I was wondering what to do on this blog in honor of April Fool’s Day. I’m not much into pulling pranks, and I don’t want to deviate too far from my usual fare. (Not that I’d probably be able to, considering I pretty much breathe horror, sci-fi, and the generally absurd.) Historically, April Fool’s Day has either been really aggravating or really boring. I hate being suckered by false celebrity death news, and my friends and I have never been much for pulling pranks. Most pranks seem mean. I guess humor is in the eye of the beholder.
In this same vein, I started thinking about what else is polarizing in terms of humor. The first thing that came to mind was clowns. There’s actually a clinical term for fear of clowns. Coulrophobia. Sounds terminal, doesn’t it? My uncle hates clowns. He was the person that introduced me to Killer Klowns from Outer Space when I was younger. While I don’t necessarily find them funny, I’m not afraid of them. At least not clinically anyway. Circus clowns are alright, not necessarily funny but not scary either. Renaissance Fair clowns, on the other hand, are downright horrifying. I hate the ones that walk around on stilts and don’t say anything. They just leer at you from their height.
Being that it’s April Fool’s Day, let’s take a look at some clown representation in books and movies. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but more a sampling. If you think of any others or just want to join the discussion, feel free to comment at the end of this post!
Stephen King’s IT – The Loser’s Club of Derry, Maine is terrorized by Pennywise the Dancing Clown. While initally that doesn’t sound like much of a crisis, it turns out that Pennywise is actually a monster straight out of space who capitalizes on children’s fears. When the children grow up they are drawn back to Derry because Pennywise is on the rampage again. They must band together to defeat their old nemesis before it takes the lives of more children.
- Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes – A carnival arrives mysteriously after midnight the week before Halloween. With it comes death and terror, and it’s up to two friends to fight the dark carnival.
MOVIES AND TV
- Stephen King’s IT – The 1990 tv mini-series introduced viewers to Pennywise and the Loser’s Club. This project showcased Tim Curry in one of his best roles – as Pennywise himself. The mini-series couldn’t possibly hope to encompass the entire book, but it made sure to get the point across and was suitably creepy. (I’m super excited for the remake, which stars Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things fame!)
- Something Wicked This Way Comes – This is an adaptation of the book by the same name. I confess that I haven’t seen this in years, but I do remember thinking it was absolutely creepy when I was a kid.
- Clown – This movie is both sad and terrifying. Two loving parents have booked a clown for their son’s clown-themed birthday party. When the clown is overbooked, it’s up to Kent to find a replacement clown for his son. He’s in luck, as the house he’s getting ready to put up on the market has an old clown suit in a trunk that just happens to fit him perfectly. The only problem is that once he puts it on he can’t remove it, and he starts to change. As it turns out, the origins of the clown are not so innocent, and Kent and his family are dragged into the reality of the Cloyne, an ancient demon.
- Killer Klowns from Outer Space – This 1988 classic features aliens that come to Earth in a big circus tent. They look like clowns, but not the kind you’d ever want to meet. They set about capturing people and turning them into big light-bulb shaped cotton candy, which they then eat with a straw. Sort of like outer space spiders. A group of teenagers attempt to stop the Klown’s mayhem.
- American Horror Story (Freakshow) – Twisty the Clown has always wanted to make children laugh. Some of the carnies don’t take favorably to the attention he’s paid by the children and families visiting the traveling freakshow. They start an awful rumor which tears Twisty’s world apart. He is a figure both terrifying and sad, and well worth watching the otherwise mediocre season just to see.
- DC’s The Joker – The Joker has been interpreted in a variety of ways by not only several actors, but also several authors and artists in the comic book world. In each iteration, he has the typical colorful hair and white makeup. The extent to which he uses humor deviates based on who is doing the interpretation, but in every version he is the clown.
- DC’s Harley Quinn – When doing brief research into the archetype of the clown, or fool, I found out that in theater it was used as a foil for the archetype of the harlequin. The harlequin was sly, stealthy, devious, and devilish. The perfect opposite of the bumbling clown. Originally introduced in Batman: The Animated Series, she quickly won over fans and has made her way into the comics, movies, and DC Comics merchandise line. Although her costume has changed over the years, a part of the harlequin is always included in her design.
- The Cabin in the Woods – A group of teenagers heads up to a cabin for a weekend of sex, drinking, and general youth. Very quickly their weekend is derailed and they are left fighting for their lives. Two of the group, Marty and Dana, find themselves in a vault that houses horrors from the old world. A veritable stable of nightmares. Wouldn’t you know that one of them is a clown? As far as I can tell, it’s a nod to Pennywise, wearing the same garish colors and shock of red hair.
- Frumpy the Clown – This series of comics from Judd Winick features a normal suburban family who happens to live with a disgruntled clown named Frumpy. Frumpy smokes cigarettes, drinks coffee, and advocates anarchy. The children love him. The parents are largely unsure.
- Funcom’s The Park – I recently devoted an entire post to this Secret World spin-off game. It takes place in a haunted amusement park after dark. Clown imagery, while not necessarily frequent, is extremely effective and terrifying when put to use. I highly recommend playing this game in pitch dark with headphones.
- Frightworld – My local haunted house features five themed houses. Almost every year they feature a clown house, which is done up in garish blacklight paint and features distorted carnival imagery and mocking clown actors.
As stated previously, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list by any means. Just a sampling from TV, movies, and books. If there’s anything else you’d like to add, drop by the comments section!