Are Clowns Actually Creepy?

Christopher Fowler
Clown I don't understand why they terrify Americans. My US friends all seem to have a great fear of clowns when there are surely bigger things to worry about; the guns thing, irrational behaviour (like the woman who just shot up a McDonalds for leaving bacon out of her burger), Fox News, US Customs & Excise (if you're a visitor), all those cars - but not clowns. Yet films like 'Poltergeist', 'Killer Clowns From Outer Space', 'It' and 'Shakes The Clown' (Strapline: 'The king of Alcoholic clown movies!') have demonised mute blokes in make-up. Do people still think of Wayne Gacey? Adding to that fear here comes 'Clown', a mid-budget horror film from the Weinsteins and newbie director Jon Watts, with Andy Powers taking the titular role of a building manager who dons an old clown costume for his son's birthday party when the original clown cancels. The problem is that he can't remove the suit. An excruciating scene in which he tries to pull off his red nose is something from a gothic fairytale. Sadly, the gothic elements aren't followed - rather, there's a tame backstory about the suit belonging to a demon 'from Iceland'. Why Iceland? Wouldn't one of the Balkan or Eastern European countries have made more sense, or did they just pick a place that sounded, you know, foreign? Happily, though, there are a few smart ideas at work; rather than running into the shadows, our red-nosed hero tells everyone what's happening to him. His wife and friends all try to help, to no avail - and of course the suit comes with a curse that has a nicely nasty way of being lifted. If Joe Dante had directed, he'd have stuffed the movie with clown references and clips. Here we get a couple of fun sequences, one in a horrible burger restaurant full of hyperactive screaming kids, but there's nothing too creepy, bloody or suspenseful, and the overall tone could have been dialled up a notch. I can only think that the R rating was arrived at because of the concept involving frightened children. 'Clown' is at least something different; its monster makeup is fresh although only fleetingly seen, and it sits in among those eighties movies like 'Maniac Cop' and 'Fright Night' which wring new twists from familiar patriarchal figures. On balance, the Dutch 'Saint', which has a demonic Santa Claus riding across rooftops, is better, but Watts could be a director to watch.


Ken Mann (not verified) Fri, 24/04/2015 - 15:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Never understood it myself either, but then I had an uncle who was ex-circus, and as a child I was taken "backstage" at more than one circus and have shaken hands with clowns in their natural habitat. My uncle worked at a gold club just outside Blackpool and would surprise off-duty clowns by recognising them without their make-up on.

Jackie H. (not verified) Fri, 24/04/2015 - 16:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I think they are as frightening as anything you can't make sense of; you don't know what they really look like and can't guess what they are thinking. They are unnatural (rather like people who have had too much surgery) and their faces don't give off any clues. An exaggerated smile is a hairsbreadth away from a snarl.

Jo W (not verified) Fri, 24/04/2015 - 18:33

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Are clowns actually creepy? Yessssssssss!

Vivienne (not verified) Fri, 24/04/2015 - 23:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Used to get taken to the circus and clowns were OK at a distance, but then they would leave the ring and walk into the audience and talk to children. At about four I was terrified one would talk to me, don't know why ,just felt like that. It was worse knowing that everyone else thought it would be great fun for you.

Helen Martin (not verified) Sat, 25/04/2015 - 15:49

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

You don't know what they're likely to do, they often have squirting things and noisy things and they're very sudden.

Laura B. (not verified) Sat, 25/04/2015 - 21:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've never been terrified by clowns, but I've always suspected the disproportionate fear possessed by my fellow americans stems from John Wayne Gacy. I'm sure I'm in much more danger from other drivers in the US, many of whom seem either unaware or resentful that other people are also on the road and drive accordingly. I've never dealt with US Customs, but I am completely horrified by Fox News.

m (not verified) Sun, 26/04/2015 - 22:21

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I'd blame reading / watching Stephen King's It. It came out when I was in middle school and Pennywise was kind of frightening. Also there was a scary clown toy in Poltergiest that made an impression on other people (americans) around my age.

Sally (not verified) Mon, 27/04/2015 - 12:17

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The film 'Dean of Night' gave me the heebie jeebies forevermore regarding ventriloquist dummies and clown type faces. I think I actually had nightmares the first time I saw it when a teenager,

Christopher Fowler Mon, 27/04/2015 - 13:38

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That'll be 'Dead of Night', Sally, and the clown-type faces come from the wraparound story, unusually for portmanteaux easily the scariest story of the bunch!

John Griffin (not verified) Mon, 27/04/2015 - 20:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Both my daughter and my (unrelated) wife are near-phobic about clowns and neither can articulate why. I thought mime artists might be scarier but they say no.
The nearest I come to it are politicians, most of them scare me witless.

Christopher Fowler Tue, 28/04/2015 - 05:55

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

It's surprising that McDonalds chose a clown - do they still have him?

Helen Martin (not verified) Tue, 28/04/2015 - 19:45

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The McDonalds clown still turns up, but mostly in facilities that focus on kids. The upmarket (!) cafes go in more for ferns and pastel colours.