The father finally responds: "We don't have a clown statue!"
In some versions of the story, the babysitter and the children are able to escape and the clown statue, which turns out to be a criminal who has escaped from prison, is caught by the cops. In other versions, however, the police arrive to find both the girl and kids dead and, more importantly, no sign of the clown.
From urban legends, literature, and movies to the most recent season of American Horror Story: Freak Show, fear of clowns, or coulrophobia, has become an increasingly common plot device used to scare audiences and readers. It was not too long ago clowns were mainly associated with the circus, children, laughter, cotton candy, and "Happy Meals"; how did these balloon-holding, colorful-makeup-clad circus entertainers become the base of one of the most rapidly growing fears in recent decades?
Clowns have always had a darker side. For ages clowns were considered to be adult entertainers, personifying characters who, according to historians, would openly "mock sex, food, drink, and the monarchy, all the while behaving maniacally for a laugh." It is documented that clowns already existed in ancient Egypt, Greek, and Roman societies, eventually becoming court jesters in the late Middle Ages.
As David Kiser, director of talent for Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus puts it, "in one way, the clown has always been an impish spirit (…) as he’s kind of grown up, he’s always been about fun, but part of that fun has been a bit of mischief." They were able to ridicule leaders, religious traditions, and society in general with impunity. This transgressive behavior, which some equate to insanity and unpredictability, can easily be the cause of unease.
|Grimaldi died penniless and an alcoholic in 1837.|
Modern clowns use cream makeup to create abnormally large facial features, typically depicting an unchangeable expression of happiness and humor. Researchers who have studied coulrophobia believe some people's negative reaction to this aspect can be explained by the uncanny valley theory, which states that "when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers." They also add that this fear may have less to do with clowns themselves and more with the fact that their appearance is"wrong in a disturbingly unfamiliar way." Their makeup acts like a mask and that can make one wonder: What are they hiding underneath it?
|Grimaldi's memorial service at the Holy Trinity Church, England|
Unfortunately, the idea of the depraved killer clown is not just based in these theories. Jean-Gaspard Deburau, another 19th century major clown figure known as Pierrot, killed a street boy with a blow from his heavy cane after being taunted by the youngster. The most famous killer clown however, was John Wayne Gacy, who—aside from working several children's parties as Pogo the Clown—was responsible for raping and murdering more than 33 teenage boys and young men. Most of his victims were found buried in the crawl space of his home.
|"Clowns can get away with murder" (Gacy). He didn't.|
|One of Gacy's self-portraits.|
Although there are numerous examples in this short list, no one can deny Pennywise the Clown from It is one of the most terrifying clowns in literature and movies (technically mini-series, but it was released as a full movie on VHS and DVD). This creature, whose true physical form is unknown, is also called the "eater of worlds" and, just like pure fear and evil, has existed since the beginning of times.
|"You all taste so much better when you're afraid!" It, 1990.|
Another interesting (but different) example of the evil clown is Batman's arch enemy, the Joker. Although the main inspiration for his appearance comes from the 1928 silent movie The Man Who Laughs, the Joker was fashioned after the playing card with the same name and by the idea of an evil court jester. Never seen without his clown-esque makeup, the Joker is portrayed as a psychopathic, calculating, vicious killer who murders his victims for his own amusement (except for a brief period from the late 1950s to early 1960s where he was depicted as a goofy prankster). His masking is so important he has made himself forget who he really was before the birth of his clown alter-ego. In Batman: The Killing Joke he says:
If I have to have a past, then I prefer it to be multiple choice (...) Memories can be vile, repulsive little brutes. Like children I suppose. But can we live without them? Memories are what our reason is based upon. If we can't face them, we deny reason itself! Although, why not? We aren't contractually tied down to rationality! So when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your past where the screaming is unbearable, remember there's always madness. Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside, and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away...forever."
The recent season of American Horror Story: Freak Show has its own version of the killer clown: Twisty, played by John Carroll Lynch. Wearing soiled clown clothes and a partial mask containing a deranged grin, Twisty uses juggling pins, which he carries inside his bag of tricks, to incapacitate his victims.
If you have not watched Freak Show yet, I suggest you skip the next two paragraphs.
Twisty stabs to death or beheads some of his victims. Others, he takes to an abandoned school bus, where he forces them to watch him attempt to make balloon animals or play with wind-up toys. According to Lynch, he wants to have the perfect audience watch his act.
Other nonficitonal "characters" seem to be getting inspired by the scary clown motif. In Wasco, California, residents are being terrorized by people dressed up as clowns, some reportedly wielding machetes or baseball bats. Although it started out innocently on Instagram when pictures of scary clowns posing in different landmarks in the area were uploaded, things escalated quickly, with 20 clown sightings being documented in a week and a teenager ending up in cuffs for chasing children. In addition to California, surveillance videos in Florida and New Mexico have capture clowns walking up to people's porches and sidewalks. On October 15, the Fisher's Police Department, Indiana, also started receiving reports of a clown scaring residents.
|For more Wasco Clown check out instagram.com/wascoclown|
If you suffer from coulrophobia, you do not have to go through this alone. You can find support at www.coulrophobiafacts.com and at www.ihateclowns.com. Good luck!
Are you afraid of clowns? Do you think scary clowns are here to stay?
Let us know by leaving your comments below!