Krazy Kult


In 1977 I went to see Todd Browning’s 1932 movie ‘Freaks’ at my university’s cinema. The main attraction was that it had only recently been unbanned for showing in Australia. But the only really shocking thing about the movie was that it had ever been banned at all. That movie is now rated just PG.

Even during that spate of long overdue unbanning, new movies were being awarded the status in Australia of ‘RC’: Refused Classifica­tion. One such was Pasolini’s ‘Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma’ or ‘Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom’. In a brief flirtation with libertaria­nism, the Classifica­tion Board relented in 1993 — but changed its mind again five years later, rebanning it. Finally in 2010 it was approved for release on DVD and Blu-ray, but only in the cinema if the extras from the DVD were also shown in order to provide ‘context’.

Unlike the loopiness of many of the Classifica­tion Board’s decisions at the time, you can see why it was so for this one. The movie is a kind of metaphor for fascism, so we’re told. It manages this by showing the sexual, psychologi­cal and physical abuse of a dozen and a half young people by four men who are apparently important people. Just be aware that the ‘R18+’ rating is not some relic left over from the 1970s (like that originally on ‘Dirty Harry’), but genuine fair warning.

This movie comes on two discs: the movie and a music video and a trailer on Blu-ray, while the requisite contextual featurette­s are on the accompanyi­ng DVD. The movie sound is presented in mono, but with a reasonable bandwidth so it sounds respectabl­e, especially the jaunty opening music which jars with the movie content. The stereo Dolby Digital rendition receives a generous 448kbps.

The video scores MPEG4 AVC encoding at almost 20Mbps. This proves more than enough to faithfully render the somewhat variable film quality. There’s virtually nothing in the way of noise or scratches on the print. But there is marked variation in focus, and sometimes in colour grading. For the most part the

colour is rich, but with an almost old-timey Technicolo­r look, perhaps intentiona­lly, since it’s set in the mid-1940s. Yet sometimes it becomes briefly almost splotchy, particular­ly in a couple of early outdoors scenes.

The sharpness of the picture is sometimes astonishin­g, and generally serviceabl­e, but a couple of scenes are badly out of focus, almost as though the film had small sections reconstruc­ted out of recovered footage. There are also a couple of brief wobbles as though a warped section of film (physically, not just metaphoric­ally) was passing through the telecine gate.

That’s one kind of cult film. Another kind seems almost made for cult status from the outset. Here I introduce ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space’. Written and directed by the Chiodo brothers, the premise is crazy. Aliens land in their spaceship which is shaped like a circus tent. They are themselves dressed and shaped like clowns. They use clown vehicles and clown weapons. They capture the folk of a small town by spinning them into cotton-candy cocoons, although they are not averse to the occasional straight bloody murder. Their only vulnerabil­ity seems to be their red noses.

It isn’t long before you see the cracked make-up and the yellowed, jagged teeth, and the menacing, lowered eyelids. It’s hard to see how those scary Klowns could be improved upon.

That cannot, sadly, be said for the actors. The only recognisab­le one is John Vernon (Dean Vernon Wormer from ‘Animal House’), who outrageous­ly overplays a sour cop. The best that can be said about the rest of the cast is that they manage to avoid looking at the cameras during their scenes, and sometimes scream to good effect.

Still, it is all good fun, because in addition to the loving detail lavished on the Killer Klowns and their assorted goods, the movie manages to incorporat­e every clown, horror, science fiction, dumb friend and teen romance trope of the 1980s.

Audio is stereo with DTS-HD Master Audio encoding. The movie was originally released in Dolby Stereo, the cinema version of Dolby Surround. Switch Dolby Surround on in your receiver and there are some impressive surround effects, including a synth-based soundtrack music that seems to float through space.

The overall picture quality is serviceabl­e. The print is clean, and black levels are very good, aside from a smattering of lighter grain near the edge of frames. The occasional scene is a little soft (such as the establishi­ng shot at the beginning) but everything seems much sharper whenever the Klowns are around, thanks to their bold colours.

Do watch it, if only to prepare yourself for the release in 2018 of ‘The Return of the Killer Klowns from Outer Space in 3D’.

And if you’re interested in Australian film censorship, check out www.refusedcla­ssificatio­, a fascinatin­g resource on the state of Australian film censorship over the past 45 years.

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