Aliens that look like clowns attack a small town.
This film is a parody of the sci-fi/horror/monster movie genre that was extraordinarily popular during the 1950s; films like “The Blob” (1958), “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956), “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), or “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (1951). Movies like that have a certain charm- it’s like slipping into a comfortably creepy atmosphere for a short time, and then return to the real world. I have always had a fondness for 50s B-movie science fiction stuff, so when my roommate and I stumbled upon this, and neither of us had seen it, we decided to give it a go. As the tagline for this movie suggests, “IT’S CRAAZZY!”
“What are ya gonna do with those pies, boys?”
As this film is a parody of 1950’s b-movies, many of the characters are all tropes of those kinds of pictures. Our main characters, Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer, “Lone Survivor”) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder, “Return of the Living Dead Part II”), are two high school students on their first date. Mike behaves like a typical high school movie jock, and Suzanne behaves like a typical high school movie cheerleader. Other main characters include Curtis Mooney (John Vernon, “Dirty Harry”), the incomprehensibly dense town Sherriff, and his younger, less experienced partner Dave Hansen (John Allen Nelson, “Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell”). There are also the eccentric Terenzi brothers (Michael S Siegel, Peter Licassi), who operate an ice cream truck. The characters play their roles like they were caught in a rerun of an old Twilight Zone episode. Their reactions are overblown, their cadence feels forced, and their dialogue is laughably dated- but that’s entirely the point and it works wonders for this film. Honestly, I think my favorite part of this film was how much it really played into those tropes. The Sherriff is needlessly obtuse, to the point where its so ridiculous that it becomes comical, and the other characters all seem to play into their roles as well.
Another thing I really liked about this movie was the production design, which is wonderfully inventive and CRAAZZY! The aliens (or clowns) are all created with prosthetic faces, but many of them are articulated and move in interesting ways, and there are probably close to a dozen completely different designs as far as the look of the aliens. They range from slightly silly to delightfully demented- but the designs always manage ride the line between funny and scary. There are all sorts of weird things that the clowns do to track down their prey, and that’s half the fun of this movie. How will the clowns track people? Why, they shoot a popcorn gun at them so a trail of crumbs will follow behind them. What happens if their prey gets too far away? A clown can craft a balloon dog that sniffs out their trail. How do they store their prey? In cotton candy cocoons, of course! There are dozens of wild ideas that the Chiodos brothers crammed into this hour and a half long movie; some of them work better than others, but for the most part, this film is incredibly inventive and imaginative. There are some moments, particularly near the end of this movie, when you can tell the interior of the clown’s space ship was probably built on a theater stage. Honestly, that didn’t bother me too much, just because the whole film felt cheesy anyways, but it is obvious that some of the production design is better than others.
While I really appreciated a lot of the scenes in this film, there were others that I wasn’t sure what emotion the director wanted me to feel. As this is a horror comedy, I expect there to be both laughs and thrills, and this film does provide both, but there are some scenes when the authorial intent is not at all obvious. Am I supposed to be scared or laughing at this scene? There are other horror comedies that flit between the two genres much better- take “Shaun of the Dead” for instance. In “SotD”, we have scenes that are very clearly supposed to be emotional moments, and other scenes that are very clearly supposed to be funny. Edgar Wright does a great job of differentiating what I’m supposed to be feeling and when, so even though the film has moments of hilarity, and moments of terror, it feels even and balanced throughout the film, and I come out of that movie fully satisfied with what I’ve seen. In this film, there were a few scenes that bordered on funny, but weren’t funny enough to make me laugh, while at the same time they were showing me images that were creepy looking, but not creepy enough to make me squeamish. As a result, some of those scenes felt incredibly flat, and it made moments of the movie drag and others feel meaningless.
This film has been a cult classic for thirty years now, and I’m sure it will continue with that following for years to come. For me, most of the movie worked, but not all of it. This isn’t a film I’d run out to tell everyone about, but if someone threw it on at a Halloween party I’d watch it. It might work better for you than it did for me- I can certainly see how some people would love this movie. There are some really cool moments and some really inventive ideas, but it failed to connect with me completely.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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