Killer Klowns from Outer Space

June 18, 2012

Killer Klowns from Outer Space delivers just what its title promises. For some reason, these murderous greasepaint aliens have landed their spaceship, which resembles a Big Top, in a small town. Then these klowns—er, clowns—proceed to eliminate the populace.

The first victim is a lanky rural type (Royal Dano, who always plays lanky rural types). He spots the ship, declares, “Well I’ll be greased and fried!” and is promptly killed and wrapped in pink cotton candy.

Then the clowns, large mechanical contraptions with oversized hands and red noses (the noses turn out to be their Achilles’ heel, as it were), move into the town. This provides the film’s rare passages of amusement, as another good character actor (John Vernon) gets to cut up with the clowns before he is inevitably killed off.

The presence of the clowns puts into perspective the insipid love triangle involving a young cop (Grant Cramer), a girl (Suzanne Snyder), and a dork (John Allen Nelson). These three put aside their differences long enough to track the clowns to the amusement park. How do they know the clowns are at the amusement park? Well, as one of the kids puts it, “Where would you hide if you were a clown?”

The movie asks a number of questions. When the kids are chased by the clowns and pelted by popcorn, one asks, “Why popcorn?” The reply is, “‘Cause they’re clowns, that’s why.” Later, someone sensibly brings up the crucial question about the movie itself: “Why clowns?” And the even more tantalizing follow-up query: “And how come they’re not funny?”

These legitimate questions are left unanswered by screenwriters Charles Chiodo and Stephen Chiodo (Stephen also directed). Personally, I suspect that the goofy title came first, the movie second.

Other than that, there’s not much to say about the film; it’s almost nonexistent, really. A lot of bad movies tend to evaporate once they’re finished. This is one of those rare films that seem to evaporate while you’re watching it.

First published in the Herald, May 1988

It was the era of “funny” titles, which were usually not funny in direct proportion to how hard the title tried (Surf Nazis Must Die—lousy movie). The Chiodo brothers went on to careers in puppetry and stop-motion work in everything from “The Simpsons” to Team America: World Police, so they’ve done well by themselves.

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Red-Headed Stranger

June 14, 2012

Willie Nelson has instant, effortless screen presence; he seems quite comfortable on film, and he’s physically unusual, with his weathered face adorned with its biblically curled beard and large, intense eyes.

Those qualities make Nelson an interesting person to watch. But his facility in the medium also lets him lay back; he appears content to coast on his magnetism. “Acting,” as we casually know it, does not enter into the process.

Nelson’s simple style, which conjures up an air of mystery, is well used in Red-Headed Stranger, a Western somewhat spun off from Nelson’s album of the same title. It’s an uneven film, but one that gets a lot more interesting as it goes along.

The first 50 minutes or so are misleading. Nelson plays a preacher who journeys with his new bride (Morgan Fairchild—no, really!) from Pennsylvania to a tiny Montana town. There we find a conventional clash of wills between Nelson, the evil fur-trapper (Royal Dano) who owns the town’s water supply, and the compromised sheriff (R.G. Armstrong).

All of that is no better than an average episode of “Gunsmoke,” but then the film takes a turn that shows the preacher to be an entirely darker character, and he becomes a self-willed wanderer until the opportunity arrives to redeem himself.

It doesn’t ever jell, but at least Nelson and writer-director Bill Witliff explore some interesting territory. Next time, let’s see them leave out the conventional stuff altogether.

First published in the Herald, October 1986

Witliff had a run there, scripting The Black Stallion and “Lonesome Dove” and some other Nelson projects; this remained his lone directing credit. Willie Nelson really did have an intriguing presence, although how Morgan Fairchild got mixed up in this one is puzzling.