Back in 1988, brothers Stephen, Charles, and Edward Chiodo unleashed Killer Klowns from Outer Space into the world and, more than 30 years later, the film's following is arguably more passionate than ever. Despite earning a theatrical release in the late '80s, it failed to capture the attention of the slasher-crazed horror audiences at the time, while its subsequent home video release also wasn't ideal. Luckily, as the years went by, the home video market offered advancements that made it easier for fans to either revisit the film or new audiences earning the chance to witness one of the most bizarre, hilarious, and unique experiences of its time, cementing itself as a seminal horror-comedy.
Following its deserved release on physical media, merchandise celebrating the film began to debut while the Chiodo Brothers' convention appearances became more frequent, as fans wanted to learn as much as they could about the iconic experience. The film's popularity was solidified when Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights honored it with a Scare Zone in 2018, only for that attraction to become so popular that the film earned an entire maze at the annual event in 2019.
Unlike many of its contemporaries, Killer Klowns has yet to earn any sequels or reboots, with the Chiodo Brothers themselves just as excited to continue the adventures of the series as fans are, as ComicBook.com recently caught up with Edward to discuss the film's origins, its legacy, and what the future might hold.
Photo courtesy of Rich Polk/Getty Images for Universal Studios Hollywood/MGM
ComicBook.com: Even people who haven't seen the movie have likely heard of Killer Klowns from Outer Space, since its name alone sets it apart from the rest of the genre. Since it's such an absurd concept, do you remember that initial lightning bolt of inspiration you and your brothers had to develop the movie?
Edward Chiodo: Well, it's funny because actually the notion of making a movie together really started very, very early in our lives. It was something we always wanted to do. We were fascinated by movies, specifically monster movies. And to be even more specific, King Kong. I guess that's the touchstone for a lot of effects people, genre people's careers, that they fell in love with the movies because of that movie and the magic of it. Charlie and Steve, they're both a little older than I, but again, when we were growing up, that's what we did as a form of play. It was making movies. And our parents were incredibly supportive in terms of getting us cameras, film, sending it off for processing, giving us raw supplies.
It was all basically emulating the movies that we loved growing up. King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, a personal favorite, Jason and the Argonauts, Seven Voyages of Sinbad, all the Ray Harryhausen movies. We were just captured by the magic of stop-motion animation specifically, and being able to tell stories. That's what we did all our lives, with the notion that this was what we wanted to do somehow together, Chiodo Brother Productions. Really, it was early on in our old home movies that there is actually a logo for Chiodo Brothers Productions.
When finally we moved to Hollywood, Charlie and Steve came earlier than I did, I joined them. They moved out in 1980, I joined them in 1984. We just kept learning our tools of the trade and learning the special effects business, always with an eye on wanting to make movies, but not really knowing what that meant, coming from the East coast.
One night, just sitting around, the question was posed, what's the scariest thing that you could think of? It started with Stephen then running with that idea. He said that if he was on a dark, winding mountain road at night and a clown pulled up alongside of him, he thought that was one of the creepiest images he could think of. And then Charlie, I think, chimed in, "Hey, that is weird. That's really weird. Hey, but what if the clown wasn't in a car? What if he was just floating outside of the car going along with you?"
We said, "Well, that would mean the clown had a come from outer space. And what would they be doing here? Clowns from outer space. Of course, they're here to kill us." And so, right from that, Killer Klowns from Outer Space. From there we just thought, "All right, let's just play around with this idea." Then it kind of wrote itself in terms of, once we locked in on what it was, I think Stephen ... we're big fans of the movie The Blob. We liked that basic storyline. Something mysterious comes to town. Teenagers see it, try to alert the authorities and nobody believes them and then they're on the front line against this alien invasion.
We came up with that basic through-line and then just started seeing all the possibilities, clown possibilities, circus possibilities, out there and really taking advantage of how commonplace and welcome clowns and circus motifs are in our society. People don't blink an eye. You see a clown at a party, at a McDonald's or a restaurant or something, you have no hesitation about pushing your child to this strange thing wearing makeup. You wouldn't do that to any other stranger, but with a clown, you do that. That became part of the dynamics we were working on when it came out, making the movie.
And you see some of that in the movie, like with the police not taking warnings seriously about clowns being seen around town.
I mean there's a lot of people who just don't like clowns for a lot of reasons. Like, some people are terrified of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. And clowns, there's definitely a clown phobia out there, but I don't think anybody took it to the level we did prior to our movie.
