Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Killer Klowns From Outer Space

"Killer Klowns from Outer Space" was unleashed on the world in 1988. Although it wasn't a massive box office hit, this film about a small town being overrun by extraterrestrials decked out in circus gear (with a circus tent spaceship) slowly found its audience over the years thanks to plenty of cable television broadcasts and stolen video cassettes. Starring Grant Cramer ("The Young and the Restless"), Suzanne Snyder ("Return of the Living Dead Part II"), and John Allen Nelson ("Baywatch") and created by special effects superteam the Chiodo brothers, what was once a fun little oddity from a decade that was lush with oddities has become a bona fide cult classic with merchandise populating niche store shelves, major amusement park attractions, and even a video game.

It's been over three decades since the alien clowns stopped by Earth for a quick bite to eat, but the movie and its fandom are larger than ever. To celebrate its unlikely legacy, we're going to take a look at some behind-the-scenes stories that even some hardcore fans may not be familiar with. From the first time the Chiodos concocted the bonkers idea of circus performers from another planet encasing human beings in cotton candy cocoons for nourishment to the failed attempts at a sequel, we're covering the entire history of the film by highlighting the most interesting tidbits of behind-the-scenes info.

A Faerie Tale beginning

Before directing "Killer Klowns from Outer Space," Stephen Chiodo (and his brothers, Charles and Edward) made props, special effects, and animation for movies like "Critters," "History of the World: Part I," "The Sword and the Sorcerer," and "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." They may have been primarily known as special effects guys, but they also wanted to make movies themselves. One of their early credits was prop making on Shelley Duvall's criminally underrated series "Faerie Tale Theatre," which in turn helped them in their ultimate goal.

When talking to the podcast "Dead Talk Live," Stephen Chiodo credited Fred Fuchs, the producer of "Faerie Tale Theatre," with giving them the opportunity to make "Killer Klowns from Outer Space." Apparently, Fuchs was in contact with some individuals who had the money to make some low-budget feature films, and he approached the brothers to find out if they were interested.

By then, they already had the idea for "Killer Klowns from Outer Space." So they crafted a poster and a maquette of a clown with a gun, wrote a treatment for the film, and brought it all to Trans World Entertainment for a pitch. It went so well that an executive said, "I can sell that," and the studio bought the project before a script had even been written.

Million Dollar Movie influences

If you're acquainted with 1950s sci-fi movies, then the structure of "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" is going to sound familiar to you. The story focuses on two young people who witness a ball of light fall from the sky and decide to investigate. Quickly, they discover that an alien presence has made its way to Earth and is devouring human beings. They try to warn the police, but no one believes them until it's almost too late.

That sounds an awful lot like the 1958 film "The Blob" starring Steve McQueen as a teenager trying to warn people about an alien goo that eats people, and according to the Chiodos during "The Making of Killer Klowns," this wasn't an accident. Later in the same "Making Of," they describe how growing up in Queens, New York, watching "Million Dollar Movie" — a series that played movies like "King Kong" and "Godzilla" on TV during the '50s and '60s — and being exposed to all the great horror and sci-fi movies of the past inspired their love of film and potentially their later work.

As they also explained, there are references to their favorite movies everywhere in "Killer Klowns." The power chamber in the tent spaceship looks a lot like the Krell machine in "Forbidden Planet." There's a bit of stop motion that calls back to Willis H. O'Brien ("King Kong") and Ray Harryhausen ("Jason and the Argonauts"), as well as an unintentional reference to "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" with the cotton candy cocoons.

The scariest opening we've never seen

As discussed in "The Making of Killer Klowns," the inspiration for the movie came from the Chiodo brothers trying to figure out the scariest image they could think of. For Stephen Chiodo, it was the idea of driving down a country road and seeing a clown peering at you from another car. It eventually evolved into the idea that the clown isn't even in another car — it's just riding beside you.

The image was so crucial to the development of the movie that they originally intended to use it as the opening scene of the film. Although it was filmed, technical difficulties meant the footage was unusable. Still wanting to include it, Stephen sped up the filming of other scenes in order to open up half a night on their schedule to reshoot the opening. Unfortunately, the rocky and bumpy terrain where they shot meant that the footage bounced and jumped around.

Determined not to let this scene go, Edward Chiodo worked with the editor to salvage the footage and their collaboration resulted in a truncated version of the scene appearing in the middle of the movie. Even if it wasn't what they'd originally intended, at least they got to include the image that birthed the entire film.

