Killer Klowns from Outer Space: 35th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: May 30, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Killer Klowns from Outer Space: 35th Anniversary Edition (4K UHD Review)


Stephen Chiodo

Release Date(s)

1988 (May 14, 2024)


TransWorld Entertainment/MGM (Shout! Studios/Scream Factory)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: C
  • Extras Grade: B+

Killer Klowns from Outer Space (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


In the annals of fantasy, science fiction, and horror cinema, filmmakers have long turned to an eerie staple of popular culture in order to spin tales of everyday folk beset by the threat of an otherworldly invasion. The tropes of that pop culture perennial are familiar to nearly everyone thanks to its ubiquitous presence in books, television, animation, comics, and even radio dramas. It trades on a universal fear that’s easy to exploit, and one that doesn’t require vast resources in order to craft effective stories. It also aligns with the xenophobia that’s inherent to the human race as a whole, with anything from another world usually being perceived as a threat. I’m not saying that it’s aliens, but..., really, I’m not. It’s actually something far more otherworldly and terrifying than the most diabolical of extraterrestrials: namely, clowns.

While the horrific clowns of popular culture such as Pennywise (to say nothing of real-life horrors like John Wayne Gacy) are generally threats of an organic sort, they still fall loosely into the same category as inorganic terrors like dolls, ventriloquist dummies, and mannequins. In all cases, it’s a superficially normal representation of an anthropomorphized figure that shouldn’t necessarily be seen as threatening, but it only takes a minor twist in order to turn them into objects that can induce pure dread. Dolls that seem friendly enough by daylight become something quite different when the lights are out, and pretty much no one would ever want to run into a person dressed as a clown in a dark alley. Actually, very few people would want to run into a clown in the wild even under the noonday sun, let alone the cover of darkness. If dolls, ventriloquist dummies, and mannequins are inherently creepy, clowns can be congenitally terrifying. As a result, they’re the perfect fodder for horror.

Of course, so are actual aliens, so if you want to spin a story of a small town that’s being invaded by forces from another world, then why not both? Enter the Chiodo brothers: Stephen, Charles and Edward. They had already made a name for themselves in the world of genre filmmaking by creating visual effects on a shoestring for films like Critters and RoboCop. (While Phil Tippett’s crew handled most of the stop-motion animation work on RoboCop, the Chiodos created the dinosaur for the 6000 SUX commercial). Like many filmmakers before them, they got their start when they were children by shooting their own Super 8mm short subjects like Land of Terror and Beast from the Egg, so they were already experienced with the science fiction and horror genre. For their feature film debut in 1988, they decided to craft a tale of alien invaders attempting to take over the town of Crescent Cove, CA, but with the twist that the aliens appear like clowns, right down to having a spaceship that looks like a big top tent. Yet these Killer Klowns are no ordinary clowns (as if there is such a thing), but rather something far more malevolent—intentionally (and often sadistically) so, which is one of the many manifest charms of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. These Klowns seem to genuinely enjoy their grisly work.

One of the other charms of Killer Klowns (aside from the wondrous Klown designs by Charlie Chiodo) is the cast that the brothers assembled for the film. Grant Cramer is as likeable as ever as the perfectly named Mike Tobacco, Suzanne Snyder is fine as his girlfriend Debbie, and Michael Siegel & Peter Licassi are fitfully amusing as the Terenzi brothers. Royal Dano is on hand to play the farmer who becomes the first victim of the Klown invasion, proving once again that the only person who can out-Royal Dano Royal Dano is Royal Dano himself. Josh Allen Nelson is solid as the initially skeptical cop Dave, who quickly catches on that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy. Yet the real catch of the film is John Vernon as Officer Curtis Mooney, a skeptic who refuses to let go of his skeptical nature, right up until the bitter end:

“Go ahead. Let them make a dummy out of you. But they’re not going to make a dummy out of me!”

