Send in the clowns
Amie Richardson is terrified of clowns. So what possessed her to go see Stephen King’s IT?
Coulrophobia: the fear of clowns. While I didn’t know the word until recently, fearing clowns started young. It was the Alexandra Blossom Festival, the early 80s, I was maybe 3 or 4, dressed up in white lace socks and black shoes for the street parade, clutching my mother’s hand.
Weaving in between the giant horse and rider float with red and white tassels came two striped clowns, one riding a unicycle and the other running behind him. The running clown came closer, squeezing his giant flower and spraying people in the crowd. I remember the chaos as the squealing, laughing crowd dispersed to avoid the water, the unicycleriding clown honking his horn and yelling out before colliding with people walking beside the floats.
Suddenly two white-gloved hands grabbed at me and pulled me into the chaos, lifting me first onto the bike with the other clown before placing me up onto the float. I was screaming and crying for my mum, who was taken by surprise and rushing behind. What felt like hours was probably a few minutes until my mum carried me down from the float. I was racked with fear. I dreamt of those stripy tops and white faces herding me into a crowd for years after.
I’m not alone in my coulrophobia. According to Google, 12 per cent of Americans have a phobia of clowns, while in the height of last year’s spate of “clown attacks”, 42 per cent were more worried about clowns than climate change, terrorism and death. It ranked seventh in the UK’S top 10 list of phobias – more feared than blood, snakes and flying.
And for me, other than a giant, intangible fear of rejection (alongside a long list of smaller, everyday worries), clowns scare me most. More than rats – though a combination of the two in a dark alleyway would likely see me go into psychogenic shock.
But here I am, sitting in a movie theatre, on the opening Friday night of IT. “I’d like to go to this movie with you,” my now boyfriend had said months before. I barely looked at the movie, only noting that it was coming out in September, and hearing that he wanted to go to a movie with me, in September, when it was April, sent me into a fluttery, gooey mess.
When we watched the trailer, it sparked a different type of fluttering. But I made excited sounds and decided that if I was still seeing this remarkable guy who made me laugh after months and months of sadness, then watching a clown-faced monstrosity attack kids on the silver screen would be a fear I was willing to face.
The theatre goes black, the music starts. I’m terrified, waiting for the first sight of Pennywise, the dancing clown. The little boy in the yellow raincoat chases his paper boat in the driving rain through the street gutters before it disappears down the drain where Pennywise lies in wait. And there I am, black shoes and white lace socks, being lifted from the safety of my mum’s shadow into the abyss. He opens his mouth and starts to speak. “Here, take it,” he beckons. I look over to my date and feel a sudden rush of safety and assurance. I sit back and grip my way through the rest of the film, like everyone else.