Tim Curry Ruined My Childhood: A Guide to Evil Clown Movies

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I watched Killer Klowns from Outer Space this weekend. I had eyed it warily for weeks as it sat in my Netflix Queue, intrigued by the campy title but also anxious about the titular clowns. “Not yet,” I would mutter, gazing at the screen from my pantsless couch cocoon. “Not yet.”

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You see, I watched the miniseries of Stephen King’s It one Halloween in the mid-90s and have dreaded clowns ever since. It’s a tale as old as time. Civilian Tim Curry is, I would argue, already way too creepy for children. When you tart him up in clown makeup and tell him to go around devouring people… he’s just so scary. “How scary is he?!” the obliging audience asks. Tim Curry in It isso scary that for years I couldn’t take a shower without first checking the drain for clown occupancy. (The killer clown emerges from shower drains; it’s not that weird an instinct.)

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I eventually gathered the courage to watch Killer Klowns (by courage, I mean “alcohol” and “my boyfriend”), and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s pretty fun and, more importantly, not at all scary, for several reasons: one, the movie is really silly (which I probably should have gathered from the title); two, the clownswear masks, which for some reason minimizes the terror factor; three, the clowns speak some squeaky alien language (compare this to Tim Curry’s soul-vibrating English accent and the alien clowns seem more like Furbies than Ancient Forces of Darkness).

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What makes Curry’siteration of the Evil Clown is how uncannily like a real clown he can be, jovial while also a bit too odd. Then the claws come out. The villains of Killer Klowns are unrecognizable mounds of rubber. They look like someone painted a clown face on a stack of mashed potatoes, rendering the film more science fiction than horror.

What It gets to the heart of is the horror in the everyday, the terrifying forces threatening to burst from within the mundane. Listed below are a few of the key elements of a successful use of the Evil Clown trope.

1. No real back story or motive

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Killer clowns are way scarier if they don’t have some element of mystery to them; I think Pennywise is far more terrifying when you don’t know that the clown is only one facet of an inter-dimensional predatory life form. I haven’t seen Klown Kamp Massacre (apparently Friday the 13th with clowns), but knowing that the killer clown in this movie kills because he was failing clown college makes the whole thing more silly than scary.

2. Scary-Ass Teeth

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I mean, come on. Toothy smiles are scarier than any other facial expression.

3. Child victims

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Evil clowns are at their scariest when they terrorize children. It’s something about their abuse of that vulnerability that cuts through all of your carefully curated, adult cynicism and makes you regress to a primal fear.

4. Dangerous, but not rabid

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Does Pennywise occasionally grow fangs and claws? Yes, but only after charming you into getting close. Clowns foaming at the mouth are boring. There’s no art there. You know what’s scarier? Fucking Hannibal Lecter in clown make-up, artfully waiting to pounce.