Foreshadowing, dude. The way that line pays off later in the film is one of the keys to why Killer Klowns from Outer Space works as well as it does. With any horror comedy, the trick is finding the right balance between the two halves of the coin, and that line can vary from film to film. Killer Klowns obviously leans heavily into the comedy, but the Chiodos were smart enough to make sure that they never lost sight of just how horrifying that clowns can be (even ones that weren’t designed by Charlie). There are some genuinely disquieting moments in the film, with the payoff for Mooney’s line about dummies arguably being the creepiest of them all. It was a stroke of genius to combine two universal fears into a single scene, with the gruesome reveal of how the Klown is operating his ventriloquist dummy being the icing on the cake—especially the accompanying sound effect, which sells the concept while still keeping the gore firmly in PG-13 territory.

As far as the humor goes, some of the gags in Killer Klowns from Outer Space haven’t worn particularly well, including an ethnic impersonation, a bulimia joke, and some predictable fat shaming. Those are minor blips, however, and for the most part Killer Klowns remains as entertaining as ever. It’s unquestionably an artifact of the Eighties, and yet the way that it taps into timeless fears with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek will never go out of style. Mike, Debbie, Dave, and the Terenzi brothers will always be on hand, ready to face our universal fears with all the enthusiasm that the Terenzi brothers can muster:

“Mike, what do you want us to do, we have ice cream to sell tonight.”

“Paul, this is more important than ice cream, there’s clowns going around killing people. We’re all in danger.”

“Well, we haven’t sold THAT much ice cream tonight.”

Cinematographer Alfred Taylor shot Killer Klowns from Outer Space on 35mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its limited theatrical release—unsurprisingly, most Eighties audiences experienced it for the first time open-matte on VHS at 1.33:1. This version is based on a 4K scan of the original camera negative, graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10, although there’s no other information available. Presumably it’s at least the same 4K scan that Arrow Video used for their own 2018 Blu-ray release, though it’s not clear if the whole 4K master came from Arrow as well. Regardless, Killer Klowns really springs to life in 4K, thanks in no small part to HDR and Wide Color Gamut. The extended opening title sequence and all other optical work were derived from dupe elements, so they’re naturally somewhat softer, but the rest of the footage taken from the negative is as sharp and detailed as the original stocks and lenses will allow. Yet it’s the contrast and the colors from the HDR grade that really shine, with vivid highlights like the glow of the big top set against deep blacks in the background, and every possible subtle shade in the Klown makeup and costuming is reproduced perfectly. There’s no damage visible other than any defects that were inherent to the original optical work. Killer Klowns from Outer Space will never be reference material, but this 4K presentation comes as close as is inhumanly possible.

Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. Killer Klowns from Outer Space was released theatrically in Dolby Stereo, so it was a 4-channel mix matrix encoded into two. The 5.1 remix is likely little more than a discrete encoding of the original channels. Frankly, the mix for Killer Klowns has never been a particularly good one, with the dialogue varying in quality throughout thanks in no small part to some bad ADR. It sometimes sounds thin and a little hollow. The surround presence is limited (which was typical for Dolby mixes of the era). However, there are a few anomalies present this time that haven’t necessarily been in previous release, mostly in the form of unexpected phase shifts. For example, there’s a bad music edit on the Dickies song during the opening credits at 1:42 when the camera is on Officer Mooney, right at the moment that associate producer J.J. Lichuaco’s name appears. While the clumsy edit has always been present, this version introduces a weird phase shift that seems to bleed into the surrounds for a split second—and it’s audible on both the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks. There are a few other moments where the audio bleeds into other channels as well. It’s a definite step down from the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks on Arrow's Blu-ray.

The Shout! Factory 4K Ultra HD release of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film, as well as a slipcover for the first pressing—slipcovers, to be more accurate, with different artwork. There’s also a Steelbook version, as well as different swag sets that may or may not be sold out as of this writing. The following extras are included:


  • Audio Commentary with The Chiodo Brothers


  • Audio Commentary with The Chiodo Brothers
  • The Making of Killer Klowns (Upscaled SD – 21:40)
  • Komposing Klowns (Upscaled SD – 13:15)
  • Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr. (Upscaled SD – 14:52)
  • Kreating Klowns (Upscaled SD – 12:50)
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • Bad Experience (Upscaled SD – 2:14)
    • Tight Rope (Upscaled SD – 2:22)
  • Bloopers (Upscaled SD – 2:49)
  • Chiodo Brothers’ Earliest Films (Upscaled SD – 7:10)
  • Trailer (Upscaled SD – 1:53)

