Killer Klowns From Outer Space" (1988)
The toughest movie to make in Hollywood is a horror-comedy. Not only because of the marketing challenge, but also because it can be difficult to handle that terror of the unknown with the familiar recognition that assists our laughs. So consider it a surprise that this ludicrous B-movie, where a race of alien clowns descend from the sky to turn us into cotton candy snacks, works so well. While there is humor to be mined from the typical collection of horny teens, the winning stroke from writer-directors the Chiodo Brothers is playing the threat of these red-nosed bozos completely straight. A moment when a regular citizen challenges a clown to a fist fight produces laughs when the clown emerges with boxing gloves, only for the towering monster to punch his head clean off. It’s a moment of cheese ball ridiculousness that quickly evolves into something oddly upsetting, perfectly capturing the film’s odd appeal. [B]

Monsters” (2010)
Made for a fraction of “District 9”’s budget, director Gareth Edwards’s impressive debut imagines an equally compelling world where alien lifeforms remain confined to an area cordoned off by the U.S. and Central America. The “infected zone” includes most of Mexico, but “Monsters” only briefly suggests any overt criticism of U.S. illegal immigration policies, and Edwards himself denies it. Instead, he chose for the zone to serve as a backdrop to a burgeoning romance between two people significantly out of their element -- callous photo-journalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and his boss’ daughter Samantha (Whitney Able). Kaulder is tasked with transporting Samantha back to the States, where her father and fiance await. The pair run into some trouble and are forced to bribe their way into and across the zone, and inevitably come in contact with the alien species that has taken root and to some degree flourished, despite being under constant fire from the world outside. Edwards' film is a keeper entirely because it shifts focus to the two leads and watches them develop -- we are free to draw what conclusions we may about this world, but once our investment with Kaulder and Sam is set in motion, the film hits emotional notes large scale sci-fi rarely manages. [B]

Signs" (2002)
Ah, remember the good old days when M. Night Shyamalan was more concerned with entertaining us than teaching us things? While "Signs" does lean a little too heavily on the everything-happens-for-a-reason hokum that would ultimately derail his once flourishing career, it remains one of Shyamalan's funniest and scariest contraptions. The crop circle angle, too, was an ingenious way to approach the alien invasion conceit, letting a compelling family drama (led by winning performances by Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix) anchor the apocalyptic plot mechanics. While the final act could use some more oomph (the monster design, resembling a walking asparagus, is genuinely terrible), "Signs" is a smart, stylish, suspenseful little piece, gorgeously photographed by Tak Fujimoto with a jangle-your-nerve-endings Herrmannesque score by James Newton Howard. It's also whole leagues apart from Night's next "scary" movie, "The Happening," in which the globe was menaced by the terrifying threat of gently rippling grass. [B+]