Friday, April 13, 2018


The urban dictionary defines a cult film as “A movie that has a significant following”. One thing they omit in that definition is that cult films for the most part are movies that didn’t do well at the box office when initially released but found an audience after that. Early on audiences found them at midnight movies but with the invention of video and later disc it was in these markets that lost treasures suddenly became go to movies for fans. Among those movies is one involving that highly dreaded, nightmare inducing, phobic founding image known as the circus clown. No, not IT, I’m talking about KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE.

Released in 1988 to little recognition when the movie played on cable in heavy rotation it developed a huge fan base. On tape even more so. When it finally appeared on DVD fans flocked to it and continue to do so. Now Arrow Video is releasing the ultimate version of the film to blu-ray and fans will be thrilled with this release.

If you missed out on the movie when first released it told the story of young couple Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder) who while parking witness a glow in the night time sky. Following the path it traveled they find a vast circus tent lit up in a nearby field and investigate. Inside they discover all the twisted crazy lights and colors one would associate with a funhouse as well as huge hanging loops of cotton candy. The problem is inside each loop is a human being slowly deteriorating.

The pair realize that this is no circus tent but a spaceship. It isn’t long before they’re being chased by aliens, beings that resemble demented circus clowns. From floppy footwear to garish make up they might look like the clowns but with fang filled faces and cotton candy embalming ray guns they aren’t quite what one would remember.

Mike and Debbie escape and make their way to town. At the police station they’re confronted by hard-nosed Officer Curtis Mooney (John Vernon), one of those stereotypical officers who thinks all kids are just punks, and Officer Dave Hansen (John Allen Nelson) who thankfully is in charge. We soon learn that Dave was once Debbie’s boyfriend. He drops Debbie off at home and takes Mike to where they tell him the ship was located. The ship having moved, he arrest Mike for creating a disturbance.

In the meantime the clowns have been taking over the town and wrapping up the populace in cotton candy to munch on later. When Dave finally sees what’s going on he and Mike head back to Debbie’s to make sure she’s safe. Recruiting a pair of goofballs in an ice cream truck, the Terenzi brothers, and calling in the State Patrol, they set out to find the ship and save the town.

Yes, the movie really is that simple and yes that goofy. It is a mixture of those famous alien invasion flicks of the past, most notably THE BLOB, turned upside down and combined with an off the wall sense of humor. The klowns themselves are memorable to see and have a combine looking funny with a feeling of dread at the same time. The tools they use range from the cotton candy ray guns to guns that shoot popcorn that later develop into more clowns.

The antics of the klowns display how deadly they can be too. Boxing gloves that give them enough punch to decapitate, cream pies that liquefy bodies and balloon animals that help them track down their prey are just a few of the items they use. The combination of the creations that were meant to make us laugh when young turned into the deadliest of foes gives viewers some truly funny sequences with an underlying sense of menace at the same time.

As I noted earlier, the movie gained fame after being released to theaters finding a huge crowd of fans on cable and tape/discs. So much so that the stars now find themselves surrounded by fans at conventions and the klowns memorialized in ink via tattoo. Show a movie lover a picture of the klowns from this film and they can immediately tell you the name of the movie as well as scenes from it. In addition to that the theme song from the film, performed and written by punk band The Dickies, is a catchy tune that fans have adored as much as the movie itself.

Arrow Video has been doing a great job of presenting lost and cult films for some time now and they’ve done an amazing job with this one. The presentation of the movie on blu-ray looks stupendous here, better than ever. And the extras they’ve included, as always, make the entire experience worth viewing rather than just a press package feel.

Arrows version here begins with a 4k scan restoration using the original camera negative. It gets better from there. How so? The extras include an archive audio commentary with the Chiodo Brothers, LET THE SHOW BEGIN! ANATOMY OF A KILLER THEME SONG an all-new interview with the original members of the American punk band The Dickies, THE CHIODOS WALK AMONG US: ADVENTURES IN SUPER 8 FILMMAKING an all new documentary about the Chiodo brothers early films made when they were teens, new HD transfers of the Chiodo brothers 8mm and Super 8 films, TALES OF TOBACCO an interview with Grant Cramer, DEBBIE’S BIG NIGHT an interview with Suzanne Snyder, BRINGING LIFE TO THESE THINGS a tour of Chiodo Brothers Productions, THE MAKING OF KILLER KLOWNS archive production featurette, VISUAL EFFECTS WITH GENE WARREN an archive interview with co-writer/producer Charles Chiodo and visual effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr., KREATING KLOWNS an archive interview with Charles Chiodo and creature fabricator Dwight Roberts, KOMPOSING KLOWNS an archive interview with composer John Massari, klown auditions, deleted scenes with filmmaker’s audio commentary, bloopers, image galleries, the original theatrical trailer and a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck that is amazing. Whew! That’s an exhaustive amount of extras!

So if the killer klowns brings back fond memories for you then give this one a look. Better yet pick up a copy and add it to your collection. It’s nothing to be taken seriously but is certainly one of the more fun movies of the cult film genre to garner your attention. Just make sure when you watch it to keep an eye on your popcorn and don’t let anyone have a cream pie sitting on the counter. 


When video stores were booming the shelves were filled with movies that no one had ever heard of. The demand was so high for product that a direct to video business boomed, offering some movies that were actually quite good but low budget. It was from these movies that future stars were born. The video stores may be long gone but that hasn’t stopped studios from making movies that now head direct to DVD. This week one of the better ones arrives.

SCORCHED EARTH takes place in the future. Climate change issues have devastated the planet. The air is difficult to breath, water is scarce, flaming storms pop up and locations where you can live enough to survive are few and far between. Machines have been outlawed. There is no central government. And to breath means you have to find the funds to pay for a filter that uses silver.

Towns have crept up and look like the old western towns of yore. And with those towns come lawmen and bounty hunters. The best of these bounty hunters is Gage (Gina Carano). Trained by mentor Doc (John Hannah) before a leg injury sidelined him to his new profession, she is the best tracker there is. If someone has broken the law, Gage is the one to send after them.

After taking out her latest target, a woman named Chavo, Gage learns about a large bounty on the head of a man named Thomas Jackson (Ryan Robbins). Jackson and his men are attacking and kidnapping people across the land and returning with them to the town he now controls. Masquerading as Chavo, Gage infiltrates the town and makes her presence known. She claims to be looking for work but instead learns what Jackson is up to.

Before she can take him in the sheriff of the town Doc lives in, a semi-corrupt lawman determined to get the bounty of Jackson himself, leads an attack on Jackson’s town. The end result is not what he expected. With no law nearby Gage is on her own now.

It turns out that Jackson has discovered that the old silver mine actually still has plenty of silver in it. The people he kidnaps are slave labor he’s using to mine that silver. Now Gage must not only take Jackson in but try and save these people at the same time. The odds of her being able to do this single handed are slim to none.

Let me say up front that the movie isn’t the most mainstream film you will find to rent this week. But it does offer a decent story, good special effects and enough action to keep fans watching. The story basically takes one of the old classic western tales from long ago and transforms it into a science fiction tale. Toss in the fabled bounty hunter and you could drop John Wayne in here anywhere.

Carano has made a few movies since retiring from mixed martial arts competition. Her athletic skills, beauty and ability to say her lines clearly have proven to make her the best women’s action star since Cynthia Rothrock. With roles in FAST & FURIOUS 6, FAST & FURIOUS: SHOWDOWN, DEADPOOL and the lead role in HAYWIRE, she has demonstrated she can carry a lead role. In this film her performance is a bit lacking which would make on wonder if it isn’t a case of a director that was unsure of how to use her that was the problem having seen how well she did prior.

On the whole the movie does offer a solid bit of entertainment that makes it a movie worth renting if not buying. The western story combined with a post-apocalyptic world works well and provides a nice backdrop for the movie. Carano fans will want to add this to their collection just to make sure they carry on owning all of her films. It’s nice to see a woman in a role typically played by a man and capable of doing it right. Let’s hope that she continues pursuing a career as an actress, getting better roles as she goes forward.

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It’s a sad day to realize that young people today have become so enamored of themselves that they fail to believe anything good took place before they were born. In so doing they short change themselves from discovering some of the greatest things entertainment has to offer them. Books that were written, music that was recorded and movies that were filmed before they entered this world. Fortunately before many of those items are lost to the world, film in particular, there are companies that are striving to make these items available. On such company has been Criterion.

Criterion has strived to save some of the most influential films from obscurity and released them on disc in the most comprehensive and splendid formats possible. They set the benchmark for many companies that have followed like Arrow and Twilight Time, both of which you will find my praises for here in past reviews. One new item from Criterion features a director that many will not recognize even though he could possibly be considered the godfather of screwball comedies. The movie is THE AWFUL TRUTH and it was directed by Leo Carey.

The film stars Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner and Irene Dunne as his wife Lucy. As the film opens Jerry is returning home early from a trip claiming he was in Florida but discovers Lucy isn’t home. She finally shows with her music instructor in tow, claiming that they would have been home the night before but his car broke down. Offended and accusing her of lying, the two argue and he suggest they divorce. Both angry and a bit stubborn they file and have no problem dividing assets with the exception of Mr. Smith, their dog.

Lucy moves in with her Aunt Patsy (Cecil Cunningham) and mopes. To get her out of the dumps her aunt sets her up with a new neighbor, a well to do man from Oklahoma named Dan Leeson (Ralph Bellamy). While this is transpiring Jerry pops in now and then on his days to visit their dog. The pair is still waiting for their divorce to be finalized and each shows glimmers behind the other’s back that perhaps this wasn’t the right move. But both remain stubborn and unbending.

It isn’t long before Lucy and Dan are engaged much to the consternation of Dan’s overbearing mother. Meeting Jerry doesn’t help her disposition much and neither does the things she hears about the duo’s divorce. But Jerry comes to Lucy’s defense and smooths things over. He just wants her to be happy.

The crux of the film lies between these two married people and their love for one another. But rather than admit that love they instead push each other away in the most roundabout ways possible. The comedy here lies in that misunderstanding that each refuses to admit. It seems as if they’re willing to let things disappear from their fingertips in an effort to not be the first to admit they were wrong.

As with most movies from this time the film is fueled with a combination of visual gags combined with fast paced, snappy dialogue. Pay attention or you’ll miss one joke or another. The humor is as dry as it is broad and one style or another while working perfectly in synch is bound to make you laugh. The jokes her range from those inspiring a chuckle to others that will result in full on belly laughs.

While many may remember Cary Grant as the suave leading man he became prior to this film that persona wasn’t set in stone yet. While playing some substantial roles beside some major stars of the time it wasn’t until this film and TOPPER, released the same year, would cement him in place to be a star in his own right. The caricature of the dapper man about town, sophisticated and self-assured, stemmed from his performances in both films but certainly more so in this one. Jerry is comfortable in a New York nightclub where he’s well-known and at the same time baffled when he thinks he knows something he honestly doesn’t. Grant followed this film with BRINGING UP BABY which solidified his leading man status. He later teamed up with McCarey for several films most notably AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER. But this film, under McCarey’s influence, he became a star.

Leading lady Irene Dunne also worked more than this with McCarey and became one of the top comedic actresses of her time. She and Grant worked together in several films which the public flocked to. While a star at the time her career lagged in later years no doubt due to the fact that women aging in Hollywood were treated less kindly than men. But the film legacy she left behind proved she was up to the challenge of standing tall next to the men she was paired with.

McCarey had come up through the ranks of the silent film days before talkies came along. It was the later films that made him famous and earned him the distinction of being the king of screwball comedies. He worked with Laurel and Hardy, Eddie Cantor in THE KID FROM SPAIN, the Marx Brothers in DUCK SOUP, Charles Laughton in RUGGLES OF RED GAP, Bing Crosby in GOING MY WAY and THE BELLS OF ST. MARY’S and Gary Cooper in GOOD SAM. The films he created are considered to be among the best that Hollywood had to offer. He won the Oscar twice as director, the first time being this film.

Sadly many won’t recognize his name. That’s a shame because while so many undeserving director are recognized here is someone who earned the same name recognition now forgotten. As long as companies like Criterion release his pictures on disc though there is a chance that might change.

Criterion has done their best to offer the film in the most glorious looking version of the film ever to find its way to disc. The movie has been restored into a new 4k digital presentation and while a black and white film it never looked as good. Other extras here include a new interview with critic Gary Giddins about McCarey, a video essay by film critic David Cairns on Cary Grant’s performances, an illustrated 1978 audio interview with actress Irene Dunne, a LUX RADIO THEATER adaptation of the film from 1939 featuring performances by Grant and Claudette Colbert and an essay by film critic Molly Haskell.

If you love classic movies you could sit and wait for them to be entered into rotation on Turner Classic Movies. Or you could make a point of picking up this version of THE AWFUL TRUTH. It’s one of those classic film comedies that gets better with age and can be watched more than once. And if you’ve never been exposed to the wonders of McCarey, Grant and Dunne then perhaps this is your chance to find out just how fantastic they were together.

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