All of these extras were originally produced for the 2001 DVD release from MGM. The commentary features all three Chiodos offering a wealth of information about the making of the film, including details that they added just to amuse themselves. For example, Mike Tobacco and the Terenzi brothers are based on three of their childhood friends—and yes, those were their real names. The Chiodos make the good point that they played everything straight no matter how ridiculous that it was, and that’s why the film works. There also offer plenty of information about the practical effects in the film, like how the balloon bloodhound that the Klowns employ kept popping every time that it touched the pine needles on the forest floor, so they had to add extra latex to its feet. Everyone was simpatico with the spirit of the proceedings, with John Vernon even making some suggestions that improved his fateful encounter with the Klown at the police station. This is a classic commentary track, so if you’ve never heard it before, be sure to check it out.

The Making of Killer Klowns features the Chiodos sitting down together to discuss the production, accompanied by clips for the film and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage that was shot on the set. There’s some great stuff here like glimpses of the rig that was used to support the Klown performer for the car chase sequence. The brothers are pretty open in admitting how they had to fix mistakes on the fly. They also provide a pretty good primer on some classic low-budget visual effects techniques. Komposing Klowns is an interview with John Massari, who explains how he became involved with the project, and how the synthesizers that he used for the score were also responsible for some of the sound effects. Visual Effects with Gene Warren Jr. features the master effects artist and Charlie Chiodo explaining how the optical effects were created for the film. Kreating Klowns has Charlie sitting down solo to describing the production design that he did, including the design of the Klowns themselves (he’s joined partway through by mechanical supervisor Dwight Roberts).

The rest of the extras include two different Deleted Scenes that can be played with or without optional commentary by the Chiodos. The most interesting one is Bad Experience, which was clearly inspired by Phoebe Cates’ notorious Santa Claus story in the original Gremlins. The Bloopers are a collection of mistakes, technical malfunctions, and other flubs, while the Chiodo Brothers’ Earliest Films is a montage of clips from their childhood films, accompanied by commentary from the brothers.

There’s also at least one Easter egg:

  • Holy Smoke (Upscaled SD – :07)

To locate it, press the “Up” arrow on the remote while at the top of the list of special features, and it will play automatically. It’s a brief clip of the television version, where Officer Mooney’s “Holy Shit!” was replaced with “Holy Smoke!” Previous versions also included a second Klown Auditions Easter egg featuring the Klown performers practicing their walks. Shout! Factory’s website lists “Easter eggs,” plural, so it may be on here as well, but I was unable to locate it or find any reference to it elsewhere.

That’s everything from the MGM Blu-ray for Killer Klowns from Outer Space and all of the preceding DVD releases, but it’s missing a substantial quantity of extras from the 2018 Region B Blu-ray from Arrow Films. The real prize on that release was a complete uncut collection of the Chiodo brothers’ early films: Land of Terror, Beast from the Egg, Africa Danny, Eskimo, Sludge Grubs, and Free Inside. Arrow offered a variety of different featurettes like The Chiodos Walk Among Us: Adventures in Super 8 Filmmaking, Bringing Life to These Things: A Tour of Chiodo Bros. Productions, and Let the Show Begin! Anatomy of a Killer Theme Song, plus interviews with Grant Kramer and Suzanne Snyder, as well as a variety of Photo Galleries. (They also included the Klown Auditions footage that may or may not be an Easter egg on this release.)

There’s also one huge omission, but it’s something that’s been missing from every single home video release since the original VHS version of Killer Klowns from Outer Space. That cassette included a music video of The Dickies performing their classic title song that played automatically after the closing credits had finished. It’s been omitted ever since, presumably because of rights issues. (There are various versions of the video available on YouTube, all of which look like they were ripped from VHS.) That’s a real shame, because if anyone could offer a legitimate remastered version of the original video, they’d have my money.

Missing extras or not, Shout! Factory’s 4K release of Killer Klowns from Outer Space is the definitive one to date. You’ll want to hang onto the Arrow Blu-ray set for their exclusive extras, but whenever you actually sit down to watch the film, this is the version that you’ll end up choosing. It’s an ideal representation of the inherent evil that we all recognize in the hearts of clowns everywhere, rendered lovingly at 4K resolution with HDR and WCG. Highly recommended.

- Stephen Bjork

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