You mention your affinity for films like the original The Blob or King Kong, which came decades before your film, and Killer Klowns was hitting theaters at a time when slashers like Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street were dominating the horror world, was there any apprehension that your film would be too weird for audiences?
We were aware of the genres. In our effects career, we always shied away from the slasher, the gore movies. We didn't really like the human-on-human violence. We take our monster movies very seriously and we approached that in Klowns that, as well these being creatures from another world that happened to look like clowns, they were here to kill us, but the motif would always be in a circus, playful, carnival-type character.
We shy away from people killing people. A monster can do anything to you, because monsters aren't real. We can have fun with that idea, so I guess our bottom line was, we were making a movie that we would like, that we would like to go see. And the fact that people over 35 years now have found the movie and loved the movie is really a special feeling. That's something that we did for really our own enjoyment because we don't know how to make movies to try to please a certain audience. We just do what we think is cool. That people like it is really heartwarming.
Speaking to the absurd and silly nature of the premise, I was hoping you could answer a question my wife has wondered for years. The aliens wrap people in cotton candy cocoons and then slurp their liquified bodies through straws. Does what they slurp taste like cotton candy or like humans?
That is a very good question. The theory is that, because cotton candy is a sugary thing, it sort of melts you into this creamy goo liquidy thing. It's a syrupy version of human skin.
Sounds like somewhere in between maybe a slightly sweeter or a slightly more cotton-candy version of slimed human skin.
Because it's certainly cotton candy, but again, you're marinating in it in this sugary, liquid syrup. So like a maraschino cherry liquid.
I see some good merchandising opportunities here for this slime.
The cotton candy sippers are going to be a big hit. Actually, I'm surprised they didn't do that. They had a bunch of glasses and things that light up, but a "Cotton Candy Cocoon Sipper" would be amazing with fruit punch or something in it. Or an adult version.
The film might not have initially been this huge hit, but home video helped its reception a lot. Do you remember when, years later, you started to realize how passionate people were about the movie?
The original release, it was a different time, a different era. It was really meant to populate the video shelf world. It got a minor theatrical release to fulfill a mandate and a bigger home video contract. It never, ever got any sort of promotion or big push into the theater. It wasn't until it hit HBO and, specifically, the USA network that audiences started to really discover it.
The original studio we made it for went out of business and it was unavailable for the longest time after its initial run. But it still was out there on some scarce videotapes, and then the USA network. 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 actually was.
There were always calls for the convention circuit within the genre and things like that for appearances and being able to show the movie and talk about it. But it wasn't until MGM picked it up and got ahold of it in, I believe the mid-'90s, that we really got our first inkling that it had staying power and that people had a real love for it. It was kind of that second generation, too, that kids that had seen it on HBO or USA now had grown up and now they had kids and they were showing it to their kids. That it's more of a safe family horror movie that they can introduce their kids to the genre that they loved.
And now with streaming services, some fans might see it pop up without context and merely want to check it out because the cover art looks interesting.
It's funny, the technology has one-upped that, because I was discussing this recently, that back in the day, we used to go to the video store on a Friday night or Saturday night and just walk the aisles and pick up a bunch of movies that we'd watched that weekend. And that's disappeared. But now, you have the equivalent of that on the streaming services. You go through Amazon, Netflix, Hulu; they've got the oldies lineups where you can actually scroll through the aisles, as it were, and pick up the movies that you want to watch. What's a little better now is that you've got a little bit of feedback. You've got a star rating system, you've got reviews, you've got feedback that you can get some input on what people like or hate about this movie.
It really has come full circle. I think we're right back where we were in the late '80s. Killer Klowns would not have been made if it were not for the home video boom. It was just too bizarre a concept for any traditional studio to get behind it. Trans World Entertainment, to their credit, was looking to just produce genre titles. They were giving a lot of young filmmakers a chance. It was the right time, right place. We were able to pitch it, sell it in the room. They liked it. They largely bought it based on the title because they thought it was a fun title, something they could sell and let us run with it.
I don't think they really understood the type of movie we were making, that it was a throwback and homage to the movies that we grew up loving. The Blob, Forbidden Planet, because it's got references to all those movies in there.
Given the movie's massive popularity know and the passionate fans that it's earned, would you trade its unconventional success with the film earning more success initially, even if it meant the same passion wouldn't have sustained itself over the last few decades?
