Clowns are a standard in the our pop culture and they are loved by all. From a young age, clowns have always been there to entertain us on television and help to sell us Happy Meals. Clowns are a staple of a child’s birthday party with the crazy colored hair, the big feet, bright clothes, and blow up balloon animals making kids laugh. The party clowns get the kids excited with party games and songs at the same time hyping them up with candy and exhausting them so they sleep on the car ride home. And what would a circus be if it weren’t for the clowns and their horns, exaggerated moves and tiny cars that seem to fit hundreds of them. Everyone loves a clown, right? RIGHT???
Tell then to someone who suffers from Coulrophobia. Literally: Fear of Clowns. While not an officially listed phobia in any diagnostic manual, the Fear of Clowns is a very real thing for so many people.
The staple appearance of a clown is meant to thrill and entertain, but look at a clown. They have exaggerated facial features with giant smiles or frowns, giant eyes and eyebrows and shocking afro of rainbow colored hair topped off with a giant red bow. Clowns have big feet and big hands and really comes close to the line of looking like a parody of a person and looking like a seriously deformed human being, akin to Joseph Merrick, who was not a clown, but was part of traveling show of, shall we say, curiosities, under the well-known pseudonym of The Elephant Man.
Horror is about taking what is fun and comforting and turning on its head.
In Halloween, Michael Myers is known for the mask he wears, which is a repurposed William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask, but in the backstory of Michael Myers, when he committed his first murder at 6 years old, he wore the mask of a clown.
Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist (1982) took a child’s doll and brought it to life as a vessel that stalked and tried to kill Robbie. The previously smiling and innocent face twisting with hate and rage.
From there, clowns became a staple of the horror movies genre, each one more and more grotesque. The Killer Klowns from Outer Space is about a clan of evil aliens from an unknown region, who all resemble circus clowns. They arrive on Earth in a small town with the sole intention to capture, kill and then harvest the human inhabitants to use as sustenance. The film received generally positive reviews and has been considered a cult classic.
If you feel like double-dipping into your fear, Zombieland combined zombies and clowns. At a Playland, activating some of the rides draws the attention of the zombies in the area. Fighting through the horde, Columbus successfully evades and shoots through several zombies facing off against a clown zombie.
In “Saw” At the intersection of scary clown dolls and ventriloquist’s dummies lives Billy, the tricycle riding harbinger of Jigsaw. He’s ultimately harmless, but when Billy shows up, unimaginable pain and misery will surely follow; the last thing you want to hear him say is: “I’d like to play a game.”
The 4th Season of American Horror Story, Freak Show, is a fan favorite, and that has a lot to do with Twisty the Clown. He’s a tormented character who’s equally pitiable and petrifying. His wooden, static grin conceals a bloody, gaping maw, the result of a failed suicide attempt. His clown-cap, adorned with red, yellow, and green hair, looks like it was peeled off of someone else’s skull.
You may not consider Batman to exactly be a part of the horror genre, but you can’t talk about clowns without talking about the Joker. From Cesar Romero, to Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and, most recently Jared Leto, that giant smile, white skin, green hair and purple jacket and known far and wide as the costume of a psychopathic killer with a penchant to violence who is quite capable of anything and everything. Few villains out there so perfectly personify unbridled chaos as The Joker.
When it comes to killer clowns, everything else is prologue compared to the main character of the Stephen King Classic, IT. It will probably be a very long time before anyone dethrones Pennywise from It, played by Tim Curry, as Supreme King of Killer Clowns—if ever. That includes the new version of Pennywise in the upcoming remake.
Clowns are always going to be, first a foremost, fun entertainment for kids everywhere, but as long as there are things that are meant to fun, and carefree, there are going to those who twist them to be terrifying images of nightmares and for every Bozo and Ronald, there is always going to be a Pennywise. Sleep tight.