Grant Cramer was cast because of apartheid and a Cher movie

Instead of having one leading man or final girl character, "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" has something of an ensemble cast. The three leads are Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder), the police officer and Debbie's ex-boyfriend Dave Hansen (John Allen Nelson), and Debbie's current boyfriend, Mike Tobacco, who's played by Grant Cramer. Had it not been for some very specific circumstances, though, Cramer may not have been in the film at all.

During an interview in the featurette "Tales of Tobacco," Cramer said that around the time the Chiodos were starting to work on the movie, he left the soap opera "The Young and the Restless" and was looking for a new project. He agreed to participate in a sequel to the 1984 sex comedy he'd been in called "Hard Bodies," but he was so disappointed with the script that he had to walk away.

Then, he was offered the chance to become an action star in a new martial arts film set to be filmed in South Africa. He was intrigued by the idea until he learned that the film was part of a plan to get apartheid money out of the area, and he felt he had a moral obligation not to participate in that. So, he auditioned for the Peter Bogdanovich movie "Mask," which starred Cher and Eric Stoltz, but he was rejected. All this left him open for "Killer Klowns."

Human characters auditioned in groups

Both Grant Cramer (in the featurette "Tales of Tobacco") and Suzanne Snyder (in the featurette "Debbie's Big Night") remember actors being auditioned in groups for "Killer Klowns." Cramer said he came in for about six auditions. They way it worked is groups of actors were brought in and asked to perform a full scene. When they were done, the group left and another one came in. After a few of these, the Chiodos began mixing the groups up.

The reason for this, according to Cramer, was to find out who had the best chemistry. This basically meant that if two people in one group clicked, they could eliminate the third and bring in a substitute, or if no one in the group was working well together, you could just mix everyone up entirely. Eventually, the Chiodos decided they wanted both Cramer and John Allen Nelson in the movie, but they both had blonde hair. In order to differentiate them — and to honor the real person who inspired the character of Mike Tobacco (a guy the Chiodos knew growing up named, yep, Mike Tobacco) — Cramer had to dye is hair so dark it was practically black. 

The clowns were acrobats and dancers

In most fantasy and sci-fi films, the important characters are humans. Since it's their story we're following, they should be the characters we care about most. In monster movies, though, that's not always the case. Sometimes the human characters simply act as conduits to the main attraction: the monsters. This is certainly true when it comes to "Killer Klowns from Outer Space." While Mike, Debbie, and Dave are certainly likable and the Terenzi brothers are fun, the real stars of the movie are the clowns themselves.

During "Dead Talk Live," Stephen Chiodo talked about the importance of hiring performers who were aware of body movement to play the clowns. "We were looking for acrobats, dancers, people that were really aware of their body movements," Chiodo said. During these auditions, he asked the performers to walk slowly. He said, "I think the only direction I really gave was that I wanted them to walk as if the Earth had a different gravity. So they would walk in slow motion, as if they were moving through water, let's say." Other than that, he really just wanted the clowns to be like "scary mimes."

Camaraderie on set

According to Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder, working with the other actors was great fun, though their memories are a little divided on this. In "Tales of Tobacco," Cramer mentioned how Suzanne and John Allen Nelson bonded, saying, "Those two [Snyder and Nelson] kind of bonded and kind of created a little relationship off-camera — not necessarily romantic, but they kind of like bonded closely." This made him feel a bit like the odd man out, but he did say that after seeing each other at conventions over the years, he and Snyder have gotten much closer, becoming good friends in the process.

Suzanne Snyder, on the other hand, remembers the camaraderie on set as being very supportive. "Grant and John were very nice people," Snyder said in "Debbie's Big Night." She described them as being fun to work with and thought they were great collaborators while really appreciating their help with the physical aspects of the film. "They helped me a lot with some of the physical things that we had to do because some of these things were difficult. I mean, I was little, and we had to step up on giant boxes or going through different things."

Summing up what it was like working with her costars, Snyder said, "So, they were really helpful and kind and talented and funny. We had a lot of fun together. Good friends."

John Massari played everything

Of course, the "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" theme song by The Dickies is one of the greatest movie theme songs of the '80s. It's catchy, atmospheric, and immediately sets the movie's tone. However, the score composed by John Massari is highly underrated. It may not be as instantly recognizable and iconic as a John Williams or John Carpenter score, but it holds its own against other franchise scores of the decade.

