Graeme Maclean/Creative Commons Graeme Maclean/Creative Commons

Those afraid of clowns brace for new ‘It’ movie

Coulrophobia sufferers get prepared ahead of Stephen King remake

While Jaclyn Andrews can’t rationally explain her fear of clowns, she’s been avoiding them for years.

Walking the midway at local fairs is totally out of the question, and lately she’s considered double checking with fellow parents before attending kids’ birthday parties.

She realizes that might sound a little silly to some, but the clowns that haunted her nightmares as a young girl still evoke bad feelings.

“I’m panicked, can’t breathe, sweaty,” says Andrews, 35, describing how she feels when she sees a clown.

“I get the overwhelming need to get out — and now.”

The fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia, is a relatively new phenomenon with very little research behind it. And while it’s not considered an official phobia by the World Health Organization, its sufferers say the experience is very real.

Andrews, a resident of Hamilton, feels anxious thinking about the days ahead when evil clowns will be a focal point of popular culture and practically impossible to avoid.

A remake of Stephen King’s “It” arrives in theatres next week and is expected to draw huge audiences intrigued by the titular shapeshifter, also known as Pennywise, who often takes the form of a clown.

And the upcoming sixth season of “American Horror Story,” which begins airing Tuesday on FX Canada, is generating buzz for the return of Twisty, a demented clown with a taste for trickery and murder.

Clowns have existed since ancient Egypt, although their trademark white faces and colourful costumes weren’t established until the early 1800s when British entertainer Joseph Grimaldi began playing Joey the Clown. A similar look was adopted by Scottish businessman John Bill Ricketts when he brought the modern circus to the United States a few years later.

For many decades the happy-go-lucky personas of modern clowns like Bozo and Ronald McDonald seemed in style, but a notorious American serial killer is considered to be the inspiration for the advent of the more sinister brand of clowns.

Before he was convicted for the murders of 33 young men in 1980, John Wayne Gacy seemed like a relatively average guy, who sometimes dressed as Pogo the Clown, a character he created while volunteering at children’s hospitals. After he was jailed, Gacy painted portraits of himself in clown costume and the artwork became the focus of exhibitions — and protests.

“People learn to be afraid from the movies they see, and from the news they read — watching other people be afraid,” said Martin Antony, a professor of psychology at Ryerson University.

“Gacy may have triggered certain directors and writers to portray clowns in that way, and that may have exacerbated fear of clowns.”

Two years after Gacy’s conviction, the film “Poltergeist” featured a scene in which a young boy is dragged under his bed by a toy clown brought to life in the middle of the night. And King’s novel “It” was released in 1986 and adapted for TV in 1990, with Tim Curry playing the creepy Pennywise.

Andrews swears watching the “It” miniseries in middle school scarred her for life, especially moments like its opening scene in which a young boy is lured by the killer clown to a sewer.

”(‘It’) just did it in for me,” she says.

The fascination with vicious clowns only grew as “It” became a favourite at video stores during the 1990s and other forgotten films like 1988’s “Killer Klowns from Outer Space” found another life on DVD alongside the clown-like doll used by serial killer Jigsaw in the “Saw” horror movies.

Much to the dismay of professional clown performers, those portrayals helped take the wholesomeness out of a character once considered a fixture of family entertainment.

Rami Nader, a psychologist at the North Shore Stress and Anxiety Clinic in Vancouver, says some people are leery of clowns because they fear their exaggerated painted smiles obscure their true emotions, which makes them unpredictable.

“You don’t know really what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking or what they’re going to do,” Nader says.

A spate of creepy-clown sightings reported across North America last year didn’t help their negative perception. Perhaps inspired by popular prank videos on YouTube, reports of individuals wandering through neighbourhoods while wearing menacing clown masks began to spread. In the U.S., Target stopped selling scary clown masks as a result.

Frank McAndrew, a professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, says he learned how deeply opinions of clowns have eroded after his study of “creepiest occupations.”

The online survey, which canvassed 1,341 people, found respondents were bothered by people whose jobs held ambiguous threats, and in particular individuals who made physical contact or exhibited “non-normative, non-verbal behaviour.”

Clowns ranked as the creepiest, worse than taxidermists, sex shop owners and funeral directors.

McAndrew says he found the ambiguity of a clown’s performance art seemed to rattle the respondents the most.

“(They said), ‘We don’t know if there’s something to be afraid of, but we have a paralysis about not knowing whether we should be scared,’” he said.

The professor also discovered some members of the clown community weren’t exactly helping rebuild their reputation as non-threatening. After his study was published, McAndrew said some clowns began to “stalk” him on social media and called the president of his college in an attempt to get him fired.

But McAndrew also found that discussions about his findings online revealed a stark apathy from even those who aren’t afraid of clowns.

“I don’t recall seeing anybody ever saying, ‘You know, I really like clowns,’” he added.

David Friend, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Coming to Canada ‘like a dream’

Syrian family meets volunteers, councillor after living in Parksville for one month

Parksville water project seeks new manager

City operations manager moving to new job with RDN

SOGI rally disrupts school board meeting, but business carries on

Chilliwack school board makes statement in support of B.C.-wide gender identity teaching resource

Workers evacuated due to gas smell in Parksville

Firefighters, Fortis unable to find source, and workers back to work

Qualicum Beach makes list of top places to visit in 2018

Expedia Canada surveyed 1,000 Canadians for the list

Parksville MakerSpace members ride the rails

New room added for model train enthusiasts; workshop set for Jan. 21

Woman in Nanaimo buys $70 worth of ice cream with allegedly stolen debit card

Purchase said to have occurred on Jan. 11 at 2 a.m. at Nicol General Store

RCMP nail sex toy thief

Shop owner plays a role in arrest

Ice-cream-eating bear draws controversy

An Alberta Wildlife Park posted a video this week of one of their bears going through a Dairy Queen drive-through

Fernie, RCMP go to court over city log books in fatal ammonia leak probe

Log books center stage in clashing of investigations between the city and RCMP

Renowned Comox Valley sasquatch researcher passes away

A renowned biologist and leading Canadian sasquatch researcher who called the Comox… Continue reading

B.C.’s biggest pot plant planned for Oliver

Co-founder Tony Holler said the 700,000 sq. ft. facility would produce 100,000 kg of pot per year

UPDATE: Police continue to seek missing Qualicum Beach woman

Oceanside RCMP requesting public assistance in locating Carmel Georgina Gilmour

High-end whisky seized in B.C. bar raids

Raids end in seizures at Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver whisky joints

Most Read