My family and a few close friends are the only ones who knew of my coulrophobia - fear of clowns. I have had a problem with these creepy, white-faced, red lipped mutants most of my life. As an adult, you would think this phobia would lessen, after all, I am a grown up - aren't I? But noooooooo, my fear of clowns increases with each exposure until I'm sure one day I'm going to be so frozen with fear that a clown will be the end of me.
I have been known to run down Main Street if a clown approaches me, leaving my children to fend for themselves. I have been known to climb over my children when a clown would approach me in Rupp Arena during the Ringling Brothers’ Circus (this has happened twice!). I have been known to run screaming out of a local Wal-Mart from just the sight of a Ronald McDonald statue. Okay, I never claimed to be a rational person.
People who know of my fear have asked me, "Were you scared by a clown when you were a child?" But my answer is always, "No." I don't have any vivid memories of a specific time in my childhood when a clown scared me. I have vivid memories of clown "attacks", but one doesn't stand out any more than any other.
Recently I may have found out where this strange phobia originated into my nightmares. I am addicted to the old television soap opera from 60s, Dark Shadows. I can remember running home from the bus every afternoon to catch each episode. I thought Barnabas Collins was the most wonderful thing since sliced bread. I wanted to be a vampire just like him! This television show was the beginning of my obsessions with all things vampiric, but that's for another story or blog.
Anyway, for the past two years, I have been renting Dark Shadows from Netflix, all 104 discs (there is 26 Collections with each collection containing 4 disc; I think I did the math right?!). The past few months, I have been renting, Dark Shadows: the Beginning, which is the first 210 episodes before Barnabas Collins joined the cast. I'm sorry, I digressed. Back to the coulrophobia.
During an early episode of Dark Shadows, David Collins is in a Fun House and there are clown faces in the funky, fun house mirrors. Watching that episode, I felt like I was having an out of body experience. My heart rate was racing, I broke out in a cold sweat, and my hands were shaking so bad, it took me three attempts to hit the STOP button on the remote.
When my hubby ran into the living room to see what was upsetting me, I had to leave the room while he watched the icky clowns on the television screen. Later that night, I told him I thought that might have been the moment in my childhood everyone is always trying to get me to remember. Not a physical encounter with an alien clown, but a dream sequence on a television show. Like I said, I never claimed to be rational.
Of course, clowns in movies occur on a frequently increasing basis. I guess the first on my list would have to be Tim Curry’s portrayal of Pennywise the clown in Stephen King’s 1990 movie, IT. Tim Curry has been a favorite actor of mine since The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but playing Pennywise leads him down a much creepier pathway. Other scary “clowns” include Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman, the evil clown doll in Poltergeist, and even Kevin Smith, my husband’s favorite writer/director, has Vulgar the Clown as mascot for his View Askew Productions.
There are also scary clowns on television and it is these intrusions into my life that I sometimes don’t have any control over. You never know when a clown will show up on a commercial while watching a television program. A new commercial from E-Trade depicts a baby using the internet and he has a clown standing behind him (he apparently earned enough money on E-Trade, he was able to buy a clown). The funniest line of the commercial is when the baby says, “I underestimated the creepiness factor.” In Living Color’s Homey D. Clown was just plain mean and evil; “Homey don’t play that.” Krusty the clown from the Simpson’s is a crude caricature of a demonic clown and I love the quote from Bart Simpson, “… can’t sleep, clown will eat me.” You also have repeats of Bozo the clown, not to mention, Ronald McDonald; what kind of an icon has a white painted face with big red mouth and nose?
The television is also a place to find other people who are scared of clowns. One of my current favorite programs if Bones on the FOX network. David Boreanez – from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame – plays FBI Special Agent Booth, and he is afraid of clowns. One episode from season two had Booth pulling out his gun and shooting the clown-shaped speaker on top of an ice cream truck. He spent several episodes in therapy over this incident, but I was secretly cheering his decision to kill a clown.
There are movies that I won’t ever watch, based purely on the titles. For example: A Thousand Clowns (1965), Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1987), Shakes the Clown (1992), Dead Clown (2003), Fear of Clowns (2004), and Fear of Clowns 2 (2007). There are many others, but need I say more?
On a scarier note, John Wayne Gacy used to dress up like a clown for neighborhood birthday parties, typically for children age 8 to 12. He is the serial killer who murdered more than 30 young men and hid them in the floorboards of his house. Makes you wonder exactly what goes on during “Clown College?” Just one more reason to stay away from clowns.
I’m going to leave you with two clown quotes. The first one is courtesy of Saturday Night Live:
“To me, clowns aren’t funny. In fact, they’re kinda scary. I’ve wondered where this started, and I think it goes back to the time I went to the circus and a clown killed my dad.”
--Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey
The second quote is from Rob Zombie’s House of a 1000 Corpses:
“When escaping someone named Dr. Satan, never accept a ride from an evil clown who says, ‘I’ll take you to a doctor.’”
So, if you invite me to a party, don't invite any clowns or other creatures dressed in funny costumes or wearing full face paint. Of course, I probably wouldn't attend the party any way, what with my agoraphobia and all. What ... I didn't tell you about my fear of public places ...
© Bobbi Rightmyer, June 2008