It's just the way the cards were dealt, largely. But I do say this, I wish it had been marketed properly. I'm not sure it would have gotten the attention at the time because it was pretty out there for even back in 1988. But had it done better, we might've been afforded more opportunity sooner on some of our other projects. But, quite honestly, if I don't do another project in my career, I'm quite content with having Edward Chiodo and Killer Klowns from Outer Space in parentheses behind my name.
Earlier success might've given us more opportunities to do more cool things. But, pretty much we've been able to do everything that we've come out to do. We moved here from New York, Long Island specifically, and we made a movie. We had a television show. We've had development deals for features. We've done some great special effects projects over the years.
35 years later, we're doing a holiday special for Netflix with Jon Favreau as our executive producer. It's been a long time coming, but things happen for a reason, they happen on their own timeline. I'm glad that it's found an audience and it makes people happy. It's funny, it's such a silly title. You know what you're getting when you see it, but on more than one occasion, people have come up to us to say that they were going through a tough time in their life. One person, in particular, was having a really tough time with his father. They just fought, they just did not get along. They really didn't like one another. But the one thing they had in common was their love for our movie and they would be able to find common ground by watching the movie together to try to build their relationship. That's pretty special. If that's the only person it touched, that's pretty good, too.
Making the film's accomplishments all that more impressive is what it's earned on such a silly title. Bringing people together with a bizarre premise makes everything even more rewarding.
It's a product of its time. We look back at it now, as filmmakers, there are things that still make me cringe to this day, things that didn't go off quite right. Things we wanted to do better or things we didn't even get to do. But, overall, I'm pretty proud of the movie. I manage to see it a couple of times a year when we're at festivals or appearances. There's enough time that has passed where I can actually objectively watch it now, and it's pretty good. The fact that Universal Studios has recognized it and now, Florida, two years in a row, made it a part of their Halloween Horror Nights, and then this year in Hollywood, that was quite the tribute.
They did stellar jobs on it, slightly different takes on it, which was interesting that they didn't do the same experience. But it was really, really good. They got it and they showed a love for it. They weren't making fun of it. It was there in the parks because of a genuine love and that's really special.
When speaking with one of the creative directors of Halloween Horror Nights, he expressed that the movie was his "white whale" of properties to bring to life.
And consistently in both Florida and Hollywood, it was a fan favorite, number one or number two almost every week during the run. I guess the other validation that means something in our world now is the rise in the merchandising. The products out there, the T-shirts are the logical ones, but then you've got the pins, the socks, the mugs, the masks. People doing replicas of the cotton candy cocoons with faces in it. The popcorn guns. So that means we're firmly established in pop culture now, that it's there. And it's now multi-generational because now the kids who saw it when they were young turn their kids onto it. And now, those kids are old enough to have their own kids, so we're still seeing young people come in. They were three, four, or five years old when they saw it for the first time and they're mesmerized by it.
You and Stephen and Charles have been talking for years about continuing the series in some way, with reports that SYFY was interested in the property at one point, as well as reports that the Disney/Fox merger last year somehow hurt sequel opportunities, and I wondered what the current status is of the series' future.
It's extremely complicated, especially in today's world. There have been ongoing talks with MGM. They are keen on doing something with it. Not only because of the constant sales of the DVDs, Blu-rays, the merchandising, but the new IT series that came out and validated the love and fear of clowns and MGM realized that they're sitting on the granddaddy of them all, in terms of the genre. But it's really finding the right place, the right tone. What does a Killer Klowns from Outer Space movie look like in 2020? There's a certain innocence that happened in 1988 where clowns were more universally loved than they are today, perhaps. We've been in conversations on, really, all fronts, from a television series, which is personally one of the more exciting versions, because it gives us an opportunity to fully realize our "Trilogy in Four Parts" concept. How we follow new characters and some old characters over a really fun character arc that could be executed, we think, best in an hour-long TV format.
But it also could be adapted for a series of feature-length films that play out that scenario. Those are the types of ideas that we're working with. Just working with MGM on a way to make that happen. They're eager to make something happen. I can't say anything is active right now, especially in light of what's going on with the coronavirus.
We're scheduled to have some further conversations with them after we get through our projects right now. There's always a willingness on it there. We're looking for new collaborators, perhaps to maybe bring us a new perspective on what it could be like in 2020.
