seen the film look on video. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Arrow’s special edition appears to port everything over from the old MGM disc while adding some of their own. Firstly, the audio commentary from the original Blu-ray edition reappears here. Featuring the brothers Charles, Stephen, and Edward, the three go over the genesis of the project, from initial idea, to getting funding, to casting, then filming and releasing. Not too surprising was that they still had a limited budget so they had to find many workarounds regarding effects to get the film to reflect their vision as closely as possible. It also made things harder when things didn’t go their way: for example, a car crash they envisioned as big spectacular effect didn’t go off as expected, the car just rolling down an embankment, and they lacked the funds to reshoot it. What I was most taken with, though, were their stories on John Vernon. Watching the film, it’s obvious to see Vernon is having fun with his fascist character and I was happy to hear behind the scenes he was a great sport about the film and excited about it. In fact, it sounds as though he was upset when his final day of shooting came and apparently he even threw out the idea that maybe his character could show up as another clown/klown later in the film. It’s an honest track, pointing out both the things that work well and the short comings, but the participants are proud of what they put up on screen and are even happier that there are fans for the film.
Arrow then adds a couple of new features. Let the Show Begin! features lead singer/composer Leonard Graves Phillips and guitarist Stan Lee, members of the punk band The Dickies, the ones responsible for the film’s title song. The two recount their early days together and then how they came to create the song for the film despite having not seen it yet (at that point they had only heard the title). I wasn’t expecting much from this interview admittedly but it turned out to offer some interesting facts about the group’s involvement. While they obviously talk about the song in regards of influences and how it has helped grow their fanbase (though I get the feeling their original fans aren’t fond of the song) they also talk about how they were also hired to record the incidental score for the film, but it was dropped because the producer found it too comedic. It runs less than 11-minutes.
Arrow next provides a look at the Chiodos’ childhood films, first providing an interview with the three with Chiodos Walk Among Us. For 24-minutes the three (all filmed separately) talk about the monster movies they fell in love with as kids and then how, after their parents got the two older brothers an 8mm camera and a projector, they would start making their own movies. They talk about a number of their early films and the development of their special effects, which they figured out as they went, playing with forced perspective, stop-motion, and even rear-projection. They not only began to master special effects but they also learned, with each film, how to better structure their stories and also how important a role editing plays in regards to pacing and delivering their stories in a more visual manner (they didn’t have synched sound so this became important).
This proves to be an especially fun feature as the three look back fondly at their work, acknowledging that, yes, it is rough but they all served as wonderful teaching lessons which would of course lead up to taking everything they learned and making Killer Klowns from Outer Space. While we only get clips from the films in the feature Arrow does thankfully include the full version of each short covered in this feature. This includes Land of Terror (1967), Beast from the Egg (1968), Africa Danny (1970), Eskimo (1971), Sludge Grubs (1972), and Free Inside (1974). It was fun listening to the three talk about these films but actually seeing the films is an absolute hoot. Yes, they can be a bit rough, though get better later on (their comments on learning the benefits of editing and proper structure are evident), yet they’re all still incredibly impressive, especially when you consider how young they were. They mastered some of the techniques real early. Also nice is the fact all six films are presented in high-definition and, despite some source issues, they all look rather spectaculat! This whole section is easily the releases’ best aspect.
Bringing Life to These Things is an 8-minute tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions, featuring Stephen Chiodo. While he talks about the effects work they have done through the years and lamenting on CGI we see a lot of their work showcased in the background, from various models to puppets and masks. He also talks extensively about the art of getting the mouth movements just right with animatronics. It almost feels a bit like a throwaway feature but Chiodo’s comments on their effects work and seeing the work they have done on other films proved very fascinating.
Arrow then provides a batch of interviews under “Killer Interviews.” It appears two newer ones, featuring actors Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder were recorded for Arrow, though in 2014 for Arrow’s original region B edition. In both the two recall how they came to be cast and then share their experiences. Both have positive stories to share and they talk fondly of the directors, indicating they were very helpful, explaining to them their final vision, which wasn’t always apparent. Snyder also talks fondly of working with John Vernon while Cramer expresses some surprise to the cult following. The two interviews run 18 and 11-minutes respectively.
Most of the other interviews and features under this section appear to come from the MGM release, starting with Making of “Killer Klowns.” Featuring all three Chiodo brothers (Charles, Stephen, and Edward) I at first fretted the less-than-22-minute feature was simply going to be the three sitting on stools talking about the production. Thankfully it turns out to be much more interesting than that. The three talk about specific effects or sequences in the film, with a bigger focus on the film’s original opening. Through a lot of behind-the-scenes footage they talk about why it just wasn’t working (despite this was the sequence that was their initial inspiration) and how they were able to save some of it to create a sequence midway through.
Following this are then three more interview segments: a 15-minute discussion between Charles Chiodo and effects artist Gene Warren, Jr.; Kreating Klowns, which features Chiodo again along with Dwight Roberts, covering the mechanics and puppetry behind the practical effects in the film (also featuring footage of the model for the big boss clown being made); and then Komposing Klowns, featuring composer John Massari, who is especially proud of this film’s score. The section then closes with the 30-minute Behind the Scenes with the Chiodos, which features a wealth of footage.
Arrow also provides 4-minutes’ worth of Klown Audition footage, which simply appears to be footage of test performed on the Klown costumes to make sure they will work out: the actors in the costumes basically perform walks and movements in the cumbersome outfits. We also get about 3 minutes’ worth of bloopers, which aren’t what you would typically expect from such a feature (there’s an out-of-control fog machine), and then two deleted scenes, both in decent shape and presented in 1.33:1 (apparently they appear on television sometimes). Optional commentaries featuring the brothers offer explanations as to why the scenes were cut, either due to length or technical issues (like crappy lighting).
The disc then closes with an image gallery featuring film stills, behind-the-scene stills, concept art, and storyboards. The film’s theatrical trailer is also included. Arrow also provides one of their typically excellent booklets, featuring an essay by James Oliver looking at the film and its growing fanbase through the years. The booklet (and a foldout poster featuring new art on one side and the film’s original poster art on the other) is only available in first printings, along with a foil O-Sleeve featuring new artwork.
Though it is a mix of newer and older features there is a real obvious love that has gone into this release. I found the features geeky but in an enjoyable way (it’s fun when the participants really love what they’re doing) but the real gem here is the new features on the Chiodo’s childhood footage, with new presentations of some of those films. A really fun set of features. 9/10