Halloween has come and gone once again, and of course I watched more than a few horror films for the spirit of the season.
Because I am deep diving into what I consider the golden age of once overlooked and now cult classic films, the 1980s, all of them came from that decade. I was given even more incentive due to my first experience at Halloween Horror Nights featuring several attractions that were of the time.
This year’s event at Universal Studios Florida had haunted houses based on Stranger Things, Ghostbusters, Killer Klowns, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses, Jordan Peele’s Us, and classic Universal Monsters. I’ve already seen Ghostbusters like most people but I had yet to see Killer Klowns from Outer Space and Stranger Things. I wasn’t particularly interested in 1000 Corpses or Us.
The latter I hadn’t yet seen is a creation of this decade meant to be a nostalgic love letter to popular culture, horror-related or not, three decades’ prior. I managed to watch the entirety of Stranger Things before arriving in Orlando only for the attraction wait-time to be stuck between an unbearable 65 to 50 minutes.
The first film however is cartoonish fun that is awash with creativity and just enough creepiness to earn a place in the genre.
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Image taken from Arizona Daily Star (Coulrophobics need not apply…)
If there was ever a film that typified the eighties’ uncanny ability to make a horror experience more fun and enjoyably ridiculous than darkly serious and hauntingly ominous, it is Killer Klowns from Outer Space.
There is no misdirection whatsoever in the title’s description. A race of aliens which happen to look like the ugliest circus clowns touch down on some unspecific part of America. Their space vessel is shaped like a garishly yellow carnival tent.
What do the klowns want from us? Food, but sadly of the Twilight Zone-esque “It’s a cookbook!” variety. They transform the hapless citizens of Crescent Cove one by one into cotton candy to take back to their ship. It’s up to a bunch of stereotypically 80s’ teenagers and one initially skeptical young deputy to figure out a way to defeat the klowns and rescue those captured, if there is a way at all.
The film is most focused on the klowns’ mission of finding and tricking humans into falling into traps that gets them captured and transformed into cotton candy which is unabashedly black comedy. Similar to your average slasher film, the viewer is subversively entertained in seeing how the klowns set up the situations which involve tricking and killing the clueless people. How will that dupe and this dupe be taken out?
It’s a fun if morbid guessing game which is heightened by all the methods the klowns use being based on tricks and games real clowns famously use in shows or at the circus. Puppet shows, shadow puppets, throwing pies which are really acidic bioweapons, it’s so dark yet too silly to be taken seriously.
While I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, as the people behind the film have wanted for a long time to make a sequel, this really does feel like the kind of film which could only be made in its time. The late 80s’ atmosphere, having a theme song scored by a punk rock band, the intentionally familiar cliches, just that hard to describe 1980s’ cinematic atmosphere which permeated more than one genre.
If you have a fear of clowns, I would caution in that case against watching it, but while the klowns are unambiguously villainous and literally killers, it’s not to the same malicious evil as the Joker and Pennywise. You will more likely laugh or feel good watching the movie play out then you will be scared.
Image from Hollywood Reporter (Stephen King in his finest acting role as the unluckiest country hick of all time)
Before Tales from the Crypt( at least the TV version), before Tales from the Darkside, before American Horror Story, before the Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, there was Creepshow, a lovingly silly horror anthology movie made with the union of Stephen King and George Romero in its production.
Romero and King were of the generation which read sleazy, pulpy horror comics in the 1950s, one of which was Tales from the Crypt in its original comic format. If this and Creepshow 2, released five years later are any indication, they loved reading that certain kind of fiction and this is them thumbing their noses at all the adults in their childhood lives who looked down on them for doing so.
Even if the stuff that inspired Creepshow really was low-tier schlock, it was schlock that likely helped inspire Romero and King’s legendary forays in horror. Much like how Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and the cheap Republic action serials inspired Lucas and Spielberg with Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Even the greats have to find their inspiration from somewhere.
The first Creepshow consists of five stories which range between 20 to 35 minutes in length with an additional framing device of all the stories coming from a kid’s copy of a Creepshow issue. His abusive father, who of course thinks that crap is rotting his brain throws it into the garbage, and during the Halloween season of all times!
The wind pushes each page to a new frightful story. The first is about an awful rich father coming back to life as a revenant in search of revenge for his daughter killing him and to get his “father’s day cake.”
The second, the one which features King himself in what must be a self-effacing role, as a redneck hick living in ,where else, Maine. He finds a crashed meteor containing a mysterious green goo which slowly but surely transforms everything it touches into an alien plant life. Sadly King’s lovably dumb Jordy certainly touched it and nothing will save him now.
The third and my favorite initially starts off as an elaborate revenge plot that turns amusingly at the end into another case of “back from the dead vengeance”. Ted Danson’s character is sleeping with Leslie Nielsen’s character’s wife, who is unsurprisingly much younger than the latter.
Despite Creepshow having a definite dark comedy feel, Nielsen’s character is hardly comic, even though he had already started his comedy renaissance two years prior with Airplane!. Nielsen is legitimately scary in his cold yet smug desire to ruin his wife’s extramarital lover.
What is Nielsen’s plan for Danson? To have him dig a human sized hole at the beach, put him in the hole, put the rest of the sand around so he is stuck under the beach up to his neck. Then bringing out a TV surveillance system, he shows Danson that his wife is in the same predicament and the evening tide is on its way to end both their lives. To say anymore would be to spoil an outlandishly fun surprise.
The fourth and probably the one most familiar to those who have heard of Creepshow is about a Yeti-like beast who is found in a caged box in a college by a janitor. He calls a professor and the two try to figure out why it was there in the first place. Things very much go off the rails from there and it also brings in another dastardly plot of retribution, this time by the professor’s best friend played by Hal Holbrook.
Holbrook has an awful, annoying sister that will not ever shut up about him in a derogatory way and also won’t let him live a life free of her. Holbrook discovers the beast is real and it doesn’t take a genius to guess where the story will go from there.
The final story is the most visually creative and the one that lives up to the anthology’s title the most, so much so that the name of the story has “creep” in it. A horribly evil billionaire businessman has severe Howard-Hughes level hypochondria. He lives in a piercingly white and sterile apartment in Manhattan and conducts all his business by phone. He refuses to let anyone enter the apartment for fear of germs.
This guy soon has his apartment gradually fill with cockroaches, which start coming out of just about every corner. Even worse when a city wide power outage occurs. The conclusion to the story is about as gross as you could imagine and the strongest example of Tom Savini’s special effects work in the whole movie. Savini, for those who don’t know is a legend in make-up effects. If you’ve seen the first and fourth Friday the 13ths or Dawn and Day of the Dead, then you will know him by his work. He also has a great cameo at the end.
The majority of the horror films I saw for the Halloween season were the first seven Friday the 13th movies, the ones that are probably the most seen and respected of the bunch, though respected may not be the best way to describe a series like that. My next blog post, hopefully coming up right after this one will be my thoughts on the first seven parts of Jason’s absurdly bloody legend.
You will find it very much so that as cliched and “of their time” as they may be, they can be no less awesome and oddly charming to someone watching them after the fact. That a mid-twenties’ millennial can find entertainment value from such films is a testament against the series’ contemporary critics.