It’s been an unfortunate year for coulrophobes. If the vomit-inducing slasher Terrifier 2 wasn’t enough, Gamescom 2022 had a trick up its sleeve: Killer Klowns From Outer Space, a cult classic horror-comedy from 1988, was returning in game format from developer Teravision Games.
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Creatively titled Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game, Teravision’s 7v3 multiplayer game – which will let fans play as the eponymous Killer Klowns – has kept more than just the film’s name. The iconic ringmaster riff from the film’s title track, ‘Killer Klowns‘ by punk-rock band The Dickies – played over Teravision Games’ reveal trailer, while KKFOS composer John Massari has returned to soundtrack the studio’s take on the Chiodo Brothers’ cult-classic.
Though it’s been several decades since Massari’s first Killer Klowns score, the composer has lost none of his fire. Below, you can listen exclusively to KKFOS:TG‘s main theme, ‘The Darkkest Karnival’ – a searing instrumental piece that gives 1987’s ‘Klown March’ a grease-paint makeover: parts of the guitar have been tightened up with cleaner distortion, while whirring electronics and a splash of synth make it sound like a dodgy carnival ride that’s well and truly out of control.
While ‘The Darkkest Karnival’ sounds far more modern than ‘Klown March’, it’s still easily recognisable to fans of the film. Even today, KKFOS‘ soundtrack stands out through several decades of horror. Massari largely abandoned the horror genre’s tendency for tense strings in favour of funhouse grandeur, and speaking to NME, Massari recalls that when he was approached in the summer of 1987 to compose KKFOS, the Chiodo Brothers were “very clear” about what they wanted.
“They did not want the music soundtrack for their movie to sound like all the other horror movie soundtracks being released at the time,” says Massari, who adds that he was told to “do everything you can to distinguish your music for this film.”
Massari delivered, and contributed to the “incredibly bizarre creative energy” he says radiates from KKFOS. The composer says his first screening of the film was soundtracked only by the “awesome” Dickies song, so without any temporary music in place he had only the film to inspire him. He says his “keystone moment” for composing the series was seeing the Killer Klown’s spaceship-tent nestled in the forest.
“That scene became my muse and inspiration. I fell in love,” says Massari, who jokes that it became his “film crush”. 35 years after he was approached for the film, Massari says KKFOS still holds an “extremely special place in my heart” – which made returning to score KKFOS:TG an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
Massari says he was approached by Good Shepherd Entertainment’s head of publishing Amanda Kruse, and was quickly convinced KKFOS was in “the best of hands”. He wasn’t the only one, Massari says, adding that the Chiodo Brothers were also on board.
“It was thankfully very obvious that the creative team at Good Shepherd Entertainment and the developers at Teravision Games were serious KKFOS fans,” says Massari. “It was after these meetings that my adventure began anew. I began to express myself musically by expanding and elevating all the music I created back in 1987. It was like a beautiful family reunion. The experience of scoring the original KKFOS was very inspiring. The game became a musical homecoming for me.”
However, Massari – whose own gaming habits bounce between God of War and Tetris – acknowledges that scoring the game required a “very different” approach to the film. As a result, he reveals that while it took him six weeks to score the film, KKFOS:TG‘s soundtrack took six months.
“With film there is a fixed and finite duration in any given scene, with the music composition following the scene’s framework,” he explains. “However in a game, a particular scene evolves in unpredictable ways. In the KKFOS game, you may find yourself in pursuit then, the tables turn on you in an instant. […] music here will change immediately depending on how long the gamer’s situation may switch from being hunted down by Klowns to chasing them.”
Similarly, Massari says he’s taken on a greater list of influences since scoring KKFOS. In the ’80s, he was influenced by Russian composers Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich as well as more mainstream rock artists like Frank Zappa, Blue Oyster Cult and Led Zeppelin. Now, the composer reveals he’s added the likes of Radiohead, Deadmau5 and Trent Reznor to his listening habits, which have helped inform some “new twists” he’s brought to the game’s score.
To create the score, Massari worked alongside Teravision Games’ audio lead Daniel Zambrano to create a sound that worked for a game. Massari says he bonded with Zambrano through “the language of music” and a shared love of KKFOS. Speaking to NME, Zambrano’s own influences include Massari and The Dickies, but he also credits bands like Depeche Mode and New Order for his style.
“John managed to set a unique tone and mood for that film. We knew we wanted to keep that essence alive, but also introduce a fresh twist for the game,” says Zambrano. “We started thinking about some of the most iconic tracks from the movie […] Because we knew that we definitely wanted our own versions in the game.”
“Each composition delivered by John was an accurate musical translation of what we at Teravision had in mind for our game,” Zambrano adds. He reveals that ‘Klown March’, which was used to create ‘The Darkkest Karnival’, was one that the team “absolutely needed” in the game. It’s clear that Zambrano is a big fan of Massari’s – as he talks about creating the main theme, the audio lead pauses to reveal that Massari created the thunderous ‘Klown March’ riff at 17, but didn’t use it because the rock band he was in at the time thought it was “too jazzy” to use. “True source,” Zambrano exclaims, “the man told us himself!”
Massari says that he’s often asked by fans if there’s a longer version of ‘Klown March’ and knew he wanted to keep its riff as the centerpiece of ‘The Darkkest Karnival’ while still letting it play out as a “next-gen Killer Klowns metal synthwave jam.”
“Throughout our many conversations with John it became clear that together we knew exactly how we wanted the music for the game to sound like,” says Zambrano. “We were looking for that ’80s synth vibe mixed with glorious orchestral string arrangements. Then put some highly distorted electric guitars on top and there you have it!”
There you have it indeed. While Zambrano describes KKFOS:TG‘s soundtrack as “sweet cotton candy for your ears”, it was a more sentimental process for Massari. “It was like a beautiful family reunion,” he says. “The experience of scoring the original KKFOS was very inspiring [so] the game became a musical homecoming for me.”
Killer Klowns From Outer Space: The Game is set to launch in early 2023 – so for fans of the once-dormant series, the prospect of returning to their cotton candy cocoons could be just a few months away. As the game’s launch draws near, Massari says that it’s possible the film would have been forgotten without its fans, who he describes as feeling like family.
“We all had faith that one day we’d be able to bring a new KKFOS experience to the fans – they have been so patient for so long,” says Massari, who will be kept “very busy” with live music performances and celebrations for KKFOS‘s 35th anniversary. “The fans brought this franchise back to life.”
When it launches next year, Killer Klowns from Outer Space: The Game will be available on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.