During an interview with Latin Horror, Massari mentioned that he played a lot of instruments in school and carried that ability over to the recording process for "Killer Klowns from Outer Space." "I played everything," he said. "The schedule on that was very intense. I spent two weeks composing, two weeks performing at home, doing pre-production, and then another two weeks in the studio." 

All that hard work under a limited time constraint made for some great music, however. It's part of what makes the movie so memorable. In fact, fans were so passionate about it that they funded "Killer Klowns from Outer Space Reimagined," a newer, bigger interpretation of the score with a full orchestra and an assist from the incredible composer Bear McCreary

Chiodo Brothers Scared Stupid

Three years after the release of "Killer Klowns," a new film that was destined to become a Halloween classic hit theaters: "Ernest Scared Stupid." The latest installment of Ernest P. Worrell's (Jim Varney) adventures saw the titular hero facing off against evil trolls set to take over his small town. Aside from the main troll (who was truly terrifying), many of his ilk were big, exaggerated characters. Some might say there was something clownish about them.

Well, the reason for that is the involvement of the Chiodo brothers. As reported by Bloody Disgusting, not only did the brothers work on the film, but they repurposed some of their clowns to serve as the trolls. There were only two masks repurposed, but once you know they're from "Killer Klowns," it's pretty hard to miss. If you're of a certain age and a fan of horror (particularly monster movies), even if you missed "Klowns" in its original run, you probably saw (and loved) "Scared Stupid," and you have its predecessor — in part — to thank for that.

Killer Klown's cult status

It would be easy to categorize "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" as just another box office flop that found life on home video and grew to become a cult hit. However, that's only half of the truth. In reality, the movie had a uniquely limited theatrical run around the United States before landing where it was always meant to be: video cassette. Stephen Chiodo explained the complicated theatrical release with Dead Talk Live, saying there were prints that would play in one city for a few days before moving on to the next. Once it made it to the video stores and cable, it became so popular that there were reports of the tapes being stolen.

When talking to ComicBook.com, Edward Chiodo elaborated on the circumstances of the film's theatrical stint and its success on video/cable. "It got a minor theatrical release to fulfill a mandate and a bigger home video contract," Chiodo said. "It never ever got any sort of promotion or big push in the theater. It wasn't until it hit HBO and, specifically, the USA Network that audiences started to really find it."

Things didn't stop there, though. In the '90s, the film went out of print and the studio MGM picked up the distribution rights. As Edward explained, "It wasn't really until MGM picked it up and released it as part of their Midnight Madness series that we really, fully understood how popular it really was."

The sequel to Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Despite the fact that "Killer Klowns" has remained popular for well over three decades, merchandise is being produced, and Universal Studios Orlando included it in their Halloween Horror Nights attraction, there's never been a sequel. Not that the Chiodos haven't tried. During "The Making of Killer Klowns," they admitted that they've always thought of the film as the start of a franchise. 

The problem is, as Stephen Chiodo told Dead Talk Live, that studios wanting to fund a project don't look at a film's fanbase when greenlighting a sequel. He mentioned both the film's limited theater business and the fact that it wasn't shown in European theaters as a major stumbling block in acquiring financing. Sure, they once got pretty close to finally making it happen on the SyFy channel, but it fell through.

Perhaps if fans take Chiodo's advice (as he communicated it to ComicBook.com) and reach out to MGM directly, the world may finally get a second visit from some hungry alien clowns.

The story behind the video game

After multiple decades, the closest thing fans have gotten to a proper "Killer Klowns" sequel is a high-profile video game that brings the demented world they love so much to their home console (or PC), allowing them to directly interact with their favorite kooky clowns.

Following the enormous success of "Friday the 13th: The Game," executive director Randy Greenback decided his next project would be "Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game." When talking to IGN, he said the idea seemed natural to him, "Honestly this movie is a game when you watch it, it wants to be a game, it had to be adapted into a game. The filmmakers were ahead of their time, and having them involved in our process has been not only a privilege but also a joy and a ton of fun."

For the Chiodos, it was an honor to work on the game. During an interview on the game's official website, Stephen and Edward commented on their role in helping the project along. "We're honored to work with Good Shepherd Entertainment and Teravision [the developers of the game]," Stephen said. "And we really appreciate being included. We don't want it to be misrepresented." According to Edward, the job of the Chiodos was to guide the folks actually making the game and ensure the final result was "klown-esque."