The one thing I think definitively put to rest is this idea that it was somehow caught up in the Fox/Disney acquisition. As far as I know, I don't know officially, but I have on pretty good authority that the Klown franchise was not swept up in that. MGM controls the rights on it because we've been in contact with them. We have friends over there and we have people that we've been working with, just bouncing ideas off of one another over the time. So I don't know where [those rumors] came from. It was odd, but as far as I know, it was not swept up in that deal.
I think that deal was so complicated and covered so much territory, it was unclear which studio owned what and how the deal impacted a variety of properties that everyone was grasping as straws.
The only possible link was for a very, very short period of time when MGM was letting Sony do the video distribution, there was a Fox tie-in, so maybe for a very brief period of time, Fox had some sort of link to the home video rights as a distributor. But as far as I know, it's not the case.
Right now, MGM has been a very good home for it. They get it. The people that are running the creative, the merchandise people certainly dig it. It's in a good place right now and, again, we'll see. We're hoping something happens with it. We're hoping we're a part of it and yeah, there'll be more Klowns at some point. It'd be fun to revisit it. But, like I said, I'm content with where it is right now, too.
So could the film potentially get a reboot without you being directly involved?
That's certainly part of the conversation. Again, not that we claim to know everything. We do have a pretty unique understanding of how the Klowns operate and what that universe is. But, again, we've always worked with other filmmakers, other creative people, so we would welcome the right opportunity to make that happen. I think there's a lot of fun to be had with the concept, like our "Trilogy in Four Parts." It's very fun. There's a certain dark comedy to even the original that we're playing with.
We love the genre, we're having fun with the genre, we're making fun of it but not because we want to make fun of it, but because we love it. We're embracing it and people are responding to that. Hopefully we get the opportunity to play with our ideas. It would be really interesting because seeing some of the fan art and how they've taken it to a new vision, a new direction. Maybe a little more visceral than we would ever take it. There is a great opportunity to take it to a new level and still honor the original. And then make it something that resonates with today's audiences.
Other than the Klowns franchise, what are some of the other projects we should look out for?
We're working on two things right now. One, I can't really talk that much about, but we were one day into our third week of 10 on a stop-motion feature that we had to pull the plug on [due to the coronavirus pandemic], so I had to lay off 54 people for the foreseeable future. It's a great project. I can't say much about it other than that it's just a really fun stop-motion project, a feature that we've been working on for a number of years now with some great filmmakers. It's not a Chiodo Brothers project, we're just the animation company, but it's just really a great, great project that I'm devastated that we had to stop on because I had an amazing team working on that.
On a practical level, with a stop-motion animation project, will you be able to somewhat quickly resume production or are all the props and sets likely going to be ruined?
We positioned ourselves in a way that we finished off the couple of shots that were active. We didn't start on any new shots. In theory, we go in, we heat up the lights and we could pick up right where we left off. The puppets, the sets, everything is all intact. We're going have to do some new planning and things and adjust accordingly. But based on crew availability, we're hoping that we can get the bulk of the crew back.
And then another project is the Chiodo Brothers project. We're doing our Netflix special, Alien Xmas. We're in final post-production on that and we're right at the stage where we need to be in post houses for final sound and final color and all of that. I've moved a lot of that offsite remotely. But we're at a certain point where we're going to be at a stopping point. We can only take that so far. And that's a Christmas special, so we have to finish it pretty quickly in order for Netflix to do what they need to do on it, if they have all their dubs and subtitles they need to do for all those, the worldwide audience that they have.
It's an original Chiodo Brothers property based on the children's book that my brother Stephen and Jim Strain wrote. My brother Charlie illustrated it and we partnered with Jon Favreau who's our executive producer and we set it up at Netflix and for the last a year-and-a-half, we've been making this special. And if the virus didn't hit, we are probably about a month away from finishing it. I'm feeling pretty good that we're going to be able to pull it off.
It's a great little story. It's about the true meaning of Christmas. It's basically this nasty, evil alien race comes to Earth to plunder it and take all our stuff. In order to do so, they have to build a machine at the top of the world to suck Earth's gravity away. And then when everybody flies into space, they suck it all up in their vacuum spaceships. And then they enlist the services of an alien called "X" and he goes up to the top of the world and then we find out Santa and the elves are the first line of defense against this nasty, evil alien invasion. It's all done in glorious, traditional stop-motion animation, puppets on the stage.0comments
Stay tuned for details on the future of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space franchise and Alien Xmas, which is coming to Netflix later this year.