Clowns are creepy. Their grotesque shiny red lips, baggy suits and weirdly coloured tufts of hair really disturb some people. While most of us see Ronald McDonald as a nice corporate symbol, the eight per cent of the population that suffers from clown-ophobia — more properly called coulrophobia — views him as evil incarnate.
The mere mention of the Insane Clown Posse — a mix of gangsta rap and grease paint — is enough to inspire nightmares in the clown challenged.
Silent screen horror legend Lon Chaney Sr. tried to explain the fear.
“A clown is funny in the circus ring,” he said. “But what would be the reaction to opening a door at midnight and finding the same clown standing there?”
Among the movie standouts in the sub-sub-subgenre of “clown horror” are The Clown at Midnight, wherein a number of attractive youngsters get hacked to death by a psycho in a Bozo costume, and the escaped convicts of Clownhouse, who murder circus clowns, steal their identities and their costumes for a wild killing spree.
Then there’s the self-explanatory Killer Klowns From Outer Space. “They’re not clowns, they’re some sort of animal from another world that look just like our clowns. Maybe their ancients came to our planet centuries ago and our idea of clowns comes from them!”
This weekend a new version of the terrifying Pennywise the Dancing Clown comes to screens. In 1990 Tim Curry brought the glistening-lipped, child-eating creature to life in the TV miniseries It. His performance was so disturbingly realistic that on the DVD commentary his co-stars note they avoided him during the filming.
This weekend Pennywise returns in the big screen adaptation of It. Played by Bill Skarsgård, he is a makeup-clad manifestation of all your fears. He’s is the stuff of nightmares, a shape-shifter who adapts to the insecurities and anxieties of his victims. He taunts the kids — for instance he appears to Eddie the hypochondriac as, “a leper and walking infection” — repelling and luring them with the things that terrify them most. It’s creepy enough to make you rethink your next trip to the circus.
Bozo the Clown he ain’t.
Unlike Curry’s co-stars, the kids of the new It weren’t intimidated by Pennywise— off-screen, at least.
“They tried to keep us apart but when we met him we already knew this guy is just an actor,” said Vancouver-born Finn Wolfhard. “We’re not really freaked out by him. We are in the movie but he’s a really good dude in real life. We love him.”
In fact, most of the cast said clowns were not high on their list of terrifying things.
“I never really got the point of clowns,” said Sophia Lillis. “No offense, clowns. Maybe when I was really young I was afraid of them because they have all this makeup and baggy clothes and give candy to children. It’s a little off-putting.”
Wolfhard agrees. “It is a little off-putting. Maybe it’s because they’re always happy.”
Chosen Jacobs thinks It will trigger a new wave of coulrophobia.
“Our generation lacked a horror film that brought the fear back to clowns. I think now that It is coming out this generation and the next generation will regain that fear. At least we can say we changed the world! That’s our contribution.”