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Clowns are no strangers to the horror genre, with many films over the years featuring a homicidal face-painted antagonist. However in recent years their notoriety has grown, and even spilling into reality with a craze for dressing up as evil clowns, lurking behind bushes and peering in windows. Since the remake of ‘IT’ has been released this year it is smashing box office records and everyone seems to be talking about it. After going to see it myself I began to wonder, what is it about clowns that everyone finds so terrifying? After all, they are supposed to entertain children and be fun personified, so how did it all get so twisted?

If you look back through history there have always been clowns that have provided entertainment, as far back as Ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and Asia. Although in ancient times they were known by other names, such as jesters and harlequins. Some of the most famous clowns in British history were the medieval court jesters (right). These clowns were employed by the royal courts to perform comedic routines. They were also often employed by noble households, and would entertain royalty at their residence. Clowns later became synonymous with the travelling circus and it is argued that one of the very first clowns as we know them in modern day was called ‘Mr Merryman’ who performed with Phillip Astley’s circus in the 1700s. Overtime the clowns make up and costume became more and more exaggerated in order for it to seen from the very back of the circus tent.

The fear of clowns is actually now a recognised phobia called coulrophobia however clowns have provided the paying public with entertainment for centuries, so it begs the question when and why they became a symbol of fear. Psychologically speaking the happy image of the clown masks the true emotions of the man behind it. There have been many documented cases of famous clowns that in real life have led anything from happy lives. Charles Dickens penned the memoirs of a very well-known 19th Century clown named Grimaldi who died an alcoholic having suffered several tragic losses in his life. The pressure on the clown to make people laugh is immense and in medieval times it was not unusual for jesters to have the muscles cut upon their faces to make frowning impossible leading to a permanent smile spread across their face. The clown is also unnerving to many people because the human face is distorted by the exaggerated make up, but still recognisable. They look just far away from normal to be disturbing. Perhaps this is why children often find them unsettling. When Stephen King was asked how he came up with the character of Pennywise in his novel ‘IT’ he revealed that he asked himself the question, what scares children the most in this world? And the answer he came up with was clowns.

Many of the horror films that feature clowns portray them in a homicidal manner, raising the idea that clowns can not only be psychologically scary but perhaps physically too. There have been a few incidents over the years that may have planted the seed of killer clowns for novelists and film makers. Notable examples include a famou