I wouldn’t be surprised to see a huge resurge of clown-oriented horror films and ads on the horizon with the recent announcement of a new adaptation of the iconic evil clowns’ movie ‘IT’ scheduled for a 2017 release.
Why are we scared of clowns?
Clowns are terrifying. They’re now seen as one of the biggest instigators of fear and terror in storytelling. Something that was originally meant to bring joy and happiness to people has become more of a symbol of our own child-like fears. Over the years, different media has portrayed clowns in this new, much darker perspective. The big question though is why do we now see clowns as an instigator of fear? What has happened to transform our opinion of them so drastically from what they were originally?
Slender man, Norman Bates, any given zombie, Pumpkinhead, Pinhead, Freddy, King Kong, The Creeper, Pale Man, The Thing – even the twins from The Shining – have one thing in common. They just don’t look right. Freud refers to it as the ‘uncanny’
“the “uncanny” is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar.”
Our primeval instincts react to something that’s unnatural. That can be the way that Mama or Count Orlock move or the fact that we can’t see Jason’s face. In a similar way, we find clowns scary because they are unnaturally permanently happy.
These clowns have been used in works of fiction as early as the 1800’s (notably with Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Hop-Frog’). Real-life events have also been known to have an affect on the increased popularity of clowns within horror.
John Wayne Gacy was a real life serial killer who murdered at least 33 teenage boys in the 1970’s. Huge popularity came of the case when he was dubbed ‘The Killer Clown’ by the media. This was due to the fact that he would dress as a clown (which he named ‘Pogo the Clown’) for children’s birthday parties, charity events, and parades. Even though he never actually dressed as a clown while committing any of the murders, the events are said to have influenced a number of horror stories based on the idea of psychopathic clowns. Steven King’s ‘IT’ counts among them.
Steven King’s 1986 classic ‘IT’, in which a shape-shifting monster known as ‘Pennywise’ takes the form of a clown to terrify and kill his victims, is probably the most famous example of the ‘evil clown’ trope being used within storytelling. The creature manifests itself through childhood fears and Pennywise is the fear shared by all of the children (and even goes into their adult life).
Since the release of ‘IT’, scary clowns have become more of a staple within the horror genre. The playful and comical elements originally associated with clowns are shown as much darker and disturbing tropes. This is shown in a multitude of horror films, such as ‘Killer Klowns from Outer Space’ (1988), ‘Clownhouse’ (1989) and the 1990 miniseries based on Steven King’s ‘IT’, which shares the same name. Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise in this adaptation has since become somewhat of an iconic depiction of the famous character, due to his coltish yet terrifying performance.
Evil clowns have also enjoyed success within graphic novels and comic books to huge success. The most notable appears in the Batman franchise with the series’ most notorious villain, the Joker. He became most well known for his cinematic outings in Tim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’ (portrayed by Jack Nicholson) and Christopher Nolan’s 2008 critically acclaimed ‘The Dark Knight’ (portrayed by Heath Ledger). Since his début in Batman #1 (1940), he has evolved into a much darker and sadistic character, much like the perception of clowns in popular media over the years.
Fantasy becoming reality
The late 1980’s and early 1990’s were a big time period for clown horror. In recent years it’s been making a bit of a comeback. Particularly with the real life evil clown appearances dominating headlines all over the internet. The recent 2016 clown sightings started in the U.S. They have since spread across other Western countries, such as Canada and the U.K. The main reason for this is unclear, but it’s believed to have spread via viral internet video ‘pranks’. People dress as evil clowns chase and scare members of the public. It’s believed that a notable Italian YouTuber named ‘DM Pranks’ contributed largely to this increased activity and popularity of prank videos. These gathered millions of views.
So place your bets for the summer’s big advertising ploy. No doubt it will be uncanny.