Killer Klowns from Outer Space is one of the great 80s monster movies. One that, despite a supposedly off putting title and concept, manages to be both funny (they're clowns, after all) and frightening. Or disturbing, at least. The monsters themselves are beautifully balanced between being goofy (they're clowns, after all) and monstrously nightmarish. (They're clowns, after all - just ask anyone with coulrophobia.)
The film's story is The Blob retold with alien "klowns," instead of a growing chunk of carnivorous gelatinous goo. Mike (Grant Cramer) takes his new girlfriend Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) to "The Top of the World," the local make-out spot for their small town's youth. A falling star interrupts their playful romance and the couple investigate. What they discover is a circus tent that is, in fact, an alien spaceship. One that is filled with people eating klowns. Mike and Suzanne narrowly escape being cocooned by the klowns' cotton candy food storage guns and try to convince the local police that their goofy tale is true. Meanwhile the klowns march into town for some dinner.
Playing underneath it all is John Massari's wonderful electronic score. On the liner notes for Varese Sarabande's Limited Edition album of Jerry Goldsmith's unused score for 1988's Alien Nation, writer Robert Townson had this to say about electronic film scores:
"Electronic scores were all the rage in the 80s and, by and large, resulted in one long drone. There was little of interest among the vast majority of these works, as it didn't take much expertise to make sounds on them. But to make music it still took the talent of a real composer."
John Massari is a real composer, and his score for Killer Klowns from Outer Space is top notch. While the campy theme song by The Dickies (also included on the album) is probably what sticks in the memory of the average viewer; those, like me, that pay attention to the music score for a movie will know that John Massari's score was perfectly suited for Klown's goofy/creepy style.
The Killer Klown March, first heard when the aliens begin their march on the town, just after Mike and Suzanne make their escape, will be the easiest to recall for the casual listener. It is also heard during several subsequent attacks, though it may have been a loop, as some of the attack music doesn't appear on the album. The only other times the March is heard on the album is in Visit to the Drugstore and, my favorite version, Amusement Park/Death Pies. ("What are you going to do with those pies, boys?")
What makes a good score great is its ability to enhance a film, not draw attention to itself. Mike and Debbie's Discovery is an almost seven minute long track that, in the film, plays throughout Mike and Debbie finding the clown ship, first mistaking it for an actual circus tent, then discovering the horrifying truth about it and its inhabitants. Massari goes from playful to threatening with ease, calling attention to itself only when dramatically necessary. The same can be said for Escape from the Klown Ship, the track that immediately follows.
Galactic Globe Theatre underscores a playful puppet show that turns into a death trap. Again Massari splendidly punctuates Klown's method of starting with humor and ending with horror. Little Girl Too Klose is a wonderful suspense cue for one of the film's most haunting moments. Shadow Show again shows just how expertly Massari is at punctuating Klown's joke-turned-jab style. (This track is probably one of the album's very best at showing Massari's skill as a composer - though Growing Korn is a personal favorite, because it features a Carpenteresque staccato to goose the suspense.)
Other tracks worth mentioning are Officer Mooney (wherein the late, great John Vernon comes face-to-nose with a Klown), Dave and the Aftermath, Ventriloquist Mooney, The Inevitable Parts 1 and 2 (heard when a procession of Klowns marches down a street, capturing and sucking up any and all humans unfortunate to be there), and Truck Escape and Klownzilla (actually any of the music that underscores the film's climax is excellent).
While John Massari's music blends so well with the movie it is scoring that it might be hard to remember or notice during the movie itself, the simple fact that it did its job so well is what makes it such a wonderful listening experience. The music is so well connected to its source that even hearing it separated from the film, it easy to recall exactly where the music was used. I think that is a pretty high compliment and I also think that John Massari's score for Killer Klowns from Outer Space is one of 80s film music's hidden gems. A big thanks to Percepto Records for finally getting it out on CD, it was worth